So you’re fairly new to working in your office. Maybe you recently graduated — congratulations! — or you’ve transitioned from another industry. You’ve settled in enough to where you’re finally used to the nine-to-five schedule; you know how to finesse the temperamental copy machine into working (usually), and have hopefully found your niche in your company culture. But there’s one thing left you haven’t tackled yet: performance reviews.
Some companies do performance reviews semiannually, and some quarterly, but most companies still stick to an annual schedule. If you’ve never had a performance review before (sometimes known as performance appraisals), preparing for one might be stressful. But don’t worry—reviews are designed to help you improve your work, and there’s plenty you can do before your performance review to make sure that you go in ready to make the most of your meeting.
(If your performance review is next week, check out our guide here. If you’ve got a few months before then, check out our more holistic guide here.)
Preparing for your first performance review
A 360 degree review process usually includes writing performance reviews for your fellow team members, as well as assessing your manager’s management ability. It’s valuable for everyone involved to be getting feedback from several directions during the review cycle, but if you have several team members it’s important to make sure your time management is on point so you can get to all those employee reviews before the deadline.
Don’t be afraid to give your coworkers both positive and negative feedback regarding their performance during the past year — just remember, they will read your feedback as part of their full employee evaluation. If you’re at a loss for performance review phrases, highlight abilities such as communication skills, problem solving skills, and the use of innovative solutions. They’ll be used by your manager to set goals and build action plans for the whole team, so this is a great opportunity to strengthen your working relationships.
Many companies will expect you to write a self-evaluation before your performance evaluation. You’ll typically be expected to evaluate your performance over the course of the year—or however long you’ve been working at the company—including your overall strengths as an employee, areas where you could still improve, and most importantly your specific accomplishments.
It can be hard—and frustrating—to try to see yourself from your manager’s point of view. After all, you might find yourself thinking, isn’t the whole point of a performance review that they review your performance? But writing a self-assessment is actually a great opportunity for you to remind your manager of all the important and exciting work you’ve done over the course of the year. It can also show them that you’re already aware of some of your opportunities for growth; self-evaluation makes for a more effective performance review overall. After all, you know more about your performance than anybody else does—your manager included.
Think back over the last year and make a list of things to highlight in your meeting. If your company’s using an employee performance management software like Lattice, this should be fairly easy.
1. Was there a time you really took initiative at work?
2. Did you lead your team in a new direction, or come up with a unique solution to an issue?
3. Did you accomplish anything especially notable? Can you list those accomplishments?
4. Did you contribute to making the office a more efficient (and enjoyable) place to work in a concrete way?
5. What mistakes did you make? (You definitely made at least a couple, so be honest with yourself.)
6. Did you take steps to prevent yourself from making the same mistakes in the future?
7. When your manager gave you feedback, how did you react?
8. Did you incorporate that feedback into your work, and can you demonstrate how?
Even if you work in a low-level position at your company, you are still contributing to its success every day in ways your manager might not be aware of — maybe you have incredible interpersonal skills and help others mediate issues, or your positive attitude is infectious. Point out all the ways you help your manager, team, or office, and give specific examples. It may be tempting to use buzzwords like “team player” or “hard worker” about yourself, but it’s more compelling to give concrete examples of projects you contributed to or completed.
Make sure not to be overly modest: You should be proud of your achievements, and get credit for them. At the same time, your manager will notice if you avoid mentioning your shortcomings. Everybody has flaws, and acknowledging yours will make you seem self-aware and open to growth.
During the review itself
Different managers have different approaches to performance reviews, just like every other aspect of business. Ideally, you’ll be able to guide the face-to-face conversation, so you should be prepared to give a summary of your written assessment. If you didn’t have to complete an employee self-assessment, writing down and memorizing notes on your own performance will help prepare you for this part of the process, so you should still take the time to do it. This way, if your manager asks you about your achievements or contributions, you’ll have concrete examples at your fingertips.
Your manager will give you feedback on your performance, both positive and negative. Hopefully, nothing they say will shock you: if you’ve successfully identified your weaknesses, they should agree, and give additional comments and suggestions for improvement. Be ready to ask follow-up questions — for both positive feedback and constructive feedback — to understand what your manager considers optimal levels of performance. Together, you and your manager might come up with new ideas for action plans to increase or maintain your performance over the next year — that might mean anything from increased check-ins to more creative solutions. If you have other lingering questions about your position or your role in the company, ask them. This is your time with your manager, and you should make the most of it.
One of those questions might be about the possibility of a raise. Unless your company has another preexisting setup for raises, your meeting can be used to broach the subject of a raise and possible promotion with your manager. If your company does annual reviews, you can say something like, “It’s been a year since my last performance review, and in that time I’ve contributed [X, Y, and Z] to the company. I’d like to discuss the possibility of a raise.” Talking about your salary can be nerve-wracking, but there’s no reason to get nervous: everybody has to do it, and your manager will be expecting it.
After the review – Expect the unexpected
Sometimes, your manager may give you feedback you weren’t expecting. As Forbes notes, a bad performance review can be a great thing: the logic is, if you know if you’re not doing well in something, you have a plan to fix it, but you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. If you are surprised or upset by a piece of criticism, it’s important not to get defensive or visibly upset; otherwise, there will be a breakdown in effective communication. Instead, take a deep breath and ask questions. If your manager’s feedback is vague — if they simply say that you need to be “better” at something, ask them to clarify. How could you be better? What are you doing now that isn’t working? If you’re still confused when you leave your meeting, you won’t be able to change your job performance in the future. It’s your manager’s job to eliminate that confusion.
If you’re particularly surprised by your manager’s feedback, and only have performance reviews once a year, you could ask for regular 1:1 meetings. Checking in regularly, and having a plan to improve, will make it easier for you to move forward constructively. Unexpected feedback can be upsetting, but don’t take it too personally. There’s no reason to worry as long as you and your manager wind up on the same page about your performance goals moving forward.
Even if you don’t wind up hearing anything too surprising in your review, you and your manager should end your meeting by coming up with a plan for the following year. What goals do have for yourself in the year to come? What skills would you like to acquire? Would you like to take on additional projects, or do you have creative ideas you’d like to implement? Again, be specific. That way, a year from now, in your next performance review, you can look back at the goals you set yourself and say that you achieved them.
Most of all, don’t worry too much about your review before your meeting. It’s important to prepare, but over-preparing will only make you more stressed out. The night before your review, relax. Have faith in yourself: if you believe in yourself and your work, your manager will, too.