As work starts to wind down for the year, it may be time for the yearly tête-à-tête with your boss: your annual performance review. Whether formal or informal, it’s a necessary part of the job and can provide valuable insight into how you’re doing. But for many of us, it’s also tied to things like yearly bonuses or raises, so it’s not just about bragging rights—it’s about the money too. If you’ve got that review looming or you’re looking for ways to get ahead on next year’s review, here are some tips you can use.
1. Keep track of what you accomplish throughout the year
Many companies ask employees to do a self-review, which means you’re responsible for creating your own highlight reel for the year. That becomes harder to do if you haven’t been keeping a holistic list of your projects and achievements throughout the year. And realistically, last February seems like forever ago, no? So it’s in your best interest to keep a running tally throughout the work year. It doesn’t need to be an exhaustive checklist of every single thing you’ve done this year, but it can be a simple spreadsheet with dates, project names, and outcomes. That way, when it comes time to do your self-review or if you want to jog your memory before sitting down with your boss, you’ll have a good data starting point.
2. Check-in regularly with your boss
The best way for your boss to give you a thoughtful, comprehensive review is for them to know what you’ve been up to this past year. That means keeping them in the loop throughout the year, even if you work fairly independently. Periodic check-ins (monthly works well), if you don’t already have that kind of meeting schedule built-in, will keep your boss informed on what you’re doing, what you’re accomplishing, and what your challenges have been throughout the year.
3. Think about what kind of value you add
The review shouldn’t just be a laundry list of “this is what I did this year”—it should be a chance for you to show what value your work has provided throughout the year. Did you go above and beyond to bring together a ragtag team to get a project done? Did you save the company X dollars by implementing a new process? Did your work on a project allow your boss to be hands-off and focus on other things? This is the right time to start thinking about what you bring, not just what you’ve done.
4. Be ready to take the bad with the good
A good performance review will not only tell you what you’ve been doing right, but it will also identify areas where you can improve or build for next year. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble taking criticism or hears one negative bit of feedback and assumes you’re going to get fired, then it’s worth taking a deep breath before your review and understanding that there may be a non-sparkling component. And that’s a good thing! It means you have an opportunity to set some growth goals for next year.
5. Track your goals
In addition to tracking your projects and accomplishments, it’s also important to have your original goals for the year written down. This makes it easier for you to point out your progress or explain how those goals have shifted throughout the course of the year. Having that point of reference also gives you a head start on setting new or continuing goals for next year—something that should be part of your annual review discussion.
6. Ask questions
In many cases, your performance review is your boss communicating to you—how you’re doing, what they see as your role, etc. But don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout. Questions like, “What would you like to see me do to score higher next year?” or “How will I know I’m on track for next year’s goals?” show that you’re engaged and interested in taking feedback constructively. Even basic clarification questions like, “Can you tell me more about this part?” or “Can you be a little more specific about X? I want to make sure I understand” show engagement, as well.
Many of us dread the annual review a little because it feels like a big, ominous task at the end of a year. But really, it’s an opportunity to understand exactly where you are—and what you need to do to get to the next level.