How to prepare for a performance review

Performance reviews can be stressful, but they’re also an opportunity to re-examine your current position, your relationship with your employer and your career goals. By asking yourself some key questions, you’ll increase the chances that your performance review will be productive for both you and your employer. Here are five points to consider before your review.

1. What did I do this year?
Start by reviewing the year (or whatever time period has passed since your last review). Examining old e-mails and files may refresh your memory. Take a month-by-month look at your responsibilities and achievements, both expected and unexpected. Keep an eye out for any cases in which you went beyond the call of duty. For example, did you take on added responsibilities when staff size was reduced? Did you find ways to reduce the costs associated with a particular project or process? Even an attentive manager isn’t likely to remember all of your contributions.

As you look back, also note any projects that didn’t meet expectations, as well as any challenges you’ve experienced. What happened, and what was your role in the end result? Such preparation will ensure you are not blindsided if an issue is brought up during your review and will help lay the groundwork for a substantial discussion with your supervisor.

2. What are my career goals and priorities?
Chances are you came out of your last performance review with some new goals or areas for improvement. Take the time to find and review last year’s appraisal. If there are objectives that fell by the wayside, consider whether they remain important, or if new ones are now more appropriate. During your review, don’t hesitate to ask about your employer’s current ability to assist you with these goals. Many worthy career advancement intentions were set aside in 2009 as organizations focused on staying afloat. Is there technical or business training you’d like to pursue? Most managers have a genuine interest in helping employees keep their careers moving forward, but supervisors need honest input.

3. Should I ask for a raise?
Even if you think a raise is richly deserved, take into account the financial condition of your employer before broaching the subject. Also consider alternate ways your employer can express appreciation for your contributions, such as flexible scheduling, work-at-home options or additional benefits.

If you do ask for a raise, be prepared to back up your request with specific evidence of ways you’ve saved the company time and money. To home in on a realistic amount, consider past raises, the state of the company and the salary levels of other people in your area who hold your position. Publications such as the Robert Half Technology 2010 Salary Guide can give you an objective range to share with your manager.

4. What if I get a negative review?
First, be sure not to blow criticism out of proportion. A few suggestions for improvement can feel like harsh judgments, especially if you’re accustomed to praise. Keep in mind that your boss may make a point of identifying areas for improvement even for top performers. Work with your supervisor to create a plan for addressing issues that arise.

Reacting defensively or emotionally to criticism can easily be more damaging than the problematic performance itself. If you find yourself tempted to divert blame onto a colleague (or, worse, your boss), it may be best to hold your tongue and request another meeting to discuss the issue further after you’ve had time to review it more objectively. If the criticism came as a surprise, it’s a sure sign that you and your manager haven’t been communicating optimally. Suggest regularly scheduled meetings to keep each other better informed.

5. What are my concerns?
In turbulent times, strong employees are often tempted to present themselves as selfless team players who are willing to take on added responsibilities without complaint. Savvy managers recognize, however, that overloading their top performers is a surefire way to lose them when conditions improve. While you may be genuinely grateful to have a stable position in today’s economy, stifling valid concerns serves neither you nor your employer.

Your manager may ask for direct feedback on his or her performance. While providing this input may be uncomfortable, your response needn’t be dishonest or ambiguous. Be respectful, and always balance any concerns with appreciation for areas of strength.

A performance review should be a conversation, not a trial. While you may make progress toward identifying goals and clearing up uncertainties, keep in mind that thorny issues may not be resolvable in one sitting. If that’s the case, make sure you’ve agreed on a follow-up plan before you leave. Carrying the lessons of the review into the year ahead will help you keep your day-to-day priorities and your long-term goals in alignment.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

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