How to Prepare for an Annual Performance Review | Promotion and Performance Series

How to Prepare for an Annual Performance Review | Promotion and Performance Series

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Are you looking forward to having your annual performance review?

If so, congratulations. But for the rest of us, it can feel really nerve-racking, like we’re being judged. It can be anxiety inducing, especially if it only happens once a year and it feels like it’s tied to our compensation, our promotion prospects and all other things that we care about in our careers. And yet, it’s super useful for our professional development.

Now, in an ideal world, it should be no surprise as to what we’re going to hear in an annual performance review because we would be having regular conversations with our managers all along, including receiving great feedback about things that we can do something about. But our managers are often too busy and they’re maybe uncomfortable saying anything other than, “You’re doing a great job,” because they’re afraid to demotivate you.

Frankly, your managers could be more anxious about giving you your review than you are about receiving it. This annual opportunity to learn what people think, how you’re viewed, and how you can be better is important.

There are some valuable things that you can do before, during and after the review that will set you up for greater success. 

Also read: 10 Things to Keep in Your Personal Performance Review File, and Why| Promotion and Performance Series

Here are four things you can do to prepare for your performance review:

1. Select your reviewers thoughtfully

If you have the opportunity to request who is reviewing you, choose people who have worked with you enough to comment and who have credibility themselves because this determines the quality of the feedback you’re going to receive. If you have some very busy people among your reviewers, then ask them personally. It’ll make it more likely that they will take the time to do your performance review. Also get input from your manager on the list of reviewers. I like to have people beyond my immediate unit as well as people who are in my direct reporting line.

2. Do a self-evaluation

Do your own version of a self-evaluation. Remember to go back to the start of the year. Oftentimes people only remember the most recent few months and maybe you had some big achievements at the start of the year that you want to make sure to bring up. In your evaluation, be honest with yourself while still putting things in a slightly more positive view.

3. Prepare questions

Pre-think some of the questions you might want to ask during the review. Things like, “What experiences and opportunities do I need in order to get to the next level?”, or “What would it take for me to progress on this point?”, or “Can you share with me where I stand relative to my peers or relative to where I should be at this point in my career?”.

4. Prepare your asks

Think about what areas you want to develop over the next year. What kind of support would you like to ask for? Maybe it’s some training. Maybe it’s getting an additional credential. Maybe it’s having a coach or having your boss more actively mentor you. Think about what kind of asks you might want to make. 

Also read: What to Say in a Performance Review: Top Tips for Success | Promotion and Performance Series

Here are three key things to do during the session:

1. Manage your own mindset

During the performance review, the first thing you want to do is manage your own mindset. A helpful tip is to make sure you’re breathing. This will help you get out of the fear state and stay present. Because part of the feedback process is assessing how well you take feedback, you don’t want to be defensive. Come in with a mindset of curiosity.

2. Listen

Listen carefully and closely. If it helps you to take notes then ask, “is it okay if I take some notes? This will help me absorb what you’re saying and make sure I can do something about it”. And listen for both positives and constructive criticisms.

3. Ask clarifying questions

You want to make sure you truly understand the message they want you to receive. So, if you’ve been listening but what you’re hearing still doesn’t make sense, then ask. And if you’re surprised by something that’s been said, you can say something like, “Wow, that’s really new information for me. Can you help me understand it and what I can do to address it?”.


 Then, at the end of the session, you want to do the following three things:

  1. Thank them for the feedback because all feedback is valuable in some way.
  2. Agree on the steps that you and maybe you and your boss want to take as a result.
  3. Get permission to come back and talk about your progress and make sure you keep the door open in case you have other questions or ideas after you leave the room.

It is tempting to want the annual performance review go something like this: “You did a fantastic job, just keep doing what you’re doing. You are wonderful.” That is something that makes us feel great in the moment, but once that moment has passed you get back to your desk and realize, “What do I do with that?”. It’s not very helpful. And, frankly, it’s a recipe for flat-lining in your career in the longer term, and even in the medium term.

We all need things to work on if we’re going to keep progressing, learning, growing, and improving. So, you definitely want to make the most of your performance review, and I hope these steps will help you do that.

See full series on this topic: Letter from the Editor: Promotion & Performance Series 

Looking for more Guidance on Performance Reviews?
Check out our Collection of Effective Communication Articles

May Busch
About the Author
May Busch

May Busch is a sought-after executive coach, speaker, advisor, author, and former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe. Her passion is helping people succeed in their career and life – to be better, do more, and make the difference they are meant to make. Find her on and follow her on Twitter at @maybusch

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