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Tips to Get What You Deserve in Your Annual Review

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Planning for an upcoming performance review or check-in can be nerve-wracking. A meeting focused on you and your work? That can feel like a lot of pressure. But your performance review (whether it’s held annually or more frequently) is a great opportunity to make sure your manager knows how hard you’re working and to get what you want at work.

The key is to show up prepared for an annual performance review and ready to show everyone how much of star you are. Here’s how to walk in feeling ready—and walk out confident that you nailed it.

Do Your Homework

You’ll want to go into your review meeting ready to answer questions about your work performance. Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of Career Contessa, a career advice and coaching website, suggests thinking about what you did well and brainstorming a few specific examples from the past year that show it. 

You’re never going to know exactly what questions your boss will ask you, but asking yourself these questions ahead of time—or enlisting a friend or family member for a mock review—can help you prepare:

  • What accomplishments from the last year are you most proud of?
  • When was the last time you made your boss go, “Wow, you did a great job.”?
  • When did you know you directly impacted the company’s goals?

Being able to clearly show your skills and strengths in a self-evaluation is really important, says McGoodwin. You’ll also want to think about any clear, measurable examples of how you improved (if you’ve been at your job long enough to have examples).

It can also help to conduct your own informal peer employee performance reviews. Ask your co-workers if they can share some pros and cons of working with you on a specific project. “Preparation beforehand allows you to have a more detailed conversation because you have data points and already got some feedback,” says McGoodwin. “That kind of preparation stands out—it’s so impressive.”

Show up Prepared (and on Time)

There’s nothing wrong with bringing your notebook of data and questions with you to the meeting, says McGoodwin.  “Sometimes having a security blanket makes it feel less intimidating,” she notes. It also will allow you to actively listen instead of spending the whole time trying to remember what to say next. If taking notes will help you remember what went down, just ask your manager if it’s OK.

Being prepared shows that you’re taking the review process seriously. So does showing up on time, so definitely make sure you’re not late.

Another important note: Being prepared doesn’t mean showing up ready to robotically spew off a list of data points. A review should be a conversation, so make sure to also be ready to ask your manager some questions, too. What do they feel went well this year? What are some things they want you to work on? Are you ready to set goals for next year? Asking questions can make it feel less like an interrogation and more of a two-way conversation about how you and the company can work best moving forward.

Turn Negatives Into Positives

Ah, the dreaded question: What do you think you can improve on? (Or some iteration of it.) McGoodwin suggests focusing on what you learned from a mistake, and framing it as something positive.

“Give the good news about why you thought it might work and align with their goals, and then give them the bad news, and then end on a positive note,” she says. Depending on your company, if they are vocal about valuing the creative process or embracing failure and learning from mistakes, this can be a good chance to show you really understand what they want.

You may also run into a situation where a question catches you off guard, despite your diligent preparation. If your manager asks a question you don’t know how to answer, be honest and proactive. “I’d phrase as, ‘That’s a great question, let me give it some thought and I’ll follow up with you to set up another meeting,” suggests McGoodwin. Even better, give them a time frame for when you’ll follow up. “Just remember, if you say that kind of stuff, you have to follow through otherwise your word doesn’t mean anything,” she adds.

About That Raise…

When it comes to asking for a raise or promotion, McGoodwin says it’s important to be strategic.

“Don’t start with the end goal of ‘I want a raise or title change.’ Warm them up a little bit.” Showing up to work every day for the last year doesn’t necessarily warrant a raise. If you truly are looking for a raise or promotion, you’ll need to make it clear how you add value to the company. “You want to build up a really great case that makes the employer want to say yes to keeping you motivated—and obviously money is a way to motivate,” says McGoodwin.

McGoodwin also notes that depending on the company, by the time you get to your annual review, the higher ups have already decided what to give you. So it’s important to have conversations with your boss throughout the year about what you’re doing and accomplishing, and how it aligns with the company’s goals. “Make it known so that when they have those conversations about raises and promotions, they’ll have that information,” says McGoodwin. 

Be Vocal About Your Goals

Your annual review is an amazing—and for some people, rare—opportunity to talk to your boss about what you want out of your job, says McGoodwin.

“Make sure to ask yourself some questions ahead of your review so that you go in not only prepared if they have questions, but also so you can be really clear about what you want.” Sure, your manager is there to help you with your career development, but chances are, you’re not their only focus. It’s up to you to be vocal about what you’d like to get out of your job and your career.

So, ask yourself, “What do I want in the coming year?” Maybe you’d like more responsibility, or to have a direct report. Maybe you want to be a part of a certain project or sit in on a certain type of meeting, suggests McGoodwin. Whatever it is, you want to walk into your review knowing what you’d like and prepared to explain why it’s in the company’s best interest. “What’s impressive is not just knowing what you want,” says McGoodwin,”but being able to tie it back to how it’s going to benefit the company.”  If you can do both, chances are, you’re going to be a great year.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.