How to prepare for a performance review

Is your performance review coming up? Rather than panic, use the time to prepare. These expert tips will help make your employee review meeting go smoothly.

How to prepare for a performance review

Is your performance review just around the corner? There's no need to panic, but now would be a good time to prepare. Experts offer these tips for making your review go more smoothly:

Assess what you already know

Ideally, you should be checking in regularly with your boss to make sure you're doing what's expected.

"The performance evaluation process should start the day you're hired," said Janet Scarborough Civitelli, founder and president of Bridgeway Career Development. "There should not be any big surprises during the actual review."

Perhaps you're extra diligent when answering customer calls. You may think you're on track for a stellar performance review—but your boss could be wondering why each call takes you so long. To avoid misunderstandings like this, make sure you know what the goals are for your job—your key performance indicators (KPI)—and how your boss measures success.

If you haven't been talking to your boss about this, it's not too late. Even in a few weeks, you may be able to improve in some areas if necessary.

Dust off your previous review

If you had a review at this company a year ago, it probably contains a list of goals. Ideally, you will have been working on these goals this year.

Often, however, you'll realize something has changed. Perhaps a new boss gave you a new direction, or the project you were supposed to focus on got delayed. Richard Phillips, a career coach and owner of Advantage Career Solutions, recommends making sure you have documentation for changes such as these, in case there's a question at review time.

What if your boss never officially told you that your goals had changed, but instead just kept piling on other work so that you weren't able to start the projects you discussed at your last review? It would have been best to bring this up with your boss when it happened.

If you didn't, however, it's important to frame your actions the right way. "Say at review time, 'I made a strategic decision that this needed more of my attention than that,'" Phillips said. "Don't make it sound like you just forgot or you blew it off."

Learn how your company works

At some companies, negative comments on performance reviews are uncommon, so anything that's not glowing is cause for concern. Other companies give every worker areas for improvement.

"You definitely need to know how the process works at your company," Civitelli said. But you need to gather your information in an "emotionally intelligent" way. Don't badger your boss about whether a certain action will get you a 5 instead of a 4 on your review—it makes you seem more concerned about your evaluation than about helping the company.

Make your case in writing

Many times you'll be asked to fill out a self-evaluation before your review. If that's not part of your company's process, it's still a good idea to write a summary of your achievements for your boss before the review.

"There's an art to doing that," Civitelli said. "You don't want to be too apologetic, but you also don't want it to appear that you've never thought about anything to improve on."

Phillips suggests that any time you mention a weakness, "say what you are doing about it."