5 Steps to Prepare for Your Annual Performance Review

By Ellevest Team

So you’ve been told that it’s almost time for your performance review — that meeting once (or maybe twice) a year when you sit down with your boss to talk about how well you’ve done your job lately.

5 Steps to Prepare for Your Annual Performance Review

You might be a little nervous, or you might be looking forward to it. But either way, it’s worth preparing beforehand. Because while performance reviews might not be the *most comfortable* meetings ever, they’re actually not just about what you’ve done so far in your role. They’re also a hugely valuable opportunity to talk with your manager, zero in on your goals for the next year, and get clarity on how to reach them.

So this year, before you walk in that room, spend some time on these five things.

1. Get clear on your goals

This is your time to dream. What do you want out of your future in the workforce? Do you like the path you’re on now, or do you think you might want to pivot into a new role, department, or career track altogether?

What would you like to do or learn in the next 12 months? Maybe you want to try your hand at managing people for the first time, or take ownership over a new process. Maybe you want to be responsible for tracking and reporting on some metric in meetings where leadership is present and your work can be seen widely. Maybe you want to get promoted.

But think further than one year into the future, too. What might your whole life in the workforce look like? It’s OK if you don’t know (most people don’t) — that vision will almost certainly change. But it’s helpful to think of a handful of possible futures that appeal to you, then do some reflecting (and probably some Googling) to map back the major steps between those futures and where you are now.

Doing this can help you come up with a list of skills you want to learn, experiences you want to try, and goals you might want to set for the future as you head into your performance review.

2. List out your accomplishments

By the time you get to your performance review, decisions about annual raises will probably have already been made. So unless you know that’s not the case at your company, now’s probably not the right time to ask for a bump in pay. However, it is the time to lay the groundwork for compensation conversations in the future.

So this is no time for modesty. This is the time to reach out your hand and take firm ownership for everything you’ve accomplished over the past year. This is how you stand up for what you’re worth.

Start by writing down the goals you’ve been working toward. If you were given personal performance goals at the beginning of the year, use them. If not, maybe you know the company’s high-level goals, like “grow our customer base by X%” or “improve the company’s operational efficiencies.” And if you aren’t sure about company goals either, think about what your job’s major responsibilities are — start with those.

Then, underneath each goal (or responsibility), note what you accomplished in that area. Go back through your calendar, documents, emails, presentations, etc to do your best to get them all.

For example, if you work in advertising, maybe you launched campaigns that brought in a certain amount of revenue. If you work in customer service, maybe you handled a certain number of calls or maintained a satisfaction rating of a certain percentage. If you manage people, maybe your team completed a major project. If you work in HR, maybe you hosted a learning initiative or hired a certain number of new people for the team.

Numbers are always good — money made, deliverables delivered, projects completed, etc — but don’t forget the non-number stuff, too. Spend a few minutes listing out the skills you learned this year, the relationships you built, and the personal accomplishments you hit.

(Warning: This exercise can make you feel really, really proud.)

3. Decide on some questions to ask

Your performance review is the perfect time to get clear on what’s expected of you and why — which is also a big piece of the how-to-get-a-raise puzzle. If you know what your boss wants you to accomplish, you can track your progress toward those accomplishments and show them exactly why you deserve that promotion.

So ask them: What are the company’s goals for this year? The team’s goals? Your goals for me? How will I know if I’ve hit those goals? What are the specific metrics I can track to understand whether I’m doing my job well?

4. Plan to ask for (at least) one thing you want

It can be daunting to ask for things we want — but if you don’t ask, you are a lot less likely to actually get. And your performance review is the perfect time to tell your boss about some things you want out of the next year.

This could definitely include asking for a raise or promotion in the near future, but it could also be a sort of stretch goal — like those “start managing people,” “take ownership over a process,” or “report on metrics to leadership” type goals you thought of in step one.

You might not get the things you ask for right away — your manager might think you need to develop extra skills first, or what you’re asking for might not be a fit for the overall company plan right now. Don’t be discouraged. Ask your boss to help you set mini-goals to help you get there. And by communicating your eagerness to grow, you’re telling your manager that they can trust you to be ready when the time is right.

5. Be ready to receive feedback

You’re almost certain to get at least some constructive criticism during your performance review — that’s kind of the whole point, after all. How can you grow if nobody points out any opportunities for improvement?

But receiving constructive (or even fully negative) feedback isn’t comfortable — for the receiver or for the giver, typically. So do some mental preparation ahead of time, and get ready to stay open-minded. Because the more professionally you respond to constructive feedback, the better it will be for your development, your relationship with your boss, and your future in that role.

Start by trying to anticipate what feedback your boss might give you — where do you think your own areas of improvement are? Be honest with yourself, because if you can answer this question in your mind ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared to a) hear it from them, and b) respond productively.

Then, during your review, you’ll want to listen carefully. Don’t make excuses or get defensive, and try not to get flustered, even if they’re not very good at delivering the feedback kindly. Thank them for their honesty. Ask for specific examples if you aren’t sure what issues they’re talking about. Ask for suggestions as to how you might improve. If they point out something you know is true, own up to it and (if it’s appropriate for the situation) mention how you plan to do better in the future. If you aren’t sure how to respond or find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take the feedback away with you so you can discuss it with them later, when you’re feeling more controlled.

Here are a few sample scripts, to get you started:

“Thank you for pointing this out to me. I know that I had difficulty [doing X] this year, and I’m sorry it [caused specific disruption or difficulty]. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and going forward, I’d like to [plan of attack for doing X better in the future].”

“I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate that feedback. Could you give me an example or two of a time when I fell short of those expectations? That would help me make a plan to do better in the future.”

“I see what you mean, and thank you for pointing that out to me. Can you help me make a list of a few ways I might get better at that this year?”

“Thank you for giving me that feedback. I want to spend a few days thinking it over so I can make a plan to improve in the future. Can I put 30 minutes on your calendar next week to talk about that some more?”

Those five steps — setting goals, listing accomplishments, coming up with questions, asking for what you want, and responding positively to feedback — will help you feel really prepared for your performance review so you can get the most out of it. Good luck (not that you need it).


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Ellevest Team

The Ellevest team is working to help women reach their financial and professional goals.