Year-end reviews may seem like light years away, but it pays to plan ahead and prepare. That's what Lindsey Sparks did while working for a staffing company in Oklahoma. "I keep both a hard copy and an electronic folder with achievements and compliments I've received," she says. "When review time comes, I pull those out and incorporate them into my self-review, and bring some of the best compliments and successes to my review."
Those strategies have served her well. In fact, her preparation and initiative have made her one of the youngest people in her company's history to be promoted to management. Whether you yearn for that corner office or simply hope to survive your first review at a new job, we've compiled expert tips on how to ace your annual review.
Solicit feedback before your review.
The last thing you want during a review is to be blind-sided by negative feedback. To avoid this scenario, seek out your boss for periodic check-ins. "This gives you a chance not only to report on things but also to get his or her input," says Shawn Graham, the author of "Courting Your Career." "It doesn't have to be formal. It could mean sending an email. Running into them in the hallway can be just as helpful. In those cases, you can transition into the conversation with 'If you have a second, I'd like to get your input.'" Then implement whatever suggestions you get, to ensure that you're on the right track come review time.
Document your achievements.
As mentioned above, Sparks keeps a list of her accomplishments and achievements, and you should, too. "Look for ways you can say how you saved money or increased revenue," suggests Alexandra Levit, a workplace consultant and the author of "New Job, New You." "This requires a couple of weeks of thought. The goal of this is to be able to go into your review with a clear sense of how the organization is better off because you worked there."
Set realistic expectations.
People often go into a review expecting a promotion or a fat bonus. In this economic climate, though, that may not be realistic. However, Levit says you can look at the company's organizational structure to see what the logical next step might be in your own career progression. "You want to make sure you understand how [promotions] work at your company," she explains. If you're hoping for a raise, she adds, you can look at salary statistics from PayScale.com or similar sites to see what's reasonable for someone with your job title and level of experience. Your list of achievements also comes in handy here, because it helps show why you're worth more than your current salary.
Prepare yourself for negative comments.
Unfortunately, even with the right preparation, sometimes negative feedback is simply part of the review process. According to Graham, "It's safe to say there's going to be some negative feedback at some point in your career. Stay calm and don't get defensive. If you tend to get overly emotional, it [may be] hard for you to do that, so visualize possible feedback in advance. Your boss looks for cues about how you're able to incorporate and address the feedback, and the worst thing you can do is receive feedback and shrug it off." Instead, see it as a growth opportunity and look for ways to demonstrate improvement at your next review.
Boston-based freelance writer Susan Johnston has covered career and business topics for The Boston Globe, Hispanic Executive Quarterly, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other publications.