Wow Your Boss at This Year’s Annual Review


As we head into December, we’re starting to look forward to holiday parties, family get-togethers and, like most people, our annual performance review. Although annual reviews have gotten some slack in the media lately, most of us have no option but to endure them. So, we’ll help you make the most of it.

First, even if this hasn’t been the best year for your company, don’t immediately assume that you’re not in line for a merit bonus and a raise. Although many employers have already figured out their budgets for salaries and bonuses, that doesn’t mean that they’ve sorted out who is getting what percentage. Essentially, it’s your job to wow them and prove that you deserve what you deserve.

Here’s how:

1. What Have You Contributed to the Company?

The performance review is all about what you’ve contributed to the team, both in actuality and in perception. Don’t assume that your invaluable contributions to the team have been noticed, or that they’ll automatically be recognized even if they have been noticed. You’re going to be judged on whether you have met—and surpassed—the goals that your boss set at your last review or when you started your job.

2. Act Like a Lawyer
Imagine yourself as a lawyer preparing a case. Start by making a list of all your top achievements. Review all the positive emails your boss has sent you in the past and think back on the feedback you receive most often, as this will help you to isolate what achievements are most important to the powers that be. (If you haven’t been saving all of your positive work emails, you should start. Not only is it helpful for negotiations like this, but it’s also really gratifying to look through.) Take note of how you’ve developed since your last review, and where you stand vis-à-vis your boss’s expectations. How have your achievements made a positive impact on the team and the company? If you’re looking for a more systematic self-assessment before you go in for the official review, check out’s Performance Self Test. We find it a little bit broad in its scope, but it provides a good framework to start thinking about the ways your employer will evaluate you.

3. Get Your Story Down

The best collection of information in the world won’t help you until you can explain it well and succinctly. Before your meeting, write bullet points with what you’ve done, plus all supporting number and figures. “I helped improve subscriber numbers” is much weaker than, “I did X in July, which caused Y% increase in subscribers by the end of October.” Pull as many numbers as you possibly can. Can you quantify how much money you’ve made for the firm? Are there any salient examples of times when you went above and beyond your standard responsibilities? Put all of these details into a memo and ask your boss if she would like to see it in advance of the meeting. Even if she passes on the memo, you’re still ahead of the game because you’ve got your ducks in a row and because your boss knows it.

4. Look Good

Dress as sharply as you would if you were interviewing for a job at your company. Don’t wear a suit if your workplace isn’t formal, but look as pulled-together as possible. Importantly, plan in advance so there’s no scrambling around on the morning of the meeting. (Running late won’t exactly help your cause.)

5. Be Prepared for Pushback

Your boss may bring up your past shortcomings, and don’t argue with her, even if you disagree. Instead, tell her how you’ve improved since then, have addressed your weak points. Describe your plan to avoid those mistakes in the future, and then shift the conversation to the positive accomplishments you have made.

6. Still No Dice?

You can express your disappointment, but do it politely and take your boss’s comments to heart. If you’re unsatisfied with the results of the meeting but see that you can’t win, gracefully back down. Rather than presenting an image of sullen defeat, maintain your composure and ask to schedule another review in six months to evaluate your progress on these new goals. No matter what happens, remember that you’re not alone. Go to sleep early the night before your meeting and the night before that, as your body will feel the effects of sleep debt even if it was two nights earlier. Eat a light, healthy breakfast, don’t drink too much coffee, and try to speak slowly, clearly, and calmly throughout your meeting. Good luck!

  • kodemonki

    Every year I get a positive review better than the last. Every year there isn’t enough money for a raise. Sometimes there’s just not enough money.nnWhat I tend to do in these circumstances are ask for other things (there’s no possibility of promotion at my very small company) like extra paid leave, or the ability to take more than one week off at a time, or flex schedules.

    • Anonymous

      Kodemonki! Always love to see your comments. Good advice about asking for other things than money.

  • Missjonibaloney

    As an HR professional, I can say that althoguh these tips are helpful, the timing is all wrong. Doing this sort of preparation only for your year-end review meetign is not helpful. At any reputable company, annual performance and a merit increase are based on a full year of activities and feedback, not just one meeting. A better approach for an employee would be to ensure that you ask your manager for feedback and provide information like this many times thoughout the year. That way your manager will be well informed These decisions are typically made in advance of the manager’s conversation with you to communciate the outcomes. Trying to negotiate at that point is often futile and can leave poor impressions of you.

    • Anonymous

      Love your commenter name, Missjonibaloney! Thank you for your insights. You are right on that people should be doing this throughout the year. It’s great to have an HR professional in our community. Any other topics that you think LearnVest should address?nIf you want to email me directly it’s Caroline [at] Learnvest.nCarolinen

  • Anonymous

    Readers, any tips that have helped you to ace your review? Or, any nuggets you can pass along, that you wish you didn’t have to learn the hard way?

  • mvance

    Like kodemonki, I also have, year after year, gotten excellent reviews, have met my goals, and those made for me by my supervisor, but no raise for about 3 years. I too proposed getting some extra vacation days, in lieu of a raise. My supervisor seemed surprised by the idea and when he didn’t answer right away, I mentioned how I would be happy just to get some comp time back for the numerous 14 hour days I put in, week after week. This time he answered, oh yes, just let me know when you need a comp day off, but came way short of just offering one or two extra vacation days, as I had first proposed. However, a few months later, after agreeing to giving me one comp day, within the next year, when I brought up the issue about comp days and our previous conversation, he quickly stated “We don’t really give comp days.” This after I worked an extra 14-hour shift, on my weekend day off. I just left it alone. I’d like advice on how to handle this sort of thing, especially since we are coming up on the next review within a few months. While I am so thankful to have my job, it is also frustrating when, after working so hard, above and beyond, there doesn’t seem to be any incentive at all to keep going at this rate, working all those extra hours, coming in on days off because they have no one else to cover, etc. How would others out there react and what’s the best way to respond and deal with a boss (who I know takes comp days here and there when he has the need)?

    • Allison Kade

      Hi mvance,nnThanks so much for that thoughtful comment! That’s a really frustrating situation and we want to help by getting some other opinions and best practices out there. We’ll see what we can do about getting you an expert post on this topic, too, if possible. Hang tight, and thanks for your input!nnBest,nAllison KadenEditor