How to prepare for your next performance review in 5 steps

When you hear the words “performance review,” do you break out into a sweat? Are you still scarred by past 360 peer reviews gone sideways? Or maybe you are overwhelmed by the idea of having a meeting with your boss where the only topic is your job performance.

We get it. Performance reviews are stressful. But with the right preparation and a simple shift of your mindset, you can take charge of your review and even benefit from the process.

What is the purpose of a performance review? 

Performance reviews are more than semi-regular meetings to determine pay raises and/or merit increases. In fact, a best practice is to decouple performance reviews from pay raises. Ideally, you should be getting feedback on your performance all year. However, you might do a more formal self-evaluation once a year as part of an annual performance review. 

An annual review is an opportunity to highlight your specific contributions to your team and your organization. This leads to our first piece of advice, which is to adjust your mindset. Instead of viewing your performance review as a slog, what if you saw it as an opportunity to empower yourself? You know your contributions better than anyone else, and your review meeting is a dedicated forum for highlighting those achievements. What could be more empowering?

Ask yourself what a successful performance review looks like for you, and then work your way backward. We’ll help you get started: At the end of the review, you and your manager should be on the same page about the following:  

  • Your specific contributions and successes 
  • Your goals for growth and professional development 
  • Your priorities for the next six months to a year in your role

Five steps to help you prepare for your performance review 

Now that you know the results you are looking for, you can begin to prepare. Set aside focused time to gather everything you need to achieve those results. By following these five steps, you’ll be ready for your performance review meeting.  

1.) Gather data  

Pull together the quantifiable results of your work. How much revenue did you bring in through your projects since your last review? If your work doesn’t tie directly to revenue, you can focus on other achievement metrics. These might include demonstrable collaboration, customer retention, innovation, and skills attainment.

Next, go back through the projects you’ve been part of since your last review. What were the KPIs, and how did you contribute to reaching them? If you send your manager regular status reports, you might go through them to jog your memory about your contributions to specific projects.  

Another great exercise is to pretend you are interviewing for a new job. What would you highlight to demonstrate your capabilities and contributions in this role? 

2.) Compile praise and accolades 

It can feel uncomfortable to talk about your achievements; you might feel like you are bragging. But accolades are a concrete metric with which you can measure your job performance, and it’s important to share what you have accomplished.

Start a list. Have your coworkers said lovely things about you or your work? Have members of other teams or project leads sent positive feedback to you, or to your manager about you? Have clients or customers praised your work? These are all items you should include on your list.

Accolades are important because they are proof of your good work. For instance, let’s say one of the data points you gather is an example of a time you caught a mistake that would have delayed a project deadline, and another team’s lead emailed to thank you for catching it. You can give your boss this concrete story of your exceptional performance with proof that others were positively impacted by your work.

Finally, add to your list any positive feedback your manager has given you. They aren’t as likely to remember the great things they’ve said about your work, and your review meeting is the perfect opportunity to remind them. 

3.) Take stock of previous objectives  

Think back to your last performance review — or, if this is your first with this company, go back to when you started in your role. What were the goals and expectations? List them, and then write out how you accomplished each one. Show your work with as much specific data as possible.  What did you learn from the process? How has reaching those goals helped you grow? 

If there are any objectives on the list you haven’t yet accomplished, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Why didn’t you accomplish them? What were your blockers? Some obstacles are external: budgets can be slashed and projects can be scrapped. Perhaps your objectives were never updated to reflect those changes. But sometimes, the obstacles are personal and indicate where to focus on growth. This exercise is important because it leads to our next item on the list. 

4.) Consider new objectives 

Take some time to consider the objectives you didn’t meet in the last year. Excluding the influences of the external factors we’ve already named, what did you need in order to meet those goals that you don’t have? Were there skills or certifications that would have made your work easier? Your answers to these questions are a great place to begin when it comes to setting your goals for the next year.

This part of the performance review process can bring out feelings of shame or failure for a lot of people. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, and we all have areas in which to grow and improve. Honest self-reflection will only serve to make you better at your job, which will help lead to more opportunities down the road.

But what if you truly can’t think of any new goals? If you met all your objectives in the previous year with no issues and you are completely proficient in your role, it might be a sign you’ve outgrown it and are ready to take on something bigger.

5.) Set career goals  

Do you want to take the lead on an important project? Are you hoping to move onto a leadership path? List out everything you want that would help you feel challenged by your work and use your performance review meeting to get your manager’s feedback on what might be possible. For more advice on setting career goals, check out this article.   

How to handle the dreaded self-evaluation

Completing a self-evaluation is a typical component of the performance review process. Your organization likely has a template for this. If you’ve followed the five steps outlined here, completing a self-evaluation won’t be a difficult process. You’ll simply edit everything above to hit the most important points and takeaways. You can always expound on these things in the review itself.  For more help and practical tips, check out this article on how to create a strong self-evaluation for your performance review 

Bonus tip: how to approach the performance review meeting itself

The primary goal of this article is to help you prepare for your performance review meeting, but we would be remiss if we didn’t talk briefly about the meeting itself. Remember that your performance review meeting is a two-way conversation between you and your manager about your performance.

It’s important to listen to them during the meeting. They have their own impressions of your performance, and it would serve you to take in those impressions thoughtfully. If you disagree with their assessment, a lot of the data you gathered to prepare could be helpful in clarifying the differences in your perspectives. The honest self-reflection you did during your prep work will help make it easier for you to hear your boss’s criticism and be proactive with potential solutions. 

A performance review can feel intimidating, but with the right preparation, we hope you’ll feel empowered as you take the opportunity to grow your career in this way. Next, check out the Payscale salary survey to ensure your current salary is on track with the market.   


Are you paid what you’re worth?

Payscale's online salary survey arms you with data on what others with your job are being paid.

Complete salary survey