Preparing for your annual performance review

Last-minute foolproof tactics
By Alina Dizik, 

Performance review time can be nerve-racking, especially in a slow economy ridden with layoffs. Impartially evaluating your strengths and weaknesses is difficult, but it's an important part of progressing in your career. And of course, it's not always pleasant to hear from your boss about the ways you need to improve. 

Instead of feeling intimidated, take a more positive approach, suggests former human resources executive Liz Ryan, who runs the career consulting firm Ask Liz Ryan. "The annual review is one more opportunity to collect and claim the great things you're making happen at work," Ryan says. Not sure how to impress when it comes to your review? Here, experts weigh in on last-minute, foolproof tactics.

Go through your calendar
Use your Outlook calendar or journal to recall your most ambitious projects from the previous year. Using the calendar "will jog your memory to recall and write down the projects you've looked after and the other things you've accomplished on the job," Ryan says.

Include the unexpected
Not everything in your review has to link back to a larger project; note the various other ways you've been a valuable employee. "Don't forget to include times you saved the day, [like when] your company's biggest client was ready to bail, and you kept him onboard. Those are still huge accomplishments, even if they don't fit a project format," Ryan says.

Don't just bring a consecutively ordered bullet list of what you've done each month. Instead, think strategically about the accomplishments you'd like to highlight throughout your review. "Write down, in order of priority -- greatest impact on the company to least impact -- about 10 or 12 of these milestones, things that you did over the past year," Ryan suggests. 

Include details
Especially when you get nervous, it can be difficult to remember the crux of your accomplishments. As you prepare, jot down the most impressive details of each successful task. "Write a sentence or two about each one," Ryan says. Be sure to include any impressive sales numbers or qualitative results to help add weight to your accomplishments. 

Use the fourth quarter to wrap up long-term goals
With so many holidays and family obligations, the fourth quarter is the busiest time of the year, but taking time to complete the previous year's goals is key. Most people "get buried in day-to-day work and forget their higher and loftier ambitions under the pressure," Ryan says. If you don't think ahead, you risk approaching annual review time "with nothing to show for the last three months except that [you] showed up."

Keep track of feedback
Whether feedback takes place during review time or informally throughout the year, it's important to understand what your manager is trying to say. Take notes, pose questions and be conscious of the response you're getting. During and after the conversation "ask for feedback on your set of priorities so that you're working on the most critical issues, not sideline projects that no one cares about," Ryan says. During review time, refer to your manager's feedback throughout the year to further demonstrate improvement.

Come with a new annual plan
Thinking through your goals for the upcoming year is often the toughest part of a review, but understanding your role in a larger company context is also what can help set you apart as an employee. Consider what you want to tackle on the job and what you want for your own professional development, Ryan suggests. "You've got to lay out a plan for your manager -- you can't sit back and wait for him or her to tell you what your priorities should be."

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