5 Ways to Prepare for Your Annual Performance Review

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The time when companies are doing performance appraisals!! Just kidding, literally no one likes performance appraisals. Even us in HR kind of hate this season. Buuuuuuutttt performance reviews (evaluations, appraisals, whatever you wanna call it) can be a powerful tool for you and your development. And I thought I could share a few things I’ve learned about performance reviews to help you get the most out of yours.

Why should I care about this?

I mean, honestly, you do not have to. This blog will not be for every person. If you’re working just to work and don’t care about advancing, then you probably don’t need to sweat too much about your performance review. But if you’re looking to advance your career, performance reviews are where you can sell yourself and position yourself for a promotion. It’s also very often tied to your merit increase for the year. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want one of those. Here are a few tips to consider when you’re prepping for your review:

1. Consider the whole performance period

If your company is anything like mine, your performance periods are for a whole year. And if you’re anything like me, you can’t remember what you had for lunch yesterday, let alone what projects you were working on at the beginning of the year. I like to dig through my emails, my calendar, and my project management system to remind myself of all the cool things I did during the performance review time.


Pro tip: Next year, keep a running list during the year before your performance review. Obviously, if you didn’t do that this year, you can’t do it retroactively. But you can make a goal to do it next year. My company has a program where you can log your accomplishments throughout the year that you want to review in your annual review, but I am very very very very bad at keeping it up to date.

2. Highlight results not just what you did

Leaders are more impressed when you can detail the impact you had. People work really hard all the time on stuff that quite frankly couldn’t matter less to their company’s goals. Focus on what outcomes you achieved rather than just what you did.

For example, instead of saying, “I implemented a new client intake process.” Say something like, “I implemented an intake process that allowed us to better identify client goals, which allowed us to decrease our turnaround time.” Or “I implemented a new client intake process that let us better qualify the client, leading to increased sales of our products.” Or something.

As you compile your accomplishments, ask yourself, “so what?” or “why did that matter?” and make sure you answer it for each item on your list.

3. Prepare for feedback

Managers are often coached to use performance evaluations as a time to give direction and feedback on work from the previous year for the employee to work on in the following year. This could come in the form of very positive feedback, and hopefully it is, but it should also include some constructive feedback. And that can be genuinely terrifying. Or at least it is to me, as a recovering people pleaser who can’t help but take any feedback as a personal attack.

Anyway, here are some tricks I’ve learned to make the most out of constructive feedback (instead of wanting to run away crying, but I also still want to do that):


  • Don’t hesitate to ask your manager clarifying questions. Ask them to be specific and give you examples. If they can’t in the moment, as them to if you can follow up with them the next time you meet.
  • Prepare a bit of a mantra. I repeat to myself a phrase every time I walk into a 1:1 with my boss. “You’re not in trouble. Feedback is good. This is how you grow.” It doesn’t always work, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • Prepare a list of things you’d like to get feedback on. Coming in with specific feedback in mind can help open you up to other feedback, too.

4. Set goals and make a development plan

Do you know what your career path is at your company? Do you know what the timeline for promotion might look like? Your manager likely can’t promise a timeline for your promotion, and may have no idea how to get you where you want to go, but this is still an important time to have that conversation. Even if your manager doesn’t have all the answers today, it’s important to communicate your goals. Continue to follow up with your manager until you have a firm development plan in place.

5. Update your resume

This one might surprise you if you aren’t actively looking for or planning on looking for another job soon. But regardless of your job search status, it’s generally good practice to keep your resume updated. (And with the economy the way it is, I think it’s especially good practice to keep it updated.) What better time to do that than when you’re already reflecting on your accomplishments over the last year? You’re already listing what you did. And that formula I mentioned above? About adding a “so what” to every accomplishment? That’s a great format for your resume.