Performance reviews are nearly universally loathed.
Even good conversations between managers and employees can feel forced, and the bad reviews often feature unwelcome surprises. And does anyone ever get a big enough raise?
But if you have to go through the review process, you might as well get something out of it. And you can. Handle your review well, and that awkward conversation can help you reach your career goals faster and lay the groundwork for a promotion.
You can’t control how your boss handles your review, or, at this point, your actual job performance. Typically, decisions about your raise or changes in your job have already been made by the time of your review.
But you can flip the meeting into something you are doing for you, and turn it into a useful planning session for your career.
Evaluate Yourself First
Most people skip true self-assessments because they don’t want to be reminded of their screw-ups or shortcomings (of course, some people are sure they do everything right, but most of them aren’t reading career advice). Make a brag file of your successes that includes as much data as possible. But also be as objective as you can about the mistakes you made, the projects that didn’t quite work, or any difficulties you had getting results or communicating with other teams, colleagues, or clients. There’s no need to beat yourself up. Revisit the past long enough to determine what you might have done better and what factors might have changed the outcome. Look for specifics such as developing more realistic timelines, increasing your knowledge of a program, or enlisting support from another team that can lead to success the next time.
Lay Out Your Goals
Turn now to the future. Where do you want to be in one year, two years, and five? What do you need to get there? Map out the route from where you are to where you want to be in terms of your own skills and abilities, as well as job title and salary. Enter your performance review with an understanding of what you need–training, more communication, more help, the support of your boss–to get to those goals.
Listen, Learn, and Let Go
Your manager will have an agenda for your review as well. And it may be to offer an explanation of the raise you are getting. If you don’t agree with something, by all means speak up. But don’t be defensive, and don’t argue. Really, it just doesn’t work. Try asking questions instead. Ask your manager how he drew a particular conclusion or what feedback he’d gotten that led to a comment about one of your skills. If you really find something unfair or untrue, you might be tempted not to sign off on the review. That’s generally a mistake. Not signing a review doesn’t make it disappear, and you will be perceived as difficult. You can choose to sign it with a note that says your signature indicates only that you received the review, but be aware that doing so may adversely affect your future at the company.
Set the Plan for the Future
Even in a great review, managers will bring up areas where they feel you can improve. No matter if your review is good or bad, you should do the same thing: make a specific performance plan. Get as clear as you can on why your manager has concerns or where your boss thinks you can grow, and discuss how you will address those areas (if you’ve taken the time to assess yourself, this will be easier). And then set new goals–ones that can be measured. Let your boss know the path you want to take and ask for thoughts about how you can get there. Agree on the areas you want to develop, and steps on how you can do so. If you want a raise or promotion before next year, ask for another review at a specific time, such as in 90 days or six months. Then get back to work and earn it.