When it comes to performance management — the overarching system, strategy, and process organizations use to evaluate, improve, and manage employee performance — companies often focus most on performance appraisals. In this process, managers must take the time to reflect honestly and think critically about an employee’s contributions in order to conduct a personalized performance review for each of their direct reports. For employees, reviews are when managers log a formal record of their performance. In many companies the results of performance reviews are used to make decisions about promotions and pay raises, so focusing on them — or fretting about them — is common.
But by the time performance reviews come around, the opportunity for an employee to influence a manager’s opinion has all but passed, because managers are reviewing previous performance. At this point, as an employee, it can feel like all you’re able to do is worry about how the review meeting with your boss will go. But you actually have more agency here than you think. Rather than just anxiously anticipate your performance review, you can be proactive and channel your energy into crafting a comprehensive self-appraisal that highlights your strengths and accomplishments.
“I view the employee self-evaluation portion of a performance review as a can't-miss opportunity to remind your manager of your accomplishments over the past year,” said Janelle Owens, Director of HR for online education company Test Prep Insight.
While employees may see the self-evaluation portion of a performance review as a required activity that offers little value, it’s actually a time to demonstrate what an asset you are to the company.
Self-evaluations vary from organization to organization; some are templated scorecards with a written self-reflection portion, while others offer a more open, fill-in-the-blank format. Regardless of how formal or informal your company’s self-evaluation process is, these tips will be useful in highlighting your successes and addressing your areas for improvement in the most positive light possible by reframing them as opportunities for growth.
Benefits of Self-Evaluations
In addition to being an opportunity to highlight your accomplishments to your manager, self-evaluations are also a powerful tool for employees for the following reasons:
- They allow you to identify areas for growth and demonstrate your value to the organization in a matter-of-fact way. Because you’ll be drawing on metrics and examples from over the course of the year, you’ll be able to paint a clear, concrete picture of your value to the organization. Additionally, since self-evaluations are a time to reflect on opportunities for improvement, within this framework employees can advocate for themselves and the resources they need to expand their skills and knowledge.
- They prepare you for the scheduled conversation with your manager that will likely comprise a substantial portion of your performance review. The “no surprises” rule — that an employee should always expect what’s coming during their performance appraisal — is commonly taught to managers, but is equally important for employees to remember. As you review your notes from the past 6-12 months in order to write your self-evaluation, you’ll brush up on what went well and where you can improve, which will equip you to discuss both wins and areas for improvement with your manager — and ensure that you won’t be caught off-guard.
- They give you the chance to remind your manager what an asset you are, to both the team and the organization as a whole. Managers are in charge of a lot and do their best to keep track of their direct reports’ successes. But, they also have to keep day-to-day operations afloat, and make sure that the team stays on track with bigger-picture goals, too. Meaning that your accomplishments won’t always be top-of-mind for them. “Over the course of 12 months, people's memories fade and managers shift their focus to the most current fires that need to be put out,” cautioned Owens. Luckily, you can use your self-evaluation to remind your manager of what you’ve accomplished and how you’ve contributed to your company’s success.
4 Tips for Writing an Effective Self-Evaluation
Writing about ourselves can be uncomfortable — it can feel boastful at times, or awkward at the very least. Here’s what you need to know about writing a comprehensive, accurate, and effective self-review that demonstrates your strong performance while also touching on areas for growth.
1. Be specific and provide examples.
Specificity helps contextualize claims. Telling your manager that you believe you’ve been able to meet your customer acquisition OKRs because you are a “people person” doesn’t give you the credit you deserve for your achievement. Vagueness, like in this example, robs you of the opportunity to tout your hard work and strategic approach.
It’s not only natural ability that’s responsible for your success, though that may be a part of it. But it’s also the work you put in, whether that be your diligence in following-up with qualified leads, or the ingenuity you’ve demonstrated by reaching out to them at non-peak email hours, say on a Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps it’s the fact that you take notes after speaking with prospective clients, which helps you remember key professional and personal details to draw on as you build a connection and relationship with them.
Most likely, it’s a combination of several factors that has contributed to your success. Own that! If you’re struggling to get specific, try brainstorming a list of behaviors, skills, expertise, and/or abilities that you possess. Then, select the ones you want to highlight in your review, and elaborate on them with specific examples that illustrate each quality.
2. Back up your contributions with metrics.
Numbers are powerful because they make a clear connection between performance and results. “Quantifiable figures help our brains put things in perspective, so to the extent you can wrap your accomplishments into metrics, do so,” urged Owens.
Metrics are useful for providing evidence to support claims and highlight your successes, but they can also serve as leverage. “It’s crucial to have these measurements so you can negotiate for asks, like a higher salary [or] more flexible work schedule,” noted Mason McSpadden, Vice President of WELD Recruiting, a direct-hire recruiting firm.
Most employees have to set goals as part of the onboarding process, which gives the employee a clear rubric by which to evaluate their own performance. But even “if employees aren’t required to set goals with their boss or their team upon onboarding, they should take the time to do so themselves [anway],” McSpadden advised. That way, despite the fact that the organization may not have goals on file that they can compare employee performance to, you will. And you’ll be able to refer to your measurable progress and achievements when writing your self-review.
3. Frame weaknesses as opportunities.
While self-evaluations are an opportunity to highlight your stellar accomplishments, they’re also a time to self-reflect and assess where you can improve. Be honest about your shortcomings, but be sure to frame these areas for improvement as opportunities for growth. Mortgage broker Alan Harder said he advises employees to use positive or solution-oriented language when assessing areas in which they need to improve. For example, “instead of admitting, ‘This is where I really falter,’” said Harde, “say something like, ‘Here’s an area I’d like to focus on,’ ‘This is what I’ve discovered thus far,’ or, ‘This is how we should proceed in the future.’”
4. Keep track of your accomplishments throughout the year.
Avoid recency bias, the tendency to focus on the most timely or recent events — or forgetting certain achievements altogether — by keeping track of your accomplishments and the impact they’ve had throughout the year. Trying to remember the details of a deal you closed in January can be difficult when you’re preparing for your review at the end of the year. You’ll have a much easier time writing a comprehensive but concise review if you can quickly refresh your memory on all your successes in one, easy-to-reference document. Keep a running Word doc (or a log in a notes app on your phone) with the important details about your achievements. Or, if you prefer pen and paper, designate a notebook specifically for this purpose and keep it handy at work.
Helpful Examples to Use for Your Own Self-Assessment
Self-evaluation prompts vary from company to company, and sometimes even from department to department, but the following categories are common areas you’ll be asked to assess in a performance review. Use the below sample language to inspire the phrasing and verbiage of your own self-evaluation — but be sure to personalize these examples by tailoring them to your own successes, and add metrics and specific examples where possible.
For instance, the first example in the Teamwork and Collaboration section reads as follows:
“I excel at making team members feel comfortable and included by sharing openly, honestly, and vulnerably my [personal needs/perceived weaknesses/past mistakes, etc.]. In doing so, I help foster psychological safety and a sense of belonging on the team.”
To personalize it, you’d expand upon that example by adding more details to support this point, so your self-evaluation might read something like:
“I excel at making team members feel comfortable and included by sharing openly, honestly, and vulnerably my personal needs and asking for help. In doing so, I help foster psychological safety and a sense of belonging on the team. For example, early in the pandemic, I asked one of my direct reports to stand in for me in last quarter’s meeting with the auditors. I had become the primary caregiver for my mother, who is sick with Alzheimer’s, and I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth for the high-stakes and high-pressure meeting. The same employee later confided in me that as a result, they now felt more comfortable asking for tactical and emotional support from colleagues and me, their manager, since I’d been so upfront about asking for help myself.“
For each of the categories below, we’ve listed two examples highlighting strengths, followed by one example demonstrating a need for improvement in the same category — including a way to reframe the shortcoming in a more positive light.
1. Communication and Cooperation
- My strong interpersonal and communication skills help me easily identify the best approach to take with clients, colleagues, and company partners.
- Though I’m a naturally shy person, I’ve excelled at improving my communication skills by relying more heavily on Slack, which helps me feel comfortable asking for help, relaying messages, or communicating concerns and delays.
Area for Improvement
- I’ve realized that I can struggle to communicate my ideas or concerns clearly when I’m excited or stressed. I’m very visual and writing things down helps me formulate my thoughts, so in the future, I’d like to improve on this by jotting down a few quick notes before sharing my opinion.
- I have met or exceeded all of my OKRs for the year, most notably improving customer satisfaction by X% by [insert specific example here, e.g. “by introducing chatbots to the customer support page on our website.”].
- I’ve succeeded in building brand partnerships with companies like X and Y, with whom we share considerable target market overlap. By collaborating with X company on Z project, I expanded brand awareness and reach of our marketing efforts to a previously untapped market.
Area for Improvement
- I struggle to delegate tasks, and my reluctance to do so has prevented me from meeting my OKRs in the past due to issues with time management. To improve on this, I’d like to set up an hour-long meeting with each one of my direct reports in the coming month to ensure that they are trained properly on [using X software system, leading meetings, onboarding new clients, etc.], so I can feel more confident delegating these tasks.
3. Teamwork and Collaboration
- I excel at making team members feel comfortable and included by sharing openly, honestly, and vulnerably my [personal needs/perceived weaknesses/past mistakes, etc.]. In doing so, I help foster psychological safety and a sense of belonging on the team.
- Collaborative work is some of my best work because I’m energized by my colleagues’ ideas and I work well with others. I produce better outcomes when I work cross-functionally because seeing how the various departments support and enable one another helps me improve our products and services for the client.
Area for Improvement
- I have a hard time sharing responsibilities with my team members, especially if they are new. I struggle with delegating tasks, and have found myself overextended in the past because of this. Moving forward, I’d like to take a more active role during new employee onboarding, especially during training on our customer relationship management software, so I can ensure that they understand the nuances of the system.
4. Creativity and Innovation
- I have great self-awareness of my creative strengths, which allows me to take calculated creative risks and suggest new ideas.
- I encourage team members to share their most innovative and creative ideas by broadcasting a “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” attitude in brainstorming sessions.
Area for Improvement
- I have a tendency to fall back on the design elements I’m most comfortable and familiar with, especially when working with a challenging client. To improve on this, I’d like to review my work with peers before sharing with the client to ensure that I’m challenging myself creatively.
5. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
- I’m a strong problem-solver due to my ability to discern the symptoms of the problem from the root cause. I excel in solving complex or long-standing problems, as I’m able to methodically think through or forecast potential impediments and break down obstacles into their component parts.
- My communication skills aid me tremendously in solving problems, as I’m able to easily and fluidly explain options, ideas, and solutions to my team members.
Area for Improvement
- Sometimes I can become distracted when solving complex problems. I struggle to separate ancillary issues from the root cause, especially when under pressure. Moving forward, I’d like to challenge myself to share the principal issue with peers or my manager once I’ve found the solution. Knowing I’ll be expected to share my findings will encourage me to think through the problem more systematically.
6. Flexibility and Adaptability
- I work really well on teams when I need to be versatile in my role. I can be a great cheerleader to encourage those around me, I’m a strong leader and feel comfortable taking control of making decisions or sharing opinions, and I’m also comfortable taking a back seat and providing tactical or emotional support to my team members when necessary.
- I excel at incorporating last-minute changes, be it for internal-facing work or client-facing presentations. I’m able to remain calm and quickly rework presentations or deliverable collateral, as well as adjust the script or pitch to accompany the work.
Area for Improvement
- I struggle with last-minute deviations from the plan. I like to be very well-prepared, so when things change I often struggle to remain composed as I rework my role in the project. I’d like to work on this by taking a ToastMasters course. I think the on-the-spot nature of public speaking, which the group teaches, will help me become more confident with unexpected changes.
The thought of writing a self-evaluation doesn’t have to strike fear and dread in your heart anymore. Instead, reframe the self-evaluation as a chance to refresh your manager about what an asset you are. Use facts and figures to support and illustrate your successes and employ solution-oriented language when discussing the areas in which you’d like to grow.
Taking the time and effort to put together a thorough self-assessment will be well worth it; by crafting a clear, concrete, and accurate portrayal of your performance, you’ll be able to help your manager remember your successes — and advocate for yourself and your career in the process. Check out Lattice’s self-evaluation template to get started!