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How Should I Prepare for My Performance Review?

Dear Ron,
I've been at my current job for two years, and this year my company began instituting annual performance reviews. I think my work is good but I have no idea what to expect, so what, if anything, should I do to prepare?
I've always believed that people should try to take charge of their performance reviews, as opposed to just going into their boss's office and taking whatever he or she dishes out, which is what most people do. There are several problems with this latter approach. One is that you could get blindsided by what your boss has to say, and not have the time or wherewithal to respond adequately, at least initially. And two, from the perspective of your boss, who may have to write up and deliver a dozen or more of these reviews, the chances of giving perfunctory feedback that's somewhat vague and thus not all that useful to you are high. Why not help him or her with this problem, and increase the chances of getting more specific advice, by helping to frame some of the issues in advance? Offering to do this also shows you're being pro-active about your own improvement.

One way to do this is to tell your boss you'd like to offer a written self-assessment of your work prior to the review to set the stage for what will be discussed. Ask him to review it and let you know if he thinks there are other items that should be on the agenda. In this assessment, you want to include specific things you think you've done well and areas where you could improve, and you might even solicit feedback from clients and colleagues to help you prepare the report. If possible, try to find out what categories and skills you'll be evaluated on in your review--maybe you've got a colleague whose review is before yours who can share the basic form--and structure your own self-assessment along similar lines. One of your goals is to have your remarks and points used as much as possible in your boss's final review, almost as though you're helping to write your own review for your boss. If there are any big differences in opinion on your performance after your boss has reviewed your self-assessment, then at least you can start to try to address them now, and thus increase the chances that they can be ironed out and ameliorated in the final report.

Many of the most successful people I work with use this more pro-active approach to their performance reviews. One client of mine, a marketing manager at a high-tech firm, was able to use his self-assessment to call attention to his unique strength of getting buy-in from many different corners of his sprawling company to get things done-he called it "system knowledge." His boss said he would never have even thought to include this ability in the review because it was so hard to define, but it really summed up well what he was good at. And "system knowledge" has since become a trait that my client has become well-known for at his company, and that was an impression that he was able to drive himself by taking charge of his performance review. You should try to do the same.

Read More Power Plays From Ron Brown:
Help! My Boss Is Micro-Managing Me!
My Boss Doesn't Listen To Me
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My Boss Is Trying to Steal My Ideas
Send Ron your career and job-related questions.

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