how do I write my self-evaluation?

A reader writes:

I would really love some input on what a manager is looking for in self-evaluations. Not just the written portions but the self-scoring portion as well. I always want to give myself a grade below what I might feel I deserve because I don’t want to look like an egotist in front of my boss.

Everyone dreads these, don’t they?  Here are five tips that should help.

1. First, understand the purpose of a self-evaluation. Self-evaluations are really useful in reminding your manager about key highlights of your work that she might not have in the forefront of her mind that way you do. They’re an opportunity for you to point out where you excelled and where you think there’s room for improvement. Additionally, they can be hugely useful in spotting areas where you and your manager might have different assessments, so that you can figure out why. After all, if you think you’re doing a great job with customer relations and she thinks you’ve been mediocre, you need to know that – and figure out why you’ve each reached different conclusion.

2. Do not rate yourself lower than you deserve. Absolutely not! Your manager isn’t looking for false modesty here; she’s looking for your honest assessment of how things are going. If you rate yourself lower than you really think you deserve, you undo much of the point of the exercise and deny both yourself and your manager the benefits above.

3. Don’t lose sight of what your goals were for the year and how well you achieved them. All too often in evaluations, people focus on soft skills (how you get along with others, how well you communicate, etc.) to the exclusion of results. So always begin by looking at what you were supposed to accomplish during the evaluation period, and to what extent you did that. Hopefully the evaluation form you’ve been given makes it easy to do that, but if it doesn’t, find a way to add that yourself.

4. Keep reminders of your successes throughout the year. It’s really hard to sit down with a form in December and remember what you did well back in March. Instead, keep a file throughout the year of things that go especially well, kudos that you receive from coworkers and people outside the organization, and notes about things you might want to do differently next time. When it’s time to write your evaluation, you’ll have a whole file of material to work from.

5. Treat the evaluation process as a discussion, not a bureaucratic exercise. This is a good opportunity to talk with your manager about where you see things going from here. Are there new skills you want to learn or new responsibilities you want to take on? What does she think the path there might look like? Or, are there changes you’d like to make to next year’s goals or things you’d like to happen differently in your relationship with your manager? Don’t pass up the chance to take a step back and take about these bigger-picture issues that often get overlooked in the rush of day-to-day work.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. Janet*

    I use e-mail to organize my successes throughout the year. I’ll save all of those positive “Great job on this project” e-mails in one Outlook folder and I’ll also send myself e-mails saying “Scored media hit in New York Times” and then put the link in there so it’s all in one place organized by date.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I do this too, along with not archiving my calendar, so I know what meetings I was involved with to facilitate specific projects.

      When I did my self-evaluation in early October, my accomplishments list was almost 2 pages long. Our HR director told my boss that I must be making things up or grasping at every tiny thing in order to be able to have that much (most people have 3 or 4 for the entire year). He asked her to read through them and tell him which of what I listed didn’t have a positive impact in a significant way, either to a single department or to the organization as a whole. She couldn’t find one.

      The harder section for me is the “what do I need to work on” area. I have a terminal organization issue, in that I live among piles of paper. I could put this down every year, because it has been problem since I was about 6. But they don’t want to see the same thing every time. So, instead, I find a system that I’ve had to neglect in the previous year and say “I need to do a better job maintaining {x}”, and my boss nods and agrees.

      1. Jamie*

        I have the same opportunities for improvement every year.

        Some years I do a better job than others at dealing with them – but neither have improved to the point I can take them off the list.

        1. Vicki*

          Needs improvement:
          I need to improve my weakness in the area of not being able to fill out this section of my annual review in a creative way.

          1. Jamie*

            I like that – I’d use it if we had an actual form. I also wish it were that trivial, but mine are actually fairly significant issues for me and unfortunately I’m not sure how capable of change I am when it comes down to it.

            Mine is just verbal though – except for the notes and updates we both bring with us.

          2. Tessa*

            That’s exactly how I feel. I can’t remember what I did last week let alone last year. I know I’ve given ideas but I don’t remember them. I need to do what Janet (above) does and keep myself a folder in outlook. >:)

  2. Cat*

    Although this won’t help for this year’s assessments, my trick for categories that recur each year is to refer back to my previous year’s evaluation. For example, if I received an “above expectations” on a category the previous year, I think about if I have continued to improve on that category over the year, commensurate with increased experience (rather than treading water) and, if yes, I give myself “above expectations.”

    For new responsibilities and expectations, I would never give myself the highest mark (which is something like “consistently exceeds”) out of the gate, but do try to objectively analyze feedback received over the course of the year in determining whether to select “meets” vs. “above.”

    1. Vicki*

      I hate, loathe, and despise the whole “meets” or “Exceeds” expectations. If my manager knows I’m productive, smart, and capable of solving problems in a timely manner, then I always “meet” expectations. If my manager doesn’t know me, he has no expectations. If he doesn’t trust me, I _May_ exceed expectations, or he won;t notice.

      It’s subjective. I would rather meet high expectations than exceed low ones.

  3. Jamie*

    Fully agree with not giving yourself a lower grade than you think you deserve. This isn’t a place for false modesty it’s a chance to see if you and your manager are on the same page, and if not it illustrates where clarification is needed.

    If I think I’m meeting expectations and my manager does not, then lets use this time to discuss the expectations and how I can improve. If I disingenuously put down needs improvement but I don’t think I do and my employer is happy with my work now it’s a conversation about how I’m assessing myself incorrectly and some fishing for ego stroking…which leaves less time for real discussion which can be productive.

  4. AnotherAlison*

    Timely post as I just had my annual review yesterday. (Perhaps the first time ever I had one before January of the following year!)

    I agree with the great advice Alison gives. My approach is to rate myself what I think is appropriate (ABC/123) and use the comments area to back it up with accomplishments. Ours usually have a soft skill area where you rate yourself ABC, but you also have to rate your accomplishment of the hard performance goals you set last year.

    I don’t see any reason to not rate yourself well on the soft skill area. If you are truly subpar at communicating or treating coworkers with respect, hoo boy, how do you survive this many years in the workforce? And why didn’t you fix the problem? (If you got written up or something, that is an exception, but most of us should be okay here.)

    On the goals, you either did it or you didn’t, and you either did the minimum to meet them (B) or you exceeded (A). Be honest – you should have an idea of what you actually did.

    As for sandbagging to look humble, someone once told me that if you don’t think you’re worth an A, no one else will either. They might still think you were a B, but if they thought you were an A and you gave yourself a B, that might tip the scale to a B instead of an A in the Final Scoring when all the bigwigs who don’t work with you directly have to rank and order everyone.

    1. Jamie*

      Or even if they think you’re worth A – they might offer you B if that’s what you say you’re worth and enjoy the cost savings.

      Salary stuff is hard enough without working against ourselves.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        No doubt, and speaking of salary. . .this seems like a good place to settle a disagreement.

        Should salary discussions be brought up in the annual review meeting with your manager?

        In the hypothetical situation Employee X took on a lot of responsibility in the last year and was reviewed quite well.

        In the normal situation, the arguer and I both agree that you just do your review and wait for your standard annual raise since you are doing the same job.

        In the hypothetical situation, the arguer thinks that Employee X should directly bring up his desire for a meaningful pay increase, citing the increased responsibility and great performance. I say that that is what you’re already discussing without explicity mentioning mnoey. No need to muddy the waters. Employee X was well-reviewed and even more responsibility and training will be added next year. To me, it’s implicit that this employee will get a good annual raise, and if he doesn’t, THEN would be the time to have a meeting with the manager and discuss why they aren’t on the same page wrt his salary.

        How do the rest of you do it?

        1. Jamie*

          It depends on the company. A lot of companies expect that the compensation question will be addressed at the review. I don’t know how I feel about the coupling of these related, but separate issues.

          On the one hand it’s easy to get it all out of the way at the same time – you’re discussing the job performance and place in the company so it’s organic to talk about salary. On the other hand too many managers forgo the review unless there is a raise (or cut) coming because in their minds reviews are married to compensation adjustments. That’s wrong, to me, because there is a lot of value in a review outside of that.

          That was a lot of typing for me to take no stand whatsoever on the issue. I see both sides.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            The process I’m familiar with is at large companies where everyone is reviewed every year and everyone gets a salary adjustment in the spring. From what I understand, since it’s happening on a very large scale, the higher ups meet and decide raises & final rankings *before* you ever have your talk with your manager. I guess that’s why I have never thought it was something you needed to discuss at that time, because the ball is already rolling on what’s happening this go-round.

            1. Jamie*

              That makes sense. I’m in a smaller company and report to the owner – so it’s less of a formal process for me.

        2. AMW*

          This is a great question and one that I struggle with having been in my current job for a year with my first annual performance review coming up.

          My inclination is to wait until the annual raise/bonuses are decided before asking for more money above the standard raise. While this isn’t pertinent to me now (it’s only been a year) I’m interested on how to proceed in the future. Allison – can you weigh in?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Depends on the company, but in general I’d bring it up at the evaluation, since that’s when you’re focused on how well you’re doing, which is inherently tied to what you’re worth to the company. That doesn’t have to mean that you’re asking for the raise to be immediate; for instance, if your company does raises in March but evaluations in December, when discussing your evaluation in December, you can say that you think you’ve earned $X raise in March.

            I tend to prefer discussing it earlier rather than later, because often if you wait too long, money has already been allocated.

            1. LMQ*

              I work at a company with about 20 office people. I know that my boss comes into my review knowing how much they can give me as a raise that year.

              How do I make it known to my boss earlier in the process to fight for a larger raise or better benefits with the CEO? Thanks.

  5. Becca*

    I think of my performance evaluations like mini-resumes dedicated to what I’ve done for that year. Describe what you have done and the benefit achieved, and include as many measures as possible. You might want to use the STAR format for larger efforts as you think through what to write.

    You can use a few sentences to describe each accomplishment, but don’t write a novel. Also, most leaders prefer a few strong accomplishments with clear results over lots of weaker accomplishments which aren’t as clear.

    Weak example: Participated in new Chocolate Tea Service design sessions

    Stronger example: Active member of Chocolate Tea Service design team; managed design and development of Chocolate Sugar/Creamers. Delivered new products during Q2 2012, resulting in 10% sales increase in Q3.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Great example! If you’re using the words “participated in” on your resume or in a self-evalatuion, stop! That says nothing more than “sat in a room while people talked.”

      1. Steve Martin*

        How would you convey team-based work that doesn’t have individual accomplishments (only group ones)? I presume ‘member of’ team X, ‘as part of team X’, and similar all have the same exclusion as ‘participated in team X’.

        I generally have no trouble with individual accomplishments – whether independant from or in support of team goals – but have always struggled with conveying group work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Try this exercise: Pretend that someone accused you of not playing a very valuable role on that team-based project. How would you respond, to demonstrate that they were full of it and that you made valuable contributions? What would you point to? Whatever your answer is should point you toward how you could describe it in an evaluation or on a resume.

          1. Steve Martin*

            That’s a great exercise. I think I’ll still struggle with this, especially tying my specifics to appropriate measurable results (e.g. the overall project results in a 15% cost savings… but what portion of that is a result of my particular contributions is hard to define), but it should be a good way to frame my thoughts as I try to describe those contributions.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              And don’t get caught up in feeling it has to be quantifiable — not everything is! It might be something like “took lead on brainstorming ideas for X” or “developed solution for Y” or “road-tested solutions to gather data for group” or whatever.

              1. Steve Martin*

                I guess I’ll chalk the ‘tie *all* accomplishments back to quantifiable results’ idea up to more in the bad resume advice section, then. I never followed it 100% anyway, because some things just never seemed to be quantifiable, but I’ve sure driven myself crazy trying!

  6. Sabrina*

    I always wanted to put “I didn’t kill any of you SOBs this year and most of you deserved it” under “Accomplishments”

        1. Anonymous*

          No. Dexter would know that by switching from an acid to an alkali, the company would be able to diversify into soap manufacturing.

  7. K*

    This reminds me of a “describing accomplishments” question I’ve been wondering about for a while. What do you do in fields where the result is only marginally linked to how good a job you do on it? I’m thinking of law specifically. You can write a lousy brief and have a terrible oral argument and still win case where the law and the facts are on your side; conversely, you can write the best brief in the world and still lose. How do you appropriately take credit for a good result in those situations? And how do you avoid taking on undue blame for a bad result?

    1. Diane*

      I work in grants, so it’s a similar scenario. A lousy grant can be funded because of relationships, or a perfectly researched and presented proposal can be rejected because the funder ran out of money. So I focus on the results as well as the smaller benchmarks. I might lead a team of 20 people that developed a wonderful project that we can implement, even in part. Or I might note that the funder (or in your case the judge) complemented my need statement as the most thorough and compelling. In sum, even if you didn’t win the race, what great steps did you take that prepare you for the next one?

      1. ChristineH*

        Can complements be included on a resume? I’ve been a volunteer on the other side of grants; that is, reviewing grant proposals. The last panel that I served on complemented me for my attention to details. As the newbie of the group, they say this helped them focus on such details since they’d been reviewing many of the same programs for years; thus, they tend to score based on their overall impression of a program rather than the proposal as presented.

        1. Diane*

          I note compliments in my cover letter. That anecdote is perfect. In your resume, you could have a bullet point like “Designed a new scoring matrix to increase the efficiency and fairness of the grant review process.”

  8. Sharon*

    Here are my challenges with self-evaluations:

    1. How do you evaluate your progress/performance against goals when you weren’t given any goals to begin with. I’ve actually had managers tell me to just write down a few of my largest projects as my goals. Am I naive to want to work toward larger company goals to make sure I’m a benefit to the company?

    2. What do you do with managers who don’t apparently read your self-eval and doesn’t discuss them with you? It really seems like it was busy work just to make HR happy. (In fact, most of the time I get the feeling that my managers feel it’s all busy work for HR!)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Sharon, I have one more for your list. What if you aren’t given a copy of your evaluation? If you ask for it- you are viewed as being from another planet.
      OR suppose you get the evaluation and it is a list of one word memory triggers, with no added words to give context. For ex: “Pens. Gas. Tuesday. Key.” wth.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, hopefully your largest projects ARE linked to larger company goals. If not, that’s problematic! But even if your manager won’t give you formal goals, write your own at the beginning of the year and make sure your manager agrees that that’s where you should be focusing.

      If your manager doesn’t read your self-eval, you have a bad manager. If they refuse to give you a copy of your evaluation, you have a bad company.

  9. Not So NewReader*

    I love evaluations (NOT) where you rate yourself 1-4. With 4 being the best. As you are handed the form to fill out- you are told: “NO one is a 4. EVER.”
    What do you do with THAT?

    1. Joey*

      Are there definitions? That’s what I’d look at first. But it helps tremendously to ask your manager about the evaluation philosophy. Some companies do forced ranking, others use a bell curve, and still others just look at whether or not your performance meets the definition. And then your real ranking might actually get downgraded solely for budgetary reasons. I know that sounds unfair, but I suggest asking how the whole process works so at least you know what you’re dealing with. At minimum you’ll have a better understanding of why you got a 1% increase when you killed it all year long.

    2. Steve Martin*

      If I think I’m worth a 4 I’ll put a 4. If the company doesn’t agree with it then we have something to discuss. Depending on my relationship with whoever I’m discussing it with the discussion will include one or both of “what would it take to get a 4?” and “If nobody ever gets a 4 why does the form have one?”

      I’ve worked at places with a similar policy on their evaluations, and I’ve seen top marks given out despite the party line of that never happening.

      I still dislike these yearly evaluations, because it tries to rehash a year’s worth of successes, failures, and related conversations in an hour or less.

      1. Jamie*

        I would be interested in others feel about the yearly evals. Not yours in particular, but the process.

        Do you all feel like you get anything out of them, or are they just one more thing you need to do.

        I’ve got some issues I need to work out before mine – so I’m curious as to if this is something most people find beneficial or not.

        1. Aimee*

          I like them, but I’ve had managers the past few years that took them seriously and who were serious about helping me do what I needed to do to advance in my career. I also got well-defined goals to work toward, and the review process in my company requires a mid-year check in (and some departments do them quarterly), so it’s something that is really designed to help you succeed.

          Our format has goals based on criteria given to you by the company, goals you set up with your manager based on job responsibilities, and personal goals. We have to do our initial self-evaluation (listing our accomplishments against our goals mainly), but we don’t score ourselves at all. The view in my company is that very few people will exceed expectations (if too many people in one department are exceeding, then the expectations aren’t high enough), so you maybe doing a great job but not get exceeds because a coworker exceeded more. We are also scored in three different areas (I can’t remember what they are off the top of my head) with an overall score based on the combination.

          Raises are partially based on your score (if you get an exceeds, you will get a bigger raise than a coworker who just meets expectations) but mostly based on the departmental budget. So last year my husband and I (we work for the same company) got e same score, but I got a slightly higher raise just because my department had a different budget or allocated it differently.

          One thing my company did do was tie an extra bonus to our score – we have a set bonus structure, but those who exceeded expectations got an extra bonus on top of that as well. I don’t know if they will do that again this year.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          How do I feel about annual reviews?

          For most of my career, I hated them and thought they were a waste of time. The first place I worked out of college had a very formal process, but it certainly never felt like it helped me do my job better. (Isn’t that the point – setting goals, improving yourself, making sure you meet the goals?) I usually ended up with some production-esque goals, like analyze X systems per month. I was so happy to join my current company that didn’t do formal annual reviews, only to have them start it that year.

          Over the years, this company has gotten better at it, but if you had asked this question last year, I still would have said I hated the process. My former manager didn’t really like me, and he gave me an overall crappy review. I moved to a different (awesome) manager and for the first time, I’ve felt like this whole process made some sense. I met (or exceeded, ha!) the goals I set last year, and I had meaningful discussion with my boss about meaningful goals for next year. I kind of wonder if these reviews are more useful when you move further up the ladder and it’s worth it to the company to invest in you more. My boss now is really going out of his way for my professional development and seems very concerned that I learn what I want to learn & can go where I want to go. I’m extremely excited about next year & some of the stuff I’ll be doing, because we talked about really specific things with action items laid out. In the past, I’d put something like “improve communication” and that was that. It’s weird. I need to bottle this momentary career happiness for a Monday morning when I really need it.

  10. BCranston*

    I was just looking at mine before I left work today and am utterly flummoxed as to how to fill it out this year. Normally finding the proper phrasing, similar to a resume, is most time intensive, but this year I will be grasping to shoehorn something under each section.

    My job has changed so completely from the beginning of the year that two of my goals are no longer relevant and I can’t hit an “achieved” for third because I only was able to complete part of it before duties changed. There just haven’t been any opportunities. When I brought up my concerns to my then manager at the mid-year they were dismissively swept under the rug and he didn’t feel like he had to look at the self evaluation I had prepared at that time. Now I have a new manager who has to confer with the old one about my performance.

    Looking at it today really hit home how far things have deteriorated this year and why I am looking for a new place to work.

    As to beneficial, in one section we have to line our achievements up with what I feel to be rather vague feel-good corpspeak terms that aren’t concrete. One of our questions asks us to explain what we did over the year that was in support of “Word X” corporate commitment. It seems overly corporate and way too much of an attempt to get everyone to live the latest and greatest values.

    I think yearly reviews can be excellent checkpoints and opportunities for discussion around expectations, opportunities, future vision, etc, and I wish it was taken more seriously where I am now.

    1. Aimee*

      I had that issue last year because I changed roles mid-year, and will have it again this year because I changed roles a couple months ago and am in the process of changing again (we are in the midst of some reorganization after a sale, so there has been a lot of change). I list the things I did accomplish against the goals I have (usually mine are based around revenue, so I can easily figure where I should have been and where I was at the time my job duties changed and talk about what I accomplished to get there). Then I look back at what I worked on in my new role and set up new goals based on how those projects contributed to the company.

    2. ARM2008*

      “Though I did not have an opportunity to formally establish goals for my current position, when I changed roles I evaluated my new role and established what I wanted to complete by the end of the year. And here is how wonderful I did in moving toward those goals…”

  11. Jesicka309*

    Ugh last year my evaluation was a complete balls up.
    When I wrote it, I was at a point where I was so all over my responsibilities I was hounding them for more work. In reality my only goal was to move out of the department, so I wrote a bunch of wankery about “continuing to produce high quality work” and “improving my schedules” in a role where our ONLY job is to do schedules.
    This year I don’t have the energy. I did all of those things and got zip.
    How do you write for your goals that you wish to coast until you get a better job? :(

  12. ABS*

    Just wondering Alison,

    The postscript currently at Intuit page has this :
    Do you have a question for Alison that you’d like to see answered in a future blog? Send them to

    Isnt it – “future blog post” rather than ‘future blog’?

  13. Anonymous*

    Hate the self evaluation part of my review. To start with, the manager has to agree with the eval to make it official. How does this make it a “self” evaluation? Then the same form is used for everyone where I work (at a uni, so there are different goals for different people such as education/research/support, not like a “for profit” company where the goal is well, profit). Doesn’t work well for some positions, especially research where my yearly “goals” may or may not get met – which looks bad for HR but is normal for research. HR also doesn’t seem to look at the trends in what is being reported (not like it’s uncensored) and make protocol changes. Work at a computer for most of the day? Complain of wrist pain? Seems like maybe HR should recommend some policy changes, like wrist rests? Doesn’t happen. Then every job has a job “class”, which dictates, not only salary ranges, but also raises. To get the top raise, you have to be rated in the top of each section of the review. How many people can honestly say that “no improvement is needed” in any aspect of their job?

  14. EM*

    The last review I had with my former company I filled out my evaluation myself, and my manager then agreed or disagreed and wrote comments. I’m not sure it was really supposed to work that way. We all got the impression he did it that way because he was too lazy to actually evaluate us himself and it was easier for him to make us do it. :/

  15. ARM2008*

    How to pick goals – what does your boss talk about at every staff meeting? What is in the corporate newsletter? What types of success were best received in the past? Align your goals to what your manager and her manager think is important.

    When identifying areas for personal improvement, have 2 lists – the ones you tell your manager that align with her ideas and are serious but not too close to home, and the ones that you know you need to work on but don’t need your boss keeping tabs on how many times you fail at improving.

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