I was a few years into my career before I realized that I’d never actually been prepared for any of my annual performance reviews. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were coming. I’d mark the date on my calendar, dress in my most professional attire and dutifully jot down any questions or concerns I had … But for some reason I never thought to come prepared with a list of my accomplishments from the previous year. I’m not really sure why that is—perhaps I thought it was my boss’ responsibility to keep track of my achievements, or maybe I felt that an official review wasn’t the most opportune time to brag.
But eventually I had an epiphany: It’s not bragging when you’re touting your accomplishments with an eye toward advancing your career. And even the best boss in the whole world isn’t going to keep track of all the amazing things you’ve done with the accuracy and thoroughness you deserve. In other words, you have to be your own advocate. Toot your own horn. Speak up to get your fair share. Whatever you want to call it, you can’t be shy when it comes to highlighting your professional prowess in your annual review. The next time your boss asks, “What have you done for me lately?” don’t be caught off-guard—be ready to hit ‘em with everything you’ve got. Here’s how.
Keep a Record of Your Accomplishments
The best way to ensure you’ll be ready to discuss your achievements is to keep a running list of them. Sounds easy enough, but if you don’t have dedicated time set aside for this, it’s going to slip to the bottom of your to-do list every week until it eventually falls off altogether.
It’s not bragging when you’re touting your accomplishments with an eye toward advancing your career
Ideally, once a month you can set a reminder in your calendar for a 30-minute “self-review” where you look back through your work days and make note of instances in which you went above and beyond, exceeded a target or otherwise rocked it, says Fiona Bryan, career coach and founder of Ask A Career Expert. “This really doesn’t take much time. You can even do it on your morning commute if you take the train,” she says. “Pay special attention to problems you’ve solved for your boss. Where did you help save time? Where did you help save money?” Your list can be maintained digitally or even in a paper journal—wherever is convenient for you. This exercise is about the message, not the medium.
If your list is coming up short, a look back through the calls and meetings in your calendar should help jog your memory, suggests career adviser Allison Cheston. And if you continually find that your small wins are slipping through the cracks, then look to jot down notes every Friday rather than once a month. You can even have a running list on your phone to add to whenever you have a spare moment, and then on Friday compile your list into something legible, Cheston says.
Preparing for your annual review is a wonderful thing, but if you and your boss are only talking about your performance once a year, that’s a big problem. Ideally you’ll be communicating at least once a month about what you’ve accomplished and where there may be room for improvement. One way you can open those lines of communication is to send your boss a one-pager that highlights the great things you’ve been doing at the end of every month, Cheston suggests. “The subject line should be about the company, not about you, so it should read something like: ‘Monthly status report on key priorities.’ You are always aiming to show that you’re doing a great job for the company and keeping your boss in the loop. Your boss will appreciate that she can literally forward your note to her bosses to keep them in the loop, thus saving her time and demonstrating that she is proactively managing her team,” Cheston says.
Another big benefit of this monthly missive? Just save all the emails you send and when review time comes around you’ll be more than prepared to discuss how much you’ve grown.
Rely on Your List, Not Your Emotions
It’s easy to go into our annual appraisals with high emotions, particularly when we think there might be a raise or a promotion in our future, Bryan says. But the worst thing you can do in a review is talk about how you deserve a raise without talking about what you’ve done to earn a raise. Remember that people do not get raises for simply showing up and doing their jobs—you should not expect to advance if you’ve simply been performing the basic tasks highlighted in your job description, Bryan cautions.
This is where your record-keeping can come in very handy. If your boss wants to know exactly how you’ve exceeded expectations in your role, look to your list. “Be obvious,” Bryan says. “If your job was to recruit five experts and you found 10, say that. If you were tasked with bringing in $500,000 in revenue and you brought in $750,000, say that. You have to offer a clear look at the kind of ‘over and above’ you’re bringing to the table.”
Remember That This Is YOUR Performance Review
Guess what? Your boss is probably not as organized as you would like. They may have several direct reports they’re busy keeping up with, and there are only so many hours in the day. In other words, your boss probably doesn’t have a defined minute-by-minute agenda for your performance review, so you should feel free to take the reins and guide the conversation, Bryan says.
Once you’ve gone over your accomplishments, you may want to ask your boss what you can do to keep excelling in your role, and get their thoughts on your prospects for advancement. In other words, after you’ve shown them what you’re made of, it’s OK to tell them exactly what you want. No one’s going to give it to you unless you ask.
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