How to Handle a Performance Review

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Most people look forward to job reviews about as much as they do a root canal. No matter how well you think you’re doing, there’s always the possibility that your supervisor will see things differently and call you on the carpet for your actions—or inactions. But there are steps you can take before, during, and after your evaluation to boost your career and actually help you look forward to reviews in the future.

Before the Review

Get on the boss’ calendar. While most people don’t enjoy a performance review, they are crucial to your career. So if your boss doesn’t conduct them on a regular basis (annually or semi-annually), the best thing you can do is ask for one. Why? First, you really do need to know what your supervisor thinks of your performance so that you can continue the good stuff and change the bad stuff. Unless you want to spend the rest of your career exactly where you are, that is. Second, reviews are typically when employers hand out raises and promotions. Not a bad incentive to schedule one today.

Come prepared. Sure, performance evaluations mostly consist of your manager telling you how she thinks you’re doing, but it should include some two-way communication. You should be prepared to share important information—such as your sales numbers, praise from satisfied clients, and projects you’ve spearheaded—so that you can lay out the positive contributions you’ve made.

During the Review

Stay calm. You may feel as jumpy as a kid in the principal’s office, but you need to force yourself to stay cool and professional at all times. And if the boss turns the conversation into a list of all the ways you’ve fallen short over the past year, don’t argue. It is okay, however, to respectfully point out the strengths you’ve brought to the organization. This is where your list of accomplishments comes in handy. And remember to never, ever take what your supervisor says personally. It’s business.

Iron out a plan for the next year. To avoid any surprises in future reviews, you need to know how your success will be measured. Ask your boss to work with you on a plan for the coming year (or six months) so that you both know how your progress will be measured. If there are markers in place—and you meet them—you’ll never fear a review again.

Ask for her input. You want to make sure your manager knows how committed you are to doing a good job for her. It may become crystal clear what skills she thinks you need to work on, but if not, ask her to share with you the areas in which she believes you need to improve. You’ll not only score major points for asking, but this may be the most valuable information you get out of your review.

Thank him. Especially if you feel like you’ve been raked over the coals, you may not want to express gratitude. But think about it this way: your boss has just given you very powerful information. He’s told you where he believes you have room for improvement, and, assuming you can make changes in those areas, you’re on your way to serious career growth. More money, more responsibility, a new title—it all starts with knowing where you stand with the head honcho.

After the Review

Determine a course of action. You should come out of your review with an action plan for the coming months, and there’s no time like the present to begin working on your goals. If your boss indicated that you need to acquire more skills to advance, begin looking into that computer or marketing class now.

Start looking around. If your review was more of a blood-letting than a constructive conversation between employer and employee, you may have to face the fact that your boss either doesn’t like you or doesn’t like the work you’re doing. If you think you can change one or both of those things, by all means, give it a try. If you don’t think that’s a possibility, start putting out discreet feelers for other opportunities.

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