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10 Tips For Acing Your First Performance Review

Whether you’re in your first professional position after college or you finally scored your dream job, you want to make the right impression at your first review. If you’re not careful, nerves can get the best of you, but how do you prepare yourself? From evaluating your progress, communicating your accomplishments and making a positive impression, here’s how to nail your first job review.

Ask what to expect

While they may seem intimidating, performance reviews are your opportunity to show off your accomplishments and goals and guide you through what to expect next in your career. Unless you have intentionally neglected your duties, you shouldn’t feel terrified about what’s to come. It’s natural to be nervous, though, and your colleagues are an excellent source of information. 

Ask them general questions, like how a review is structured and how long each one typically lasts. Many people feel flattered when you request their advice and will likely be happy to share the basics of how a review meeting tends to run at your company. If you know what to expect, you’ll feel less jittery. 

Start relationship building early

You go above and beyond every day – not only as your review approaches – but does your supervisor recognize your contribution? Do you know anything about the person to whom you directly report and what they value about your role? 

Begin preparing for your performance review from day one. Ask your supervisor if they prefer to establish monthly meetings or do more casual check-ins. With each check in, make sure to highlight personal and departmental accomplishments, instead of waiting until the end of the year. You can also identify and correct issues before they come up in your end-of-year review if you bring up your work performance on a more regular basis.

Do a scathing self-evaluation

What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you can’t list anything off the bat, it’s time to do some soul-searching. You can often get valid feedback by identifying three to five individuals you trust, and asking them. To get quality feedback, give the speaker context and permission to be honest. They may try to spare your feelings, unless you say, “I’m preparing for my performance review, and I need someone to honestly help me find areas where I could improve.” 

Gather documentation

You think you did a good job in the past year, but what does that consist of? While your employer might reward you for handling your expected duties, you want to wow them if you hope to advance. The only way to prove your worth is to document what you do. 

“Go over what you’ve accomplished during your first year in your role,” says Brandi, a content strategist. “Write down how you performed on successful tasks and what challenges you ran into with unsuccessful ones. These notes will help guide your meeting and shape goals for the next year.”

Alexandra, a digital analyst, suggests you “show your employer specific ways you’ve made an impact this past year.” Did you produce a higher volume of work than usual? If so, by what percentage? Did you solve a challenging client problem? “Gather data points and noteworthy accomplishments to emphasize your value,” demonstrate your effort and show you also have an idea of where you want to go in the future.

Write a list of career goals

Maybe your interviewer didn’t ask about your career goals, but your performance review is your opportunity to tackle them. Highlighting where you hope to go shows your supervisor you’re passionate about the company and your role. Start by describing your short-term goals, and then move on to long-term aspirations. 

Prepare detailed questions 

Do you know what your department’s most crucial goals are for the coming year? If not, one of the best things you can do at your performance is to pop this question, among others.

Kate, an internet marketing supervisor, suggests a few key questions you can bring to the table. “While I can’t speak for every supervisor, I’m willing to bet that you’ll wow yours just by coming with good questions. A few examples include ‘What can I do to make your job easier?’, ‘What is our company’s greatest challenge right now and how can I help us overcome that?’, and ‘What am I focusing too much of my time on? And what should I focus more time on instead?’ Asking questions like these is likely to impress your manager and make them feel appreciative of your efforts. Also, come prepared to answer the two-part question: ‘What are you proud of this year and what do you want to improve next year?’ That’s a popular one!” she says. 

You might have inquiries about your specific role — such as what you need to do to earn a promotion or how you can learn more about the industry. Instead of jumping into your review with, “What can you do for me?” ask, “What can I do this coming year to help the team more effectively?” You need to advocate for yourself, yes, but it’s essential to show genuine interest in the company and your team. Don’t just come with statements — come with questions.

Cultivate suggestions for system improvements

Depending on your organization’s size, the person doing your review might not know much about your job’s daily demands. To prepare for your performance review, analyze what aspects of your position could be improved or how certain processes could be more efficient. Small suggestions can make a significant difference in the overall workflow, so don’t be afraid to offer ideas that could save time or improve the company itself.

Research salary and perks options

When it comes to what to say in your performance review, “How big is my raise?” shouldn’t be the first words out of your mouth. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t research what you deserve and what others in similar roles earn. The law prohibits employers from retaliating for discussing your salary with colleagues, although you need to respect those who prefer to stay mum.

Be flexible with benefits negotiation, as every organization has different structures. If you know your company recently came off a shaky few months financially due to the pandemic, you might not want to ask for a raise, even if you deserve one. Can your employer compensate you in another way, such as by providing additional paid time off (PTO) or flextime options?

Be open to feedback

Your mindset is just as important as the points you prepare and the questions or process improvements you bring to the table. Remember, your supervisor is there to support you, and your annual review is an opportunity to grow — don’t be afraid of receiving negative feedback. Instead, look at any constructive criticism as a chance to grow.

Vivian, a project manager, suggests approaching your annual review as “an honest conversation about your progress. I want to celebrate your proudest moments, have open discussions about your biggest growth opportunities, and listen for any ways I can even better support you in the coming year. Honesty, an open mind and a growth-focused drive for improvement are the qualities I think help team members get the most out of their reviews.”

Know your worth

Most importantly, walk into your review remembering that you’re worth it — you’ve worked hard, and your effort counts.

Jen, a digital content specialist, believes confidence in your own value is the most important part of any performance review. “Sometimes, it can be daunting to try to sit down and try to quantify the work you do,” she says. “Many people — especially women — tend to downplay their accomplishments in life and, in particular, the workplace. A performance review is really an opportunity to show everything you’ve done for your company, why it was important, and how much value you added in doing so!”

These tips can help you ace your performance review at your first job — or any stage of your career. Come prepared, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to put it all out there when it comes to selling yourself! You deserve it.