Dear Matthew: How do I prepare for my performance review?

Written by: Matthew Turner
Published on: 18 Mar 2014

BD’s agony uncle advises on making the most of appraisals

Question: I have an appraisal coming up. My previous offices didn’t have formal systems like this, so it is the first one I have had, and I am not sure what to make of it. How do I prepare?

Answer: For most, the thought of the yearly appraisal fills us with trepidation. However, this process is what you make of it, and your end of year review is a great opportunity to show your boss what a fantastic, hardworking employee you are, as well as being the right time to voice any concerns or questions you have about your role.

Most people don’t prepare much, but you’ll get more out of it if you do. Think over the successful and not-so-successful projects you’ve been involved with. Analyse what went right, what went wrong, and how you think you could improve when in a similar situation. It’s important to be able to demonstrate to your line manager that you’re as aware of your areas for development as you are your successes.

More formal processes involve forms. Spend time carefully completing this. Thoughtful and detailed answers will provide your line manager with plenty to give you feedback on. If you often work independently or have a manager who is more hands-off, this may be the only occasion that they will get to see and hear about everything you do.

Get in the right frame of mind (confident and calm) before the meeting, and focus on getting out what you need to say — some line managers prefer to run appraisals like an informal chat. If you have suggestions for improving your job, then make sure you get them off your chest.

Though it is better to have confronted it at the time, some managers bottle up (critical) feedback until the appraisal — especially when you are the type of person who they might think would put up a fight, or flare up. When receiving feedback, be aware of your body language — avoid anything that looks defensive and try to show that you’re listening. Ask your line manager to explain any feedback you don’t understand. Ask for examples if you’re still unsure.

In your appraisal, accept all of the feedback given, both positive or negative. Remember that constructive feedback is a gift and not a weapon, though it’s not always easy to hear. If you aren’t given objectives to develop, ask to agree some — this will allow you to measure your progress and give you defined challenges.

You can also suggest that you get involved with other areas of work which allow you to use your strengths and interests. So, for example, if you feel you are great at communication and building relationships, why not ask about a client-facing role?

Many people use the appraisal to ask for a pay rise. If you do, it’s usually best to discuss it at the end of your meeting. You’ll have to explain why your salary should be increased, as well as the value you add to the company. Thoroughly prepare your points on why you are deserving of a raise, and communicate these with confidence, not anger.

After your meeting, even if it hasn’t exactly gone as you had hoped, make sure you stay as professional as possible and to thank your line manager. Remember that appraisals and discussion of opportunities for development can be just as difficult for the appraiser.

If you had some negative feedback, take this as an opportunity to develop those skills. Your practice might offer formal training programmes, coaching or in-house training. An employee who is willing to take even short-term steps towards investing in their personal development will reap the rewards in their future career.

Ultimately the key to a successful appraisal is to not see it as a burden, but to invest time and thought into it, and approach it as an opportunity to make your job better. If, like me, you have a dreadful memory, another good plan is to keep a record through the year of what you have done and contributed so that you have it to hand for your next appraisal.

Architect Matthew Turner of has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror

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