Annual performance reviews. Some people love them. Others—okay, let’s be honest, most people—dread them. 

No matter what camp you fall into, knowing how to prepare for a performance review is essential to get the most out of it. 

Though it might feel like going back to your grade school days of getting a report card at the end of each semester, annual performance reviews can be a valuable tool for requesting constructive feedback and bringing up workplace issues that are important to you.

Though there’s some mixed evidence about whether or not performance reviews are the most effective method of evaluating employee work, they continue to be popular. Some experts argue that keeping an open dialogue between managers and employees is more effective than an annual sit-down meeting. Self-evaluations, in particular, are often met with skepticism. 

However, having dedicated time to discuss employee performance annually or quarterly is worth the effort. 

If your company still holds regular annual reviews, here are a few ways to maximize your annual performance review.


how to prepare for an annual performance review.

start with self-reflection.

Look back at the past year and outline your overall performance with your biggest successes and some areas for improvement. 

Be honest with yourself when thinking of your overall performance. If you sweep all your less-than-successful projects under the rug and want to forget about them, you’re missing out on critical insights about what you can do differently in the coming year. 

It’s much more effective in a performance review to bring constructive feedback and ideas to the table than it is to pretend failures didn’t happen. 

Everyone and every job has ups and downs. Good managers are aware of this. Look at successful projects critically as well when going through your overall performance. 

An analysis isn’t just for less-than-stellar results. If you had some major wins, what did you do to contribute to that success? Are they things you can repeat or scale up in the coming year?

assess your goals from last year (and make new ones).

Effective annual performance reviews will have you list a few personal goals for the coming year. Refer to your goal setting from the previous year’s performance reviews. 

If all has gone according to plan, you’ve achieved those goals. During the performance evaluation, be prepared to discuss what you’ve done to meet your goals. 

If you’re still working on some of the goals—perhaps they were really long-term goals—be prepared to give a status update.

Next, consider what goals will be for the coming year. Thinking about this beforehand allows you to be more thoughtful about your goals rather than coming up with something on the spot during the performance review meeting. 

For an effective annual performance review meeting, be realistic about what you can achieve within a year, or note that the goal is ongoing. 

Also, don’t forget to mix short and long-term goals. Think about quick things you can do to move the needle, as well as more long-term projects that you’ll need to work on throughout the year.

bring your notes and list of discussion points to the review.

Preparation before and during the performance review will make you look like the consummate professional you know you are. Don’t walk into your performance meeting review blind or attempt to wing it. 

Even if you’re old hat at the annual performance review routine and confident your manager will give you an ‘A+’ grade, preparing ahead is the professional thing to do. 

Know ahead of time what you want to discuss (the good and the bad points of the past year, as well as your plan heading forward), and ask your manager for any constructive feedback to help your growth. 

Don’t hesitate to bring your notes to ensure you hit all the key points you wanted to. Winging a performance review is a surefire way to forget something important.

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evaluate your skills and salary.

Use your annual performance review to benchmark your position and compare your stand in the market. 

Have you learned new skills in the past year that have increased your value to your employer?

Maybe you’ve taken on new responsibilities, and it’s time to reconsider your current job title. Or has the average salary for people in your profession climbed recently? 

It’s important to regularly evaluate where you stand to ensure you’re happy with your current position on top of your overall performance. 

Research what people in your field and location earn to compare if everything is aligned and perfect. 

If not, bring your research to your annual performance review and discuss the path forward with your manager. It’s difficult to argue with detailed salary data from multiple trustworthy sources. 

Our salary guide is a great place to start.

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determine what you need to be successful in your role.

As technology evolves rapidly, the tools and skills required in most careers also evolve. 

Each year, an array of cutting-edge tools and methodologies hold the secrets to streamlining your productivity and amping up your work. 

Consider if there are any new tools or skills that will help you be more effective in your role in the coming year, and consider discussing it with you during your performance review. 

Many employers have employee development budgets and may be open to your suggestions. 

As we head into an era of automation and digital transformation, employers are vested in helping their employees upskill and stay relevant. 

If you’re interested in attending a conference to gain industry insights, upgrade your reporting tools, or take a course to learn a new skill that will help you at work, anytime during your performance review process is an excellent time to bring it up.

keep an open mind to constructive feedback.

Go into your annual performance review with an open mind. It’s easy to get caught up in the dread of putting yourself and your work up for your employee evaluation. 

Try to enter your performance review with an open mind; it will be easier to accept feedback constructively and not take it personally. 

Often performance reviews are structured to divide your career into black-and-white successes and failures. (This is one of the reasons some HR experts dislike this format for evaluating employees.) 

Your manager might be required to fill out a section on your strengths and areas for improvement, even if they think you’re doing a great job overall. 

Try to remember that any constructive feedback you receive is a tool to help you grow and improve.

speak up about something that’s important to you.

Your annual performance review is a two-way street. 

Though it might feel like your career is in peril when you and your manager are analyzing the nitty-gritty details of your performance, your performance review is actually an excellent opportunity to bring up topics that are important to you. 

Even more so if your performance gets a glowing review, when you’re riding on the high of a job well done is an ideal time to let your manager know how they can reward your success. 

Maybe you want to take on more responsibility to gear up for a promotion. Perhaps you’d like to start working from home more often. Or maybe there’s an upcoming project you’re interested in and would love to participate in. 

If your performance review is good, you have some added leverage, and your manager is incentivized to keep you onboard, they may be more open to making changes.

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