Ah, performance review season! Hopefully you’re hopping into this stretch with a confident step. But, if you’re not that’s normal, too—you’ll probably want to read this and this to get your nerves under control.
Odds are that you’re reading this because you’ve been asked to write a self-review before your formal one. Or, if not that, your boss is sending vague requests like, “Plan on discussing your progress this year. Bring a few examples on paper.”
This can be intimidating—maybe you’re not sure what to talk about, or maybe you’re a horrible writer and can’t imagine churning out complete sentences about yourself, or maybe you’re unsure of how honest you should really be.
Don’t stress—here’s everything you need to know.
What’s a Self-Review?
As the name suggests, this is your opportunity to look back on and document your past performance as well as pave the way for future growth and opportunity in your current role.
What makes a good self-review? “One that’s honest and admits both your wins and any shortcomings—and not just if there were shortcomings, but how you grew from them and how you would do things differently,” says The Muse’s Director of HR Shannon Fitzgerald.
Why Do Companies Do Them?
No one knows what you do on a daily basis better than you, so companies want to hear it straight from you. Since it’s considered in tandem with your manager’s review (and sometimes even peer reviews), it helps HR see whether you’re keeping up with your responsibilities and if any red flags need to be addressed. And, it brings in an element of fairness by letting you tell your story (and not just taking your manager’s word for it).
“We’re looking to see consistency between the manager and employee. If the manager says one thing and the employee says another thing then there’s a disconnect that we need to intervene,” says Fitzgerald.
HR might also look for trends. Has the employee mentioned a certain type of feedback several times? Or hinted at getting a promotion for the past couple cycles? These signs are worth looking into.
Your manager is also looking at your self-review to see how you want to grow. So, the more you can provide, the easier it’ll be for your boss to take action and help you get there.
How Will it Benefit Me?
For one thing, it’s a great way to track your accomplishments and goals and have them all in one place.
For another thing, it’s a nice chance for you to become more self-aware. By having to actually list out what you’ve done, where you want to be, and how you’ll get there, you’re putting your career into perspective and giving yourself a chance to really carve out your path.
Finally, it’s a great jumping off point for improving a challenging situation. Maybe you’re struggling to work well with your boss, or prioritize assignments, or hit deadlines. You can use your self-review as a chance to explain yourself but also bring these problems to light so they can be resolved.
How Do You Go About Writing One?
Chances are if you’re asked to complete a self-review, HR has given you some direction or prompt to get started.
However, if that’s not the case, these questions are a great place to start:
- What projects have you enjoyed working on the most, and why?
- What projects are you most proud of?
- What are the things you’ve learned?
- What are some things you would have done differently looking back?
- What has your boss done to help you do your job better? What could they do differently?
- Did you receive any feedback during the review period, either from your boss or your peers, that resonated with you? Why?
- What upcoming projects are you excited about?
- Do you feel like you’re adding skills to your resume? If not, what would you like to add?
- What areas would you want more feedback on?
If you walk into your meeting with solid answers to the above when your boss just asked you to “start thinking about the wins and losses of the past year,” you’ll instantly look like someone who takes their career seriously and should be considered an all-star on the team.
Now, in terms of actually putting pen to paper, Fitzgerald suggests starting with bullet points and building a story from there. If you’re not sure what you’ve done, turn to documentation for reference—emails, your calendar, meeting agendas, to-do lists, notes from your check-ins or one-on-ones.
In addition, if you work collaboratively, email a few co-workers and ask them what accomplishments they can think of off the top of their head (and if you want to win all the self-awareness points, also ask them what area they think you can most improve in: skills and training, organization, or communication).
Plus, you should “always look back on the last review and what you said you would do,” adds Fitzgerald. Have you accomplished any of those goals?
“It’s also helpful to talk it over with someone,” she suggests. “Talk to a friend about it, and after you organize your thoughts it’ll be easier to just regurgitate on paper. And it doesn’t have to be done in one sitting. As soon as you’re done, wait and read it again the next morning and see if it still holds true.”
The last point is key: Make sure you’ve looked it over with fresh eyes before submitting it.
Oh, and another point—don’t lie. One, because your company can’t help with what they don’t know. And two, you’re human, so you definitely have room to grow and your boss probably has a few thoughts on those areas. So, you look far more professional if you point them out before they do.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Why wouldn’t I just always put a glowing review? Why would I want my manager to think any less of me?’ But if you put something really glowing but you have areas you need to improve on, it may just look like you have a potentially serious blindspot,” says Fitzgerald.
Not to mention, a “perfect” review also puts you in a tough place—you’ll never be able to live up to it. So, it’s just easier to be honest and transparent.
Want a little more help? We made this handy self-review worksheet that’ll make it way easier to get your thoughts on paper.
Photo of person in office on computer courtesy of Hoxton/Ryan Lees/Getty Images.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author