No matter how happy you are with your job, we're willing to bet that you have no love for your annual performance review.
You know that rite of passage that often happens at the end of the calendar year, where you sit down with your manager and determine what you've contributed to the company, if your future goals align, whether you’ve exceeded expectations — and if a promotion and salary hike are in the cards.
If it’s any solace, your boss hates it, too. “Generally, no one on either side of the table likes or enjoys the process,” says Fred R. Cooper, founder and managing partner of Compass HR Consulting. “It’s time-consuming for the supervisor and creates anxiety on the employee side and involves talking about the positives and negatives that came out of your last review.”
With your job security, professional rep and income on the line, here's how to go into your review with all the bases covered and make the most of the experience.
Find Out What to Expect
New to the company or in a new department? Download or dust off the employee manual. Skimming through the company values can give you an idea of what’s important to your employer and what overall points you need to make to get ahead.
The employee manual could also hold insight into what your workplace’s review process looks like, since every company does it a little differently. If not, ask your supervisor or an HR rep what to expect. “That would demonstrate maturity, commitment and respect for time of all parties involved,” Cooper says.
Talk to your coworkers for the inside scoop, too. They can clue you in on how seriously your manager takes reviews and what you need to do to show you’re rocking your position.
Treat It Like a Job Interview
Remember all of the preparation you did for your initial interview when you applied for your job? Approach the review process the same way. “You’re being interviewed for your continued employment but also for whatever comes from that beyond your continued employment,” Cooper says. That could be a promotion, additional responsibility, a transfer to a better department and/or a salary boost.
Revisit interview-prep best practices: Conduct a mock review with a friend, get a solid night of sleep and be ready to present the best version of yourself, Cooper says. “You want to make a good presentation and, just like an interview, you want to make a good impression,” he says.
That includes paying close attention to your wardrobe. What to wear depends on your company culture, of course, but consider keeping your jeans and sneakers in your closet and breaking out a suit or nice separates. It’s a pulled-together outfit that conveys you’re a professional who takes company practices seriously.
Talk Yourself Up
Your review is your time to make clear all you've contributed to your team or the company as a whole. Yet your goal is to come off as confident and not arrogant, Cooper says. One way to steer clear of boasting too much is to rely on other people to sing your praises for you.
Put together what Cooper calls a “brag book” filled with letters of recommendation, notes you’ve received when you blew clients out of the water, and copies of previous A-plus evaluations. Work up a spreadsheet that breaks down by week or month the new projects, milestones and congratulations you’ve racked up, plus a key coworker involved with each who can vouch for how well you performed.
Not a fan of the spotlight? Get comfy with it, because the focus is supposed to be on you, says Dennis Theodorou, vice president of global executive recruiting firm JMJ Phillip. By outlining specific examples of how you’ve helped boost the company’s bottom line, you ensure that your manager will leave the meeting certain of your value.
Prep Yourself for Criticism
Many managers take the approach that the review can’t be all positive, so they try to balance the good things with bad, Cooper says. It goes without saying, but no one likes to hear about what they’re not doing right.
Ideally, you won’t be caught off guard by any of the feedback you receive, but you should sincerely listen to it. “Whether you agree with it or not, that’s what’s being talked about and it could very well affect your future employment,” Cooper says.
After you absorb it, assure your manager that you’re committed to working on the points raised. Explain that you’d like to schedule follow-ups, so you can show you took the review seriously and have improved on what was discussed, suggests Cooper. Start by requesting meetings every other month so you’re not annoying your manager or taking up big blocks of calendar time.
Above all, avoid slipping into defensive mode. “Anyone who truly wants to grow within the organization should be able to take constructive criticism,” Theodorou says. Steal Cooper’s stay-calm trick: write down what your boss is saying as he’s saying it. “It helps focus your energies away from being angry and gives you something to do other than listen helplessly,” he says.
Make the Case for a Raise
Your review is the time to discuss what you've brought to the table — and how the company can compensate you for your hard work and success. So directly and confidently, bring up the bonus or promotion you feel you deserve, especially if you’ve performed the steps to earn it.
“You have the manager’s attention right then and there,” Theodorou explains. Say, “’Last time we spoke, these were the requirements to be eligible for this type of bonus. I fulfilled those requirements, so what do I need to do to achieve that bonus?’”
Even if compensation isn’t directly tied to your company’s review process, you can initiate the conversation. Ask how you can grow within the company and what it will take to get to the next level. More often than not, this can lead to a discussion about money, he says. And that will ultimately leave you feeling like the prepping and practicing for your review was worthwhile.