Even if you’re hitting all your numbers and have a great relationship with your manager, you probably aren’t exactly looking forward to your performance review. Few conversations offer the same combination of judgment on past behavior and anxiety about future potential as an annual evaluation.
Ideally, nothing at your review will be a surprise. Good managers communicate with their reports all year round, and not just when it’s time to formally review goals and talk about raises. But, you don’t have much control over whether your manager knows their stuff; the only things you can influence are your own preparation, attitude and actions.
With that in mind, here’s how to turn your performance review into an opportunity to set yourself up for the best year of your career:
1. Get a Copy of Your Goals
Many employers set goals at the same time as they evaluate performance from the previous year. So, if you’re been at your company for more than a year, you likely have a set of goals in place. Pull a copy from your file and make an honest evaluation of whether you’ve hit the mark. (If you’ve been at the company for less than a review cycle, your job description is a good substitute for formal goals.)
Sometimes, you’ll find that your goals have changed over the course of the year. When that happens, don’t panic — but do find documentation for any changes, if possible.
And what if the change happened more organically, and not at your manager’s express request?
“Say at review time, ‘I made a strategic decision that this needed more of my attention than that,'” Richard Phillips, a career coach and owner of Advantage Career Solutions, told Monster.com. “Don’t make it sound like you just forgot or you blew it off.”
2. Quantify Your Achievements
Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished, including both your official goals and your other achievements that don’t fit neatly into that framework. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of writing down your wins as they happen, but if you haven’t developed a system yet, you can use your calendar, emails and messaging history to reconstruct your history for the past year.
Quantify your achievements whenever possible, with a special emphasis on money you’ve made or saved for the company. Numbers are more persuasive than adjectives, when it comes to demonstrating your worth to the organization.
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3. Look for Room to Improve
Most review processes require employees to evaluate themselves at some point, which can be a psychologically grueling experience, especially for those who suffer from impostor syndrome. On the other hand, of course you don’t want to come across like someone with an inflated ego and no sense of self-awareness.
Sitting down with your goals and accomplishments ahead of the formal review process can help you avoid both pitfalls. It’s easier to evaluate yourself honestly when you’re not staring at a form that will eventually wind up in your manager’s inbox.
View this part of the process as an opportunity. No one is perfect. The most successful people learn from their failures and setbacks and move on with greater self-knowledge. What would you do differently, if you had the year to do over again? What would make you more successful in the coming year? Be honest with yourself, and then you can decide how forthright to be when it’s review time.
4. Do the Groundwork to Get a Raise (Eventually)
It might surprise you to learn that review time is not necessarily the best time to get a raise. It’s true: by the time the end of the year rolls around, budgets are often closed. Your manager might not have much wiggle room for rewarding your performance.
Rather than bemoan that 3 percent raise, look at this meeting as a chance to lay the groundwork for next year. Maybe you want to get promoted, or add skills that will make you a more valuable employee over the long term. Now’s a good time to start sharing your career plans with your boss, if you haven’t already. They might have resources such as continuing education benefits that can help you meet your goals.
5. Set Personal Goals for the Coming Year
The best part of doing your own evaluation before your official performance review is that it reminds you to focus on your own career, not just the company’s plans for next 12 months. Where do you want to be when review time rolls around again, and what do you need to do to get there?
Think about classes you could take, skills you should develop, projects that would give you the experience you need to progress. Plan your next move now, and start preparing yourself to make the leap, whether it’s at your current employer or in a brand-new job somewhere else.
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