How To Prep For Your Performance Review

Performance reviews can be a little nerve-wracking, but doing a little bit of prep work beforehand will help ease some stress and impress your boss.

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
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Ilona Kozhevnikova/Shutterstock

Even if you’re confident that you’ve done an excellent job over the past year, walking into a performance review can still create butterflies in your stomach. This is especially true if you and your boss have a contentious relationship or if you work in a toxic environment. If that’s the case, then you need to be even more prepared. And even if you and your boss get along well, it doesn't ensure that you'll have a stellar review. Sometimes performance reviews can reveal that you and your boss are not quite on the same page about things. 

Maybe you thought a past project went perfectly, but your boss didn’t quite see it that way. Or maybe your boss has noticed a few things that have flown under your radar. Whatever the case may be, it’s always best to go into a performance review armed with facts that back up your reasoning – especially if the case you want to make is that you deserve a raise, but we’ll get to that later. Here are a few ways to help ensure that your next performance review goes smoothly. 

Have a Goal in Mind 

While your boss will be the one to lead the review, don’t just sit there in silence and nod the whole time. A performance review is a two-way street. It’s a time to be open, honest, and candid (but still respectful) with your boss, so don’t take it for granted. Have a goal for the review and a strategy for how you’re going to achieve it.  

Do you feel like you have too much on your plate and need some help? Want some clarity around the expectations for your role? Maybe you want to ask for a promotion or a raise. Knowing what you want to get out of the performance review will help you figure out what kinds of questions to ask and examples to give, so don’t go in empty-handed. Know your goal and have a plan of action for how to achieve it.  

Your performance review is the time to bring your highlight reel and show your work. 

Come Armed With Examples

The main purpose of a performance review is to highlight how you’ve been of value to your company and measure your contributions. So bring your highlight reel and show your work! If you’re really proud of a project that you worked hard on, then you should absolutely bring that up in your review. This is especially true if there was measurable and meaningful ROI as a result. 

Depending on what your job is, however, your contributions might not be measured in terms of dollars, and that’s okay! The more concrete your evidence is, the better, but more abstract examples are perfectly fine. Maybe your job is in HR, and over the past year, you worked on a lot of cultural initiatives to improve company morale. That’s still a very important and worthy contribution. 

We often tend to focus on recent accomplishments because they’re fresh in our mind, but if this is a yearly performance review, then you have the entire past year to work with. Don’t forget about projects that you worked on eight months ago – they still count! Spend some time going through the last year’s worth of work you’ve completed and find examples of how you’ve worked hard, accomplished great things, and been an asset to your company. There are probably more examples than you initially realize. 

Ask for What You Want

Talking about money can be uncomfortable, especially with your boss. But it shouldn’t be! If you want to ask for a raise, then your performance review is the perfect opportunity. Don’t just throw out a random number, though. Do some research about average compensation for your role (in your area) and factor in how much experience you have, how many years you’ve worked in your current role, and any additional value you bring to the table. Also keep in mind your current salary. Most companies aren't going to go above a 10% pay increase.

Back up your ask with solid reasoning, like examples of why you’re worth more money. Make your ask about the value you provide to your company, not about your own personal needs. For example, “I’ve worked really hard over the last year and brought on three times more clients than anyone else in my department” is a much better argument than, “There’s really high inflation right now, and I haven’t gotten a raise in two years.” Your boss is much more likely to be swayed by the former argument. Have a number in mind, but make it a reasonable one and be willing to negotiate.

Your boss will respect you a lot more if you can take constructive criticism in stride and use it to improve yourself.

Don’t Get Defensive

If your boss starts criticizing your performance, it’s natural to feel a little defensive, but try to keep an open mind. Their criticisms may be completely valid, and even if you feel like the feedback is unwarranted, the mature thing to do is receive it with grace and ask questions about how you can improve in those areas. Don’t just nod and say you’ll do better next time. Show that you genuinely care by asking specific questions about what your boss expects from you in certain situations. 

Instead of getting defensive or sulking, be honest and candid. Engage with your boss and use this as an opportunity to strengthen your working relationship. It’s possible that the two of you just had your wires crossed about expectations. People who care about their jobs want to improve and do the best work they can, so show your boss that you take what they’re saying seriously. Your boss will respect you a lot more if you can take constructive criticism in stride and use it as fuel to improve yourself. 

Closing Thoughts

The longer you’ve been in the workforce and the more established you get in your role, the more comfortable you’ll probably get going into performance reviews. But even the most seasoned employee still gets a little nervous – it’s natural! The best way to combat those nerves is by doing some prep work in advance so you can walk into your review with a clear head and a solid game plan. Your future self will thank you!

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