How to prepare for your appraisal/performance review

Does the thought of sitting down with your boss and talking about your performance fill you with dread? If it does, you’re not alone.

Work appraisals or performance reviews are often seen as scary and stressful. But they don’t have to be.

Appraisals can actually offer a great opportunity to move on in your career, instigate changes that make your day-to-day life easier, or even get a pay rise.

Whether you know you’ve been struggling, or feel confident you have out-performed, preparation is the key to making your next appraisal a positive experience.

How appraisals work

In most companies, performance reviews are conducted at least once a year (although some companies are changing the appraisal format altogether).

The aim is to give you and your manager a chance to discuss how you are getting on, and to set some career goals for the next six or 12 months.

Generally speaking, appraisals consist of a written form via which you can assess how you think you’ve performed, followed by a one-on-one meeting with your manager.

However, in some instances, appraisals may also include feedback on your performance from other people, such as colleagues and clients.

How to fill out the appraisal form

Appraisal forms usually ask you to record your achievements over a certain period, rate your performance during that time, and set down objectives for the next six months or year.

Make sure your responses highlight your successes and illustrate how well you are fulfilling your responsibilities.

“Go through your job description and try to come up with an example of how you are excelling at each element,” said construction site manager Dave Harris.

Top tips for your appraisal form

  • Be honest – it’s much better to assess your performance fairly and explain how you plan to improve.
  • Be succinct – keep sentences short and try not to repeat yourself.
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with examples of your achievements, ask your colleagues – you may be pleasantly surprised.
  • Be specific – vague statements will do little to further your cause.
  • Emphasise how your skills have developed – mention any training or courses you have done.
  • If you want to move up the ladder, state the role you would like – and find out what skills you need to get there.
  • Be positive – keep the tone upbeat and constructive.

How to prepare for the performance review meeting

Once you’ve completed your written form, your boss should set up a meeting to discuss your responses, give his or her feedback, and set your objectives.

This meeting is also your chance to discuss your workload, and highlight any issues – as well as exploring your career goals.

Try to come up with goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

“Agreeing clear, objectively verifiable goals at the end of your appraisal will make it easier for you to show how well you have performed at your next review,” said Robin Holt, a project manager in the charitable sector.

“If, for example, you are asked to deliver a piece of work by June, make sure you know whether that means complete the report or implement the report recommendations.”

Other sensible steps include pulling together any results, such as sales figures or students’ grades, that illustrate your success over the period under review.

Be ready too to take responsibility for any failings.

“Be open about the support you need from your manager to increase your chances of success,” Holt said.

And remember: while it’s important to fight your corner, it’s equally important to show you can accept constructive criticism.

Finally, prepare some questions to ask your manager during your review.

These could include:

Can I take a course to improve my skills (in a certain area)?

Top tips for your performance review meeting

  • Avoid reading out a long list of achievements – it should be a conversation, not a monologue.
  • Acknowledge areas or skills that need improving – and suggest ways to achieve this.
  • Be enthusiastic – where possible, show appreciation for the company and your role within it.
  • Practise – talk through your career aspirations with friends and family so you’re clear about what you want to say.
  • Shine – this is your chance to make an impression. Don’t waste it!

Five things to start now

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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