People just love to talk about themselves. If you’ve ever been stuck for conversation at a party, you know it takes only a few questions (What do you do? Do you like it?) to get a dialogue flowing. And yet, when it comes to the meeting that’s all about you—your annual performance review—you may feel trepidation about responding to the very same queries. Perhaps you view these meetings as a corporate requirement that has little bearing on your professional prospects. Or you might be turned off by the paperwork that’s required. (Let’s face it: Filling out forms about yourself can be an awkward experience.)
Keep in mind, though, that what you get out of a performance review is directly linked to what you put into to it. Being an active participant will increase your chances of earning a raise or a promotion, not to mention your manager’s respect—all of which can make your job more fulfilling. Even if you work for a small firm that doesn’t have a formal evaluation process, try to schedule a time with your manager to discuss your career progress.
Following are some tips that can help you give a star performance during your next review:
Think outside the bucks. Money is a topic during many reviews, and, not surprisingly, this tends to be a focus area for most people. But concentrating on compensation can be a mistake, particularly if your employer is not in a position to offer a large pay hike. Most raises are in the neighborhood of 3% to 10%, sums that aren’t likely to greatly enhance your lifestyle. Changes in your duties or schedule could have a more significant impact on your overall job satisfaction—and may be easier for your manager to implement.
Come to the table with at least one request besides a raise. If balancing your professional and personal obligations is a concern, for instance, consider asking for modified hours or the ability to work from home one day a week. When presenting your proposal, explain how you’ll be able to accomplish your duties with a revised schedule, and offer to begin the new arrangement on a trial basis.
Take a trip down memory lane. Before your review, make a list of your accomplishments during the past year and note how they benefited your firm. Did you keep a key client from heading elsewhere? Mentor a new employee? Fill in when a coworker unexpectedly quit? Don’t expect your manager to remember all of your contributions.
Be diplomatic. Few managers wait until review time to let you know that you upset a client or sent the wrong file to the printer, but you should be prepared for broader critiques—for example, your boss would like you to be better organized or pay more attention to detail. Don’t panic or become defensive when presented with this type of feedback. If the criticism is confusing or you think it’s unwarranted, ask for examples. Also, find out how big an obstacle it really is: Sometimes a manager will bring up an area of improvement with a nearly perfect employee just to provide some form of critique. Alternatively, you might find out the perceived flaw is holding you back professionally, in which case you should discuss ways to correct it. (For example, if you’re viewed as disorganized, maybe you can take a time-management seminar.)
Most criticism should not come out of left field. Before a performance appraisal, conduct a self-audit to identify your strengths and weaknesses. While it’s important to present ideas for overcoming obstacles, don’t forget to capitalize on your strengths. Taking advantage of your talents can be much more productive than trying to become good at something that’s not a natural fit.
Few people would pass up raises, promotions or even a chance to have their manager’s undivided attention. Yet, performance reviews—which offer all of these possibilities—are sometimes viewed as a chore rather than a chance to get ahead. To make future meetings easier and more productive, start tracking your achievements and challenges now, as well as any requests you’d like to make (skills you’d like to develop, classes to take, projects you’d like to work on). That way, you’ll be in the driver’s seat during your next performance review.