Help! It's Time for My First Performance Review

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If you are anticipating your first performance review, you may not know quite what to expect. Each manager will handle the process somewhat differently, but there are usually certain common elements. The Q&A’s below are designed to both explain the process and provide suggestions for making it more effective.

1. What is the annual performance review supposed to cover?

The review should cover all of your work during the previous year. The focus should not just be on recent events. Your manager will give you his or her opinion of what has gone well and what might need to be improved. If you and your manager established objectives for the year, then you will discuss how completely they were achieved. You may also discuss objectives for the coming year. Career plans or development needs may also be covered.

2. When will I see the review form?

Typically, employees are given the form to read during the appraisal meeting. However, some managers prefer to give people time to consider their comments before the meeting. In that case, you may be given the form the day before your review.

3. What if I am asked to do a self-appraisal?

Most organizations include self-appraisals as part of the appraisal process. Your boss or HR department will give you the form, which should be turned in before you meet with your boss. When writing your self-appraisal, be realistic. Avoid both excessive humility and outright bragging. Include all your accomplishments, as well as any challenges that you experienced.

4. Will I be asked to give my own opinions during the meeting?

That depends on your boss. The best managers structure the appraisal meeting as a two-way discussion. But others, who see it only as the time to pass judgment on your performance, are likely to do most of the talking. If your boss falls into that category, it’s still quite appropriate to volunteer your views. Just say something like “If it’s okay, I’d like to share some of my own thoughts about that issue.”

5. Is my rating just up to my boss?

Probably not. In most appraisal systems, all ratings have to be reviewed and approved by the next level of management. The HR department may also be involved. The reason for upper-level review is that some managers tend to give a lot of high scores, while others are always low graders. The reviewers’ primary goal is to promote more consistency and accuracy of ratings across work groups.

6. How will my review affect my pay?

That depends on how your organization connects pay and performance. In some, your rating will automatically determine your pay increase. In others, your supervisor may be asked to recommend an amount, usually within a given range. And some may completely separate the performance discussion from the pay discussion. For specific policies in your organization, ask your HR department.

7. Is the performance review a good time to ask for a raise?

It can be, if you have done an outstanding job during the year. However, many organizations give pay increases at the time of the evaluation, so you may want to present your case for an increase beforehand. That way, you can influence the salary decision before it is made instead of trying to change it afterwards. And remember that you can bring up the subject of pay any time that you have taken on additional responsibilities or learned that you are seriously underpaid compared to others.

8. How should I respond to negative feedback?

View negative feedback as an opportunity to learn. You may be learning more about your own weaknesses or simply learning about your boss’s preferences and peculiarities. But in either case, it’s good information to have. If your manager gives you constructive criticism, don’t argue. Instead, ask questions to understand what he or she wants you to do differently. Keep the discussion focused on how things should change in the future, not what went wrong in the past. If you handle this well, your manager will decide that you are a very mature person.

9. What if I disagree with something written in the review?

First, discuss it with your boss. Present your viewpoint in a non-defensive way and ask if the written comments can be changed. If it is a factual mistake, ask for a correction. But if it is a difference of opinion, you may need to decide whether to document your own views. If so, most appraisal forms have an Employee Comments section designed for that purpose. Any comments written there will become part of your official record.

10. If I disagree, should I sign the form?

Most appraisal forms clearly state that an employee signature does not indicate agreement. It only means that you have seen the form and that the information was discussed with you. This is to prevent “stealth appraisals” that are never seen by the person being evaluated. As long as your form says this, go ahead and sign it.

11. What if my manager doesn’t do a very good job with appraisals?

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Managers may be uncomfortable giving feedback, slow to provide praise, or too quick to criticize. Many have never had training on how to conduct reviews, so cut your boss a little slack.

If you become a manager yourself, you’ll find that doing appraisals is not simple. But if you don’t get any useful feedback, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Simply say, “I’d really be interested in your view of my performance this year. What do you think went well and where do I need to improve?”