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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Conquer Performance Review Panic

When it comes to performance reviews, you’ve likely heard of the best-case scenario: a glowing review that brings added responsibilities, more visibility in the organization, a promotion, and even a raise! And you’ve probably heard tales of the worst, too: a nightmare meeting ending in probationary status or even dismissal.

So, yes, it’s perfectly understandable why this annual event can be more than a little intimidating. But really, a review shouldn’t be scary, surprising, or even something you lose sleep over.

Your performance review should be an accurate look at your work and accomplishments, and a check-in to help you get to the next stage in your career. And doing well is not about getting lucky that day—it’s about preparing all year long. Here’s how get the results you’re looking for and ensure smooth sailing:

1. Don’t Wait to Ask for Feedback

Employees often make the mistake of waiting to get comments on their performance until their yearly review. But a performance review shouldn’t be a time for surprises. Instead, solicit regular evaluations by setting up times to check in with your supervisor throughout the year. This allows you to nip any performance issues in the bud and avoid getting dinged in your review for small or easy-to-fix problems. Plus, when you know what to expect, you’ll sleep much easier the night before.

2. Plan for Your Review All Year Long

Being able to clearly communicate what you have accomplished throughout the year and articulate the value you bring to the company is critical to receiving a great review. Your supervisor likely won’t notice or remember everything you’ve done, particularly if she’s managing many employees, so set up a system to keep track of your accomplishments.

Write things down or keep your list on your hard drive. Note new processes you’ve implemented, improvements you’ve made, responsibilities you’ve taken on, acknowledgements you’ve received from customers or co-workers, and any other ways you have gone above and beyond. And don’t hold back or downplay what you’ve accomplished: it’s not bragging—it’s making sure you’ll be recognized for the work you’ve done.

3. Determine your Expectations

Before your review, think ahead of time about your desired results. A promotion? A raise? A lateral move into a new department? Whatever it is you want for your next step, a performance review is an excellent time to ask for it. It’s also a great time to communicate your career plans for the upcoming year. Do you want to take on more management duties? Learn a new skill? Take on different responsibilities?

If so, explain this to your supervisor during your review. This is the time she’ll be thinking about your future with the organization as well as changes for the upcoming year—especially as other people in your department might also be moving around at the same time.

4. Prepare to Hear Constructive Criticism

Performance reviews are meant to help guide your development and growth. So your supervisor won’t—and shouldn’t—just discuss the things you do well. She’ll also provide you with constructive criticism to help you to improve.

So don’t get caught off guard—expect to receive this type of feedback, even if you’re doing great. It’s not bad; it’s normal and even helpful. The worst thing you can do in response to constructive criticism is to become defensive or upset. Instead, take this opportunity to ask your supervisor for concrete suggestions on how you can improve, especially in areas you know have been a challenge for you. Show that you are receptive and eager to continue growing in your role. Plus, chances are your boss was in your shoes once, and might have some great tips for overcoming whatever you’re struggling with.

5. If You’re Not Comfortable, Go to HR

Not every supervisor has had proper training to do a review, and sometimes the reviewer’s personal feelings can affect the rating she gives you. If you feel you have received an unfair review, refrain from becoming sullen or angry with the reviewer. Instead, finish the meeting, and approach your HR department afterward.

Be sure that you can provide backup for your disappointment, such as accomplishments that went unrecognized or facts that dispute the information your reviewer provided. If you don’t have evidence, you can come off as bitter just because you didn’t get the review you wanted. So organize your facts before approaching someone with your concerns.

A review can be nerve-racking and stressful, but it’s definitely not something to be afraid of. Be prepared and take charge of your career—starting well in advance of review day—and you’ll set yourself up for a great conversation when that day rolls around.

Photo courtesy of Caiaimage/John Wildgoose/Getty Images.