How To Get the Most From Your Performance Review

What to Do Before and After an Employee 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 one or a bad one. You just couldn't be entirely sure of what your teacher thought of you until you saw it. The same is true of a performance review from your employer. Even if you are confident you are doing a good job, it may still stress you out.

After all, it can determine your future.

Employers often base their decisions about raises and promotions on performance reviews which are also called employee evaluations and performance appraisals. Sometimes they even use them to determine whether or not to fire someone. To let you in on a little secret, many managers dislike performance reviews as much as their subordinates do. They would much prefer to offer feedback on a more regular basis, but yet their employers require they do them.

When it comes to a performance review, you may feel helpless. The person who will write 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 your review will help alleviate some of your stress and may improve the outcome.

Here are some things you can do:

First, Become Familiar With the Process

Sometimes the fear of the unknown is the worst part of this whole thing. If you become more familiar with how the process works, you may feel more in control. If you haven't been through this at your current job before, ask around to find out what to expect.

You should also understand why many employers use performance evaluations as a way to evaluate their workers. Theoretically, their goal is to provide feedback, clearly communicate expectations and open up a dialogue with employees. In an ideal world, this would be done more frequently than once a year. Unfortunately, it often doesn't happen that way.

Next, Prepare a Self-Review

Make a list of all your achievements and accomplishments over the last year. If you have kept track of them, this should be fairly simple to do. If you have not, this task will be much more difficult. You will have to spend some time figuring out what you accomplished since your last review. Then note how your employer benefited from your hard work, for example, increased profits, a bigger client roster, retention of older clients. Be very specific. For example, how much did profits increase? How many clients did you bring on board or get to stay? How much did they spend? Highlight everything you want to discuss during the review.

Track down documentation that will back up your claims. Look over your self-review the night before you meet with your boss so you can discuss it the next day.

Decide How You Will Respond to a Bad Review

Thinking about what to do if things don't go well isn't going to uplift your spirits, but it can be very helpful and can influence the effect it will have on your career. Put together a plan in advance so you can make sure that if the time comes to respond to a bad review, you do all the right things and none of the wrong ones. It is best not to react immediately. Asking to meet again in a couple of days will give you time to prepare what you are going to say. You will also have an opportunity to calm down so you can look at the review objectively. Once you have a chance to do this, you may realize the negative feedback wasn't really as off the mark as you first thought. In this case, keep your appointment with your superior so you can go over ways to improve your performance. If, after giving it some serious consideration, you instead conclude the review was indeed unjust, you can meet with your boss to present your case. Use clear examples that counter the criticisms he or she made. If you were so overwhelmed during the initial meeting that you didn't get to discuss your achievements and accomplishments, do it during the followup meeting.

After Your Performance Review: Take-Aways

Regardless of the results of your performance review, think of it as a learning opportunity. You should be able to take away valuable information, whether it is about yourself or your reviewer. If you received valid criticism, figure out how to make improvements over the next year. Do you need to update your skills, manage your time better, or get to work on time more regularly? Did you realize your boss simply wasn't aware of your accomplishments? Make a point of arranging meetings throughout the year instead of just at review time. Even if you received glowing feedback, it will make you aware of what you are doing right so you can keep up the good work.

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