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Preparing For Your Performance Review

Last year I started my first “real world” job after 10 years in the academic sphere. Along with the increase in pay and benefits (and decrease in intellectual freedom and schedule flexibility) came the attendant bureaucracy – including, at the end of my first year, my performance review. I have to admit, I was nervous: initially because I had never had a performance review before, and then even more so after hearing that a colleague’s review had gone less than swimmingly. So, I decided to go on the offensive and be as prepared for this sucker as humanly possible. From the lofty experience of having completed one performance review, I lay out the strategy I employed below. Performance reviews will vary considerably from place to place, so if you have any further tips or advice that I’ve missed, please add it in the comments!

  1. Find out from the person who will be running the review what is involved. It may sound obvious, but the email notifying me of my performance review was extremely light on details, and I was hesitant at first to ask. Were there so few details provided because it was so obvious what was going to be involved that description was unnecessary? I didn’t want to precipitate the results of the review by immediately asking a stupid question. But there’s some truth to the old adage that there are no stupid questions. I tried not to be too apologetic and replied to the email asking for more information about the format, what would be covered, who would be present, and what I was expected to prepare. In my case, the answers were: roundtable discussion; feedback on how I had spent my time for the last year; my direct supervisor, the office manager and another supervisor that I had worked with extensively; and a list of my accomplishments for the previous year.
  2. There are almost always a few veterans around the office who are approachable: use them as a resource. I questioned several of the more established office members about the process, which proved invaluable. I managed to get my hands on a copy of the worksheet from the previous years’ performance reviews, which laid out in more detail exactly which “performance factors” would be discussed. They were quite general, so I will list them here: technical competence/job knowledge; quality (as in, commitment to); productivity; dependability; teamwork, judgment; initiative; and perseverance. This allowed me to organize my thoughts and to come up with examples over the past year for each of those attributes. Another reason it was useful to talk to my colleagues about the process was for reassurance; the reviewers weren’t out to vilify anyone, and everyone had to go through the same thing.
  3. If people are willing to discuss it, it’s very useful to find examples of the type of negative comments that have come up at performance reviews. This can help you evaluate the areas on which the reviewers are focused. For instance, failures in teamwork and communication were both issues that had been discussed in my workplace. And, more importantly, it will give you a sense of the extent to which something has to become a problem before it is brought up at the review; both of the aforementioned examples were six months in the making and clearly egregious. Getting an idea of how picky your reviewers will be is a big bonus.
  4. In that vein, it’s good practice for the review to imagine yourself receiving such criticism. That’s probably a whole post in itself, but prepare yourself for feelings of defensiveness, anger, and even distress if it is not something you’ve been expecting. Think about how you would like to react – to take a few breaths, and think analytically about the point at hand. If possible, to provide an explanation, especially if the reviewers are missing important information. If not, to tell them you appreciate that it was brought to your attention, to ask if they have any specific recommendations for going forward, and possibly to organize a follow-up review session in a month or so to make sure the issue is being resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
  5. Go into the review armed with as much data as possible. If they’ve asked for a list of your accomplishments, dazzle them with information – every single thing you’ve done (including courses, presentations, documentation), grouped by type of activity, resources used, people involved, project impact, whatever is relevant that you can think of. While you’re at it, make a list of your plans for the next 6-12 months, including goals, projected dates, and resources required. Don’t fret too much about the exact dates; the point is to show the reviewers that you are thinking ahead. Are there courses you are interested in? Write up a list. Are there conferences that you want to attend? Write up a list. Anything you can think of, have it at the ready.
  6. Salary negotiations”¦ here, I don’t have much information. At my workplace, the salary negotiations happen separately from the performance review, and I haven’t had mine yet. All I know is that they are performance-based. Talking to my friends, though, it’s not unusual to have salary negotiations be part of the formal review. If Persephone readers have any advice on this front, let me know! I’m planning on starting the salary negotiation offensive this week”¦

6 replies on “Preparing For Your Performance Review”

This is very different than my prior job as a consultant! By “review” time, the boss had already filled out the ratings in each category and a decision had been made about salary, bonus, and possible promotion. In a job like that, you should do what the author did MONTHS before the official review. Set up a 15 minute appointment with the supervisor to discuss. Never try to catch the boss when he/she is free; make sure you have uninterrupted time and your boss’s full attention. At that time, discuss what he/she thinks your strengths and weaknesses are, get suggestions on how to improve the review date, and find out what extra steps are needed for you to be in the running for a promotion.

That’s a great point. If decisions are going to be made prior to the review, you absolutely need to be on top of things in advance.

Also, once you have gone through a performance review at your workplace, you should sit down afterwards and debrief yourself, so you’re prepared for the next one – were there any surprises? What could you have prepared differently? Should you have met with your supervisor in advance?

Oy, I hate performance reviews. I call them the “Fight for Your Life Hour”. For me, the trick is understanding what the work culture demands. In my previous school, they only cared about student and family perspectives. Luckily, I had a lot of good feedback from students and families. In my current school, that doesn’t matter. Admin doesn’t care about how students and families feel I’ve contributed to their education and overall well being – admin is only interested in spreadsheets and data that can be quantified. I bloody hate it.

Oh hey! I just had mine! We have it set up like a Goal Review Session sort of thing. It’s a new system so it’s kinda crazy but basically we talk about the year ahead and where we want to go with our duties, our certifications, experience, etc. It all gets written down with a focus on 1. is it specific, 2. is it measurable, 3. is it achievable, 4. is it relevant, and 5. is there a timeframe or deadline? That way, next year when we go through the process again and set new goals, the old goals can be evaluated and “graded” – we use a Top Rating and and Core Rating system, basically “A” grade or “C” grade. There are more steps in the Review but since this is the first year, those will be tackled next year when these goals are reviewed. Super fun.
But, in all cases, if you go into a performance review meeting armed with goals and proactive steps toward improvement, you’re pretty much Solid Gold. Know what your weaknesses are and be prepared to cover how you already brainstormed solutions and ways to fix the problems. Also – it never hurts to say “It would be great if you could help me with this.”
I hope everyone’s performance reviews go well! (Now, let’s talk more about this Salary Negotiation thing and why I’ve never heard of it. Is this a thing? Is it annual?)

Heh, again, this is my first year in a proper job, so I am not sure how common salary negotiations are or how regularly they take place – just that here they are held after the performance review.

I remember my mother telling me about SMART goals when I was struggling with finishing my PhD (she’s a bank manager so she loves things like that), but I’d forgotten what the acronym stood for – thanks for the refresher!

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