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If the thought of your annual performance review sends you into panic-mode, you’re not alone – these common evaluations are infamous for their ability to elevate the stress levels of employees everywhere. In fact, it’s so normal to fret about your upcoming review that the condition’s been given a name: performance review anxiety.

(Hey, we didn’t say it was a wildly creative name.)

We’re here to help you combat panic with preparation; ready to walk into this year’s review confident and, if not necessarily excited, at least without the sweaty palms and racing heart.

THESE ARE THE BASICS

Contrary to popular belief, performance reviews don’t exist solely for the purpose of stressing you out – they’re meant to be a productive, open discussion between employee and employer that provides value for employee, manager and the company in general.

During this one-on-one time with your boss, you’ll receive useful feedback on the work you’ve done over the past year and identify areas for growth and development in the year to come – it’s also a great platform for you to develop actionable goals, advocate for yourself and your achievements and for your manager to ensure they’re providing you with the proper support to allow you to be productive, successful and engaged in your role.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

THIS IS HOW TO PREPARE

No matter what your role is, or how long you’ve been with the company, or how absolutely incredible you are at what you do, our advice is this: don’t wing it! The importance of setting aside dedicated prep time can’t be overstated – it’ll boost your confidence, and your manager will appreciate your professionalism.

Step one: reflect on the highs

List out anything you consider to be an accomplishment over the last year: any big projects you wrapped up, training or development courses you completed, targets you smashed, new responsibilities you took on, a particular assignment you really enjoyed, business relationships you fostered with key players in your industry, the progress you’ve made on your public speaking skills – all that good stuff.

Where possible, include specifics and numbers – people love numbers. For example: From March to August 2021, I conceptualized and successfully launched a campaign that generated a 30% increase in traffic to our website.

Step two: reflect on the lows

The facts are this: nobody’s perfect. Even the most extraordinary employee will likely receive constructive criticism on something or another during their annual performance review. Rather than be blindsided by your manager’s feedback, wouldn’t it be nice to go in ready and equipped with a productive response?

Give some thought to any challenges you faced and any setbacks you may have encountered this past year: struggling with time management while working from home, a new software you found hard to pick up, your hesitancy to share your ideas during team meetings, difficult relationships with clients, customers or colleagues – those types of things.

Be honest with yourself about aspects of your performance this past year that could be improved upon, things that maybe didn’t go quite to plan. What did you do in those instances – and, more importantly, what did you learn from them? Are there any steps you’ve taken to make progress in those areas and develop skills that’ll help you deal with similar situations better in the future?

It shows a high-level of self-awareness and maturity to take ownership of the good along with the bad, and your manager will appreciate your willingness to discuss these setbacks candidly, should they broach the subject.

Think about next steps

Once you’ve finished up with your year in review, you’re ready to give some thought to where you want to go from here: it’s time for some goal setting! Goals are like a map, and you’ll get where you’re going quicker and easier when you’ve got them sorted. If you’ve read our post on Goal Setting for Career Success (which you totally have, right?), you know that when you set a professional goal, it forces you to look at where you are, where you want to be and, most importantly, the steps you’ll need to take to get there.

Identifying your career goals gives you something to work towards, and keeping them in mind will help you stay on track, guiding you on your career journey as you grow and develop professionally. What better way to get ready for your upcoming review? Here are some questions you can use to get started:

  • What progress did you make on the goals you set last year? Where is there still room to grow? (Note: if you didn’t set any goals last year, you’ve already made progress by setting some this time around. Yay for you!)
  • Are you happy with the career path you’re currently on? Would you like to continue on it, or are you thinking it might be time to change things up? Would you like to move into a new role with the organization? Perhaps join a different team or department? What appeals to you about these opportunities?
  • What type of skills would you need to move into this ideal role? Are there experiences you’ve had in your current position that would make you a good fit? Are there certain courses or certifications you’d need to be qualified?
  • Is there someone in the company that you admire? What is it about them that you respect? Are there skills they possess that you’d like to develop? Would it be possible to speak with them to learn more about their personal career journey?
  • And finally, the big one: Where do you see yourself this time next year? In five years? What steps will you need to take to get there?

AND THIS IS HOW YOU CRUSH IT

Alright, it’s here. The big day. You’ve done all the prep work; you’ve checked and re-checked your calendar to make sure you’ve got the time right, and you’re ready to knock this performance review right out of the park – so let’s do it:

Ask questions

Questions are encouraged! Whether you’re curious about how your progress is being measured or wondering if it might be possible to work from home a couple days a month, now’s the time to ask the big questions and get a better understanding of what your future with the company might look like.

Take notes

Jot down important aspects of your manager’s feedback so you can refer back to it later, noting specific examples – and be sure to ask for clarification if you need it! If we learned anything from George Costanza, it’s that misunderstanding your boss is a pain for everybody involved – and that an empty Penske file may be in your near future.

Share your experience

You’re keen to hear your manager’s feedback, of course, but they want to hear yours, too. Your manager is here to support you; to make sure you’re happy in your role and have the tools you need to be successful – but it’s pretty tough for them to do a good job of that if you don’t speak up!

Express your enthusiasm about what’s to come

You’re excited to take the next steps in your career, right? Right! Make sure you show your manager that you’re eager to grow with the company and that you see a future for yourself with the organization. If there are specific training or leadership development programs you’d like to explore, it’s a perfect time to put that on your boss’s radar.

AND ABOUT THAT ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

For many of us, the nerves of the performance review are made worth it by the hope that it’ll result in a well-deserved bonus or pay raise. Ideally, you’ll breeze through the actual evaluation portion of the meeting and then – voila! – your boss will bring up salary without any prompting on your end, offer you exactly what you were hoping for and everybody walks away happy.

However, if your manager doesn’t bring up salary during the conversation, you can certainly raise the issue yourself – and don’t worry, it’s not half as awkward as you’re imagining it to be.

Do your research beforehand

Check out some salary guides – there are tons available for free online! – to make sure you’re confident in your understanding of what other professionals in your sector and location are making in the current job market.

Keep in mind that everybody’s career journey is unique (and there’s nothing to say you can’t ask for a number outside of the normal range if you can back it up with examples proving you deserve it!), but it’s still important to have this kind of information going into a conversation about salary.

Keep your emotions in check

Talking about money can elicit some serious emotion – and that’s understandable! But this is not the time nor place to chat about your own finances or the personal reasons you want this pay bump. It’s in your best interest to keep your composure and stay professional; stick with the facts: why do you deserve a raise?

This goes back to everything we discussed earlier: highlighting your recent achievements, giving example of how your efforts have benefited the company and demonstrating how you can contribute to the organization’s success moving forward.

Understand that it’s not a guarantee

While we’ve got all our fingers crossed for you, keep in mind that it’s possible that you may not get the answer you hoped for – and that’s disappointing. There’s about a zillion reasons why your manager might not be able to offer you a higher salary right at that moment, so feel free to ask when you might be able sit down again and revaluate, and what your boss would like to see from you in the meanwhile.

Maybe there are specific goals or milestones they’d like you to hit first, or maybe it’s not about you at all – it might just not be a good time for the department or the company. Make sure you leave the conversation with some actionable goals you can work towards, and in the meanwhile, maybe you can swing some extra vacation, a more flexible schedule or some other perk or benefit you’ve coveted!

PROACTIVE STEPS

Why spend weeks dreading a meeting you know is coming when you could be preparing for that meeting all year long? Alleviate some of that nervous annual review anticipation with regular check-ins!

Touching base with their team on a regular basis is a great way for a manager to stay in the loop on important development, bolster employee engagement and identify small issues before they become big problems. Most managers will facilitate these meetings with you, but if you’re not getting feedback as often as you’d like, it’s totally okay to take the initiative and ask to connect regarding your process.

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