Mastering Your Performance Review

Make the Most of Your Evaluation

Performance Review
This employee seems to be getting a good review. Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Do you remember the feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when it came time for your teacher to hand out report cards? It didn't matter whether you were expecting a good or bad one. You just weren't entirely sure of what he or she thought of your work until you saw it in writing. The same is true of your annual performance review from your employer. Even if you are confident of doing a good job, feeling stressed out about it isn't uncommon. After all, this single evaluation may have profound effects on your career.

Employers often base their decisions about raisesand promotions on performance reviews, sometimes called employee evaluations or performance appraisals. They may even use them to decide whether or not to fire an employee. To let you in on a little secret, many managers dislike performance reviews as much as you do. Their organizations require them although most would prefer instead to offer feedback more regularly.

A performance review makes workers feel helpless because the person who writes it wields a lot of power. His or her opinion of what you've done over the past year—not necessarily an unbiased account—goes into the report and therefore into your permanent file. While you don't have a lot of control over this situation, you do have some. Having a strategy for dealing with the review will alleviate some of your stress and could even improve the outcome.

First, Become Familiar With the Process

For many, fear of the unknown is the worst part of the whole review process. Familiarize yourself with how it all works to feel more in control. If this is the first performance review from your current employer, ask coworkers what to expect.

It is also essential to understand why many employers use performance assessments as a way to evaluate their workers. Theoretically, their goal is to provide feedback, communicate expectations, and open up a dialogue with employees. In an ideal world, this would be done more frequently than once a year. Unfortunately, far too often, it is not.

Next, Prepare a Self-Review

Evaluate your own performance before your employer's review. List all your achievements and accomplishments over the last year. It is helpful to keep track of them as they occur rather than trying to do it all at once. It may be too late for your current review but remember this advice for the future. Note how your employer benefitted, for example, higher profits, a bigger client roster, or retention of current clients.

Be very specific. For example, indicate the amount by which profits increased or the number of clients brought on board or the percentage retained. Highlight everything you want to discuss during the review and gather any documentation that will back up your claims. Look over your self-review the night before meeting with your boss so that you will be prepared to discuss all your achievements and accomplishments the next day.

Decide How to Respond to a Bad Review

It may seem counterintuitive to think about what to do if things don't go well, but it will help you respond effectively to a bad review if necessary. Develop a plan in advance of needing one to avoid making some serious mistakes.

The most important thing to do is resist the temptation to react immediately. Instead, ask to meet with your boss in a couple of days. Doing this provides the opportunity to think about the review objectively and hopefully calm down. One of two things will happen: you may realize the negative feedback wasn't as far off the mark as initially believed or you may conclude the review was indeed unjust.

Keep your appointment even if you decide the review was accurate. Use the meeting to go over ways to improve. It is also worth discussing an unfair review with your boss. Give clear examples that counter the criticisms. You may have felt too overwhelmed to discuss your accomplishments during the original evaluation, but this would be a perfect time to do it.

After Your Performance Review: Take-Aways

Regardless of the results of your performance review, it is an opportunity to learn valuable information, whether it is about yourself or your boss. Use valid criticism to figure out how to make improvements over the next year.

After a performance review, some people realize their bosses simply weren't aware of their accomplishments. From now on, make a point of arranging meetings throughout the year instead of just at review time to keep him or her informed.

Even glowing feedback presents you with an opportunity. It will inform you of what to keep doing and what additional actions can make next year's review even better.