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6 Steps to Improve Your Next Job Performance Review

First and foremost, I gotta apologize for being late with this blog post! I was having a major case of blog block last week, and I thought it would be best to take my mother’s advice: “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it all.” So I decided to wait until I had something worth sharing. The idea for this blog post hit me like a Mack truck when I was having a coffee with a colleague at work the other day. She said something to me that got the hamster in my brain trotting. She had just had her mid-year review with her boss, and she was so livid she was practically vibrating. Our conversation went something like this:

Seething Co-worker: “I hate job reviews with him, he never has anything positive to say to me, he’s so critical of everything I do.”

Me: "Oh that sucks, but you know he’s like that, did you prepare?"

Seething Co-worker: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Did you make a list of your achievements throughout the year?"

Seething Co-worker: "No. Why should I have to do that? He knows what I’ve accomplished, I shouldn’t have to remind him."

The hamster in my brain started sprinting. Why is it that so many of us hate performance reviews and leave feeling less motivated than when we walked in? Isn’t the whole point of a performance review to defrag the previous year and set you up for success for the year to come? If so, why do only 55% of us believe that performance reviews have a positive impact? Something is definitely off here. To make matters worse, many organizations don’t have that much faith in their own appraisal system with only 2% of organizations rating their system at an "A". Something is way off. I feel these stats. I’ve dealt with it in my own professional experience time and time again. I’ve come to the conclusion that although the companies that I’ve worked for tried very hard to provide an efficient assessment process, they were ineffective because:

  1. They weren’t well-developed and were not designed to drive performance;

  2. My supervisors didn't have adequate management skills to give them or;

  3. My supervisors were just too busy to plan properly for them, and the appraisal wasn’t reflective of the work or effort I’d put in throughout the year.

All factors that made me want to roll my eyes when I got the email that performance reviews were just around the corner! Since we can’t say “No thank you, I won’t be attending my review this year.” How do we make the most of it and make sure we walk out feeling motivated about our jobs moving forward? The answer is taking back some control over your evaluation and learning how to steer your assessment in the direction you want it to go.

Today I’m going to share some tips on how I took back control in my performance reviews and made the decision to lessen the impact of poorly designed evaluation processes or poorly trained managers on the outcome of my assessments. I find that by doing these six simple things I ensure that my reviews are accurate, thorough and most of all motivating.

Tip 1 – Know What You’re Walking Into

For you to make the most out of job review, you have to know what to expect. Become familiar with your companies review process. Some may be quite detailed others may be pretty informal. It’s okay to ask what you can expect so you can prepare yourself. Also, ask your colleagues about their opinions, they’ll be sure to give information your boss might not be offering up.

Tip 2 – The Preparation Never Stops

I have an interesting statistic to share with you. Did you know that only 53% of employers actively track improved performance? I hope you are as shocked to read this as I was, I mean isn’t that the whole point of a performance assessment! If your boss isn’t tracking how much you’re improving, then who is? It better be you! This tip is on the top of the list because there is no better way to take control of your review than consistently documenting your achievements, improvements, and missteps throughout the year.

The standard advice on preparing for your review is to start a month or even a week before your review date, but the boss says this: The preparation never stops. You should be preparing for your performance review all year around. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s not. It’s all about being disciplined and organized. Get in the habit of doing the following and you’ll find that you’ll walk into your review feeling prepared, confident, less stressed and ready for anything that’s thrown your way.

  1. Create a Log: It doesn’t matter how you do this. It can be a notebook, an Excel spreadsheet or Word document. Just make sure that you have a place where you keeping track of your performance

  2. Don’t Forget About Last Year: The last thing you want to is to get off track. Goals set by your boss in your last review will be revisited. Be sure that what you're achieving throughout the year is aligned with the goals from your last review.

  3. Document Everything: Track and date your achievements, recommendations you’ve made, improvements, new responsibilities, completed courses, and your missteps. Yes! Don’t forget to track the mistakes you’ve made and be sure to be honest on why they happened. Create an action plan on how you addressed your errors so you can present them to your boss.

Tip 3 - Avoid the Blindside

I’ll share a short story with you. I remember sitting down for a performance review feeling super prepared and confident that it was going to be a good one when suddenly I was slapped in the face with performance issues that I’ve never heard of before. I felt embarrassed, unprepared and downright pissed. I mean, why weren’t these issues brought to my attention as they happened!? It goes back to one of the conclusions I mentioned earlier: some supervisors just aren’t equipped with the management skill to deliver a proper review. I have given many performance reviews to employees, and my personal rule is that nothing discussed in a job review should come as a surprise. Good managers address issues as they happen, but hey, not everyone is a good manager. So how do you avoid this happening to you? Prevent the blindside by asking for feedback all year long. Let’s face it. Everyone’s busy and would be nice to receive regular feedback on a consistent basis, but it just doesn’t happen. In fact, only 30% of employees say they receive regular feedback on their performance. Take control and get the feedback yourself. If you’ve completed a major project, ask for a brief meeting to discuss how your manager felt it went and any improvements you could make. If you know you’ve made a boo-boo, and your boss doesn’t say anything to you about it, take the bull by the horns and ask to talk about it. If you’re just trucking along and think you’re doing everything well and never hear from your boss, don’t assume no news is good news. Ask to touch base every couple of months to go over your performance. These meetings don’t have to be formal. Go for a coffee, drop by their office for a quick chat. Just do it.

Tip 4 – Evaluate Yourself

Some organizations provide this for you and some don’t. If not, you should create your own. Try to step out of yourself and assess your performance from your boss's and co-workers perspectives. If you’re not sure how to begin to evaluate yourself. This article by Lifehacker will give you a great start.

Tip 4 – Set Your Own Goals and Prepare to Sell Them

The best goals are the ones you set for yourself. I’ve been to so many reviews where my boss has set a bunch of goals for me that don’t excite me and don’t take into account where I want my career to go. The best way you can ensure that you get the most of your review and feel excited about the year ahead is to set your own goals. There are rules here though:

  1. Don’t set too many: Don’t stress yourself out by setting too many goals. Think quality, not quantity.

  2. Be Strategic: Make sure your goals drive your career in the direction you want it to go with your company. Create the right goals that will highlight the skills you need for your next promotion or raise.

Next, sell these goals to your boss. You’re practically doing their job for them so the sale shouldn’t be too hard provided that the goals are challenging, measurable and are going to benefit the company. But! Be ready to compromise and collaborate, your boss probably has some ideas for you as well. If you feel stuck on how to create strong goals that your boss will buy into. Read this article by yourcoach on how to create SMART goals.

Tip 5 – Be Open-minded

Have you ever heard that it’s hard to see things clearly when you’re so close to it? Projects that you worked tirelessly on, events that you’ve planned, whatever it is, it means a lot to you. It’s hard to be objective. We tend to see all the positives and dismiss the negatives. When you go into your performance review, keep an open mind and be open to hearing feedback from an outside perspective. You just may find that they have something valuable to add that you didn’t think of and can use to boost your performance to the next level.

Tip 5 – Own it

If you made a mistake, it’s so important that you own it. We’ve all come across that person who has a million excuses why they don’t want to accept responsibility. Annoying. As a manager, I had a really tough time with this one. I didn’t get that although my employees under me were making the mistakes, they were my employees. The buck stopped with me. When I stopped making excuses and decided to own my part in it, the results I got out my performance review improved. Instead of being pegged as a person who could not accept responsibility, I was applauded for having the insight. Owning your mistakes don’t equal being weak, it means having the strength to admit you’re not perfect.

Tip 6 – Don’t Let Negativity Rattle You

It happens. The negative review. It could have been a bad year where you were dealing with personal stuff and your head just wasn’t in the game, or maybe you’re dealing with a new boss who has some different expectations than your last boss. It’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up. Use this as an opportunity to pull yourself up, dust yourself off and start again. The best thing you can do is keep your cool and resist the urge instantly react. Sit back, listen and absorb what’s being said. In the heat of the moment, it’s instinctual to want to defend, but what ends up happening is we come off looking like we can’t take criticism in addition to not performing well. Not a good look. If you don’t know what to say because you’re at a loss for words or even if you have plenty of choice words; ask to have some time to go over the comments. Give yourself some time to calm down and request a follow-up meeting so you can collect yourself and craft a rational and logical response to the issues and an action plan. You just might find that what you’re hearing has some merit. If you believe they’re way off base, the time to think about it will give you an opportunity to make a strong case for why they’re wrong.

Performance reviews are your opportunity to be heard and to steer your career in the direction you want it to go. Don’t allow a poor assessment process or a not so great manager hurt your motivation and effect your job performance. Take back some control in the process and drive the evaluation in the direction you want it to go. Doing these simple steps will take the stress out of the situation, will ensure that none of the great things you've done go unnoticed, and your boss will surely be impressed by your level of preparation and commitment you have to your own career progression.

Preparation for your next review starts today! Now go show that evaluation who’s boss!

Shameless Plug Time: Check me out at

Next Week: How to Handle Progressive Discipline With Grace

Photo Credits: GDP


JC Halfkenny is CV Boss. With over 20 years of recruitment experience she has reviewed thousands of resumes and hired hundreds in various industries such as manufacturing, spa and wellness, finance, retail and aviation. As an experienced recruiter, she knows the secret of resume writing lies in knowing precisely what to put in, precisely what not to put in, and exactly what kind of a spin to put on a resume, to ensure it will stand out from the crowd.

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