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Do You Panic at Review Time?

How to Sail Through Your Annual Review
Patrick Erwin, writer

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For many workers, having an annual performance review is a catalyst. The intense focus on your performance can make you rethink your approach to work, and often gives you new ideas on how to better do your job. It's also a time to set objectives for the coming year.

As time goes by, however, your daily responsibilities can shift those goals to the back burner. You may have an external distraction, like training a new employee. Perhaps you've had to assume new tasks or increase your workload. For many of you, the pace of your day-to-day job leaves little time to focus on long-range planning.

It's tempting to hit the panic button at review time if your ideas and goals have taken a backseat to your duties. What should you do to increase your chances of a positive review (and a matching increase in pay)?  Here's a checklist that will put you and your accomplishments in the best possible light.

Put it on paper. Take a look at the existing job description for your role. Summarize what you've been up to and make a list of EVERYTHING you do. Your manager has hopefully documented your progress, too, but your list may be a reminder of something forgotten or overlooked.

Harriet Cohen, founder of Training Solutions, a California-based training firm, tells employees to be prepared to show accomplishments and have documentation that validates those results. "They should have a list of what goals they exceeded as well as what goals they had difficulty achieving," Cohen says.

You should also do a "self-review." If your manager or supervisor hasn't officially asked you to conduct a self-assessment, take a look at your previous review and make an outline of how you would rate your performance.

"I think employees should look at themselves like a balance sheet with assets on one side and liabilities on the other," states Brian Sommer, president of TechVentive Inc., a Chicago-based technology development company.  "From one review period to the next, I want to know what the employee has done to improve their value to the firm and their career."

Wrap it up. If you have any projects that are in limbo, now is an ideal time to put the finishing touches on them. It may require extra effort and extra time, but being able to include a completed project in your job summary is a big bonus.

If the project is still in progress, give your manager a detailed summary of what progress you have made, as well as an explanation of any external issues that might be holding its completion up.

Don't try to kiss up. It may seem like a good idea, but kissing up to the boss is generally a bad idea. It's a very transparent move that can make you look bad. Shane Vaughn, vice president of marketing at Balihoo in Boise, Idaho, agrees. "Any kind of brown-nosing, especially around review time, is seen as very tacky and would be a negative."

Approach the review with honesty and candor.  All of us make mistakes. We may have overlooked a task at work or fallen behind on a project. Or personal issues may have affected our attendance record or our ability to report to work on time.

It's important to discuss any issues that surfaced during your review period.  That discussion should summarize what happened, how the issue was resolved and what progress has been made since the incident occurred.

Peggy Baldwin, director of professional development at Stevenson University in Maryland, believes this could be turned into a positive. "It's important to have examples of what didn't go so well and what you learned from that."   

Avoid the panic button altogether.  If you're reaching for the panic button before every annual review, you can take proactive steps that will make the process easier for you and your manager.

If you are only getting feedback from your manager or supervisor once a year, establish a time when you can have mini-reviews or progress reports. Suggest a monthly or quarterly meeting, during which you can discuss your progress and any tools or resources you may need.

Keep a file, folder or binder on your desk as a repository for any documents you want to keep for your next review. Be sure to keep documents that show the completion of a project or transaction, as well as any commendations or praise from co-workers or external clients.

If your company has a program that provides educational opportunities for employees, take advantage of that resource. You may have an option to take career-enhancing courses online or take courses for credit at a local college. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs. The more knowledge you gain and use at work, the more marketable you are at review time.

Patrick Erwin is a writer and blogger for He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 15/09/2008 - 11:31 PM

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