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Ace Your Annual Performance Review

How your boss rates your work determines pay, bonuses and even promotions.

If you work for someone, you most likely participate in an annual ritual called the performance review. This process is intended to be an opportunity for you and your boss to discuss your work performance and to set goals. It also serves as the basis for determining pay increases, bonuses and even promotions.

Don't think of a performance review as just another day at the office. In this meeting, the quality of your work and behavior will be dissected and rated. Expect to receive a numerical score, a letter grade or a descriptive rating such as “meets expectations.” Here's how to make the most of your next performance review.

Before Your Review

  • Set goals. Prepare a list of achievable and realistic goals. Address obstacles and potential resource issues that could stand in the way of your success. Pull together ideas for training and development opportunities.
  • Gather input. Solicit feedback from colleagues, clients and vendors. Ask for specific input on you work habits and behaviors, including successes as well as areas for improvement.
  • Review accomplishments. Collect samples of your best work and most visible achievements. If you can measure the quantity and quality of your work, have those statistics handy.
  • Write a self-evaluation. This is where you get to use the feedback and list of achievements you’ve prepared. If asked to rate yourself, be honest. There’s nothing like a little self-criticism to show your boss that you’re realistic.
  • Prepare yourself. Think about how you’ll react to the full range of possible outcomes. If you receive a glowing review, accept it humbly. But if the news isn’t positive, at least you’ll have your emotions in check and your counter-arguments ready to go.


Ace Your Annual Performance Review

— Erik Dreyer/Corbis

During Your Review

  • Put your boss at ease. Even the best employee is apprehensive about a performance review. It’s important to remember that your boss is probably feeling a lot of discomfort as well. Crack a joke or put on your best smile. Whatever breaks the ice.
  • Use your ears. Listen closely to what your boss is saying. Ask clarifying questions if necessary, but otherwise only speak occasionally. When you do speak, pause to gather your thoughts, and keep your comments constructive and to the point.
  • Challenge carefully. If you disagree over an important point, be prepared with a logical argument. Present information or evidence that supports your position. Keep your voice and emotions in check.
  • Beware comparisons. Avoid comparing your work with that of others. “Yes, but Fred never meets all of his deadlines either!” is sure to take the conversation to a place you really don’t want to go.
  • Average is good. Employers can't afford to rate all workers above-average and hand out maximum raises. An overall “average” or “meets expectations” rating is OK. By all means push for a better rating, just keep in mind that sometimes it’s a numbers game.


After Your Review

  • Give thanks. Express your appreciation for your boss's time and effort. Even if you received an unfavorable review, you’ll gain nothing by being unpleasant. Remember, the same manager could be doing your next performance review.
  • Sign on the dotted line. There's nothing gained by refusing to sign your review form, but there is something to lose. You could be judged as troublesome or uncooperative. Signing your review doesn’t prohibit you from challenging it.
  • Mum's the word. If you receive a great performance rating and pay increase, good for you. Just keep it to yourself. Boasting to co-workers could lead to jealousy and cause discomfort for your boss.
  • Complain with caution. If you disagree with your review, ask about the procedure for having your performance re-evaluated. Once you get an answer, put together an objective and detailed rebuttal. Don't bad-mouth your boss in public. It'll alienate management and dilute your credibility.

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