Job performance reviews can be nerve-racking. After all, the judgments and scores given to you by managers can determine raises, promotions, increased responsibility on high-profile projects, and perhaps even whether you get to keep your job. In this era of layoffs and downsizing, a job performance review carries more weight than ever.
"I work in a company that's known for being really tough on employees," says Jeff Brandt (who requested that we use a pseudonym for him for job protection). "You could do a million things wonderfully, but if you messed up on one little thing, that's all you're going to hear about." This is one of the top challenges for employees facing the review board. Corporate chiefs aim to improve employee performance and, thus, the bottom line of the company. Because results are their goal, they'll put more emphasis on what the employee needs to improve. That can be tough for an employee to endure, wanting praise for dedicating endless hours, sweat and sleepless nights on challenging assignments.
Some companies make it a policy to call exceptional performance "satisfactory," which may not thrill the employee in the hot seat, but policy is policy. "They're not going to shower you with confetti, even if you did an amazing job," Brandt says.
So adjust your expectations before your review. Don't expect a ticker tape parade and a tiara. Accept that "satisfactory" may actually be high praise; it definitely is preferable to "needs improvement." Here are some additional tips for your performance review:
--Prepare to describe your contributions to the company. If you're facing truly unfair criticism from a manager with whom you clash regularly, in front of the bosses it's wise to produce a document that you've prepared, spelling out the quantifiable successes of your work. If you can say that your project on X resulted in sales of 200,000 units and two new clients, now is the time to share those details. Your bosses might not be aware of your triumphs otherwise.
--Keep your cool. Especially when you're nervous, it's all too easy to lose your composure and argue down whatever the manager is saying about you. Just nod and take in the feedback. Avoid rolling your eyes in frustration. It's not easy being played down, but your professional demeanor will register with your bosses, showing you as someone who can face the fire, remain calm and then counter with facts.
"I had a particularly evil manager who wanted me gone, and when I remained calm and provided facts to the contrary, I could see my boss look at the manager as if (the manager) was being unfair, which he was," says Anne Hill (again, name changed for job protection). "Shortly after my review, I asked my boss whether I could be reassigned to a different manager, and she agreed. Work has been far more enjoyable since then."
--Take notes during your review. Andrea Kay, author of "Work's a Bitch and then You Make it Work," says: "Jot down key points, especially if you (haven't received) any type of written documentation, so that you can revisit key points you may want to challenge or just learn from. But make sure note taking isn't getting in the way of listening to what your boss is saying to you."
--Expect some criticisms to be legitimate. No one does a perfect job every time, and especially if you're new to the job, there may be areas in which you can learn and improve.
--Ask for clarification if necessary. If the manager says that you don't show enthusiasm for your job, ask what that means, but not angrily or in a confrontational way. Kay advises to simply say, "I'd like to understand what I'm doing that's giving you the impression that I'm not enthusiastic." This is how you learn, for example, that the management considers early arrival to meetings to be enthusiasm.
--Don't compare your work with other employees' performance. Even if you know that another worker is paid slightly more than you yet leaves work early and takes the easiest tasks, it would only make you look immature and unprofessional if you were to bring up the comparison. Managers and bosses say they look out for this type of disloyalty during the performance review.
--Ask for an appointment after the review. If you truly disagree with any points made or criticisms levied against you, request a later meeting time to discuss the details. Doing so shows that you respect the management's time and gives you extra time to prepare documents about your positive job performance.
--Thank your reviewers at the close of your review. Kay says, "Thank your boss for the input. Bosses appreciate people who are open to feedback."
--Prepare for future reviews. Establish a running document of your work successes, always quantifying the results of your efforts and projects, so that you're even more prepared for your next review.