how to write a self-assessment for your performance review

If your company is one of the many gearing up for year-end performance reviews this month, you may be asked to write a self-assessment as part of that process.

Lots of people freeze up when asked to assess their own performance, worried that they’ll come across as braggarts if they rate themselves highly, or that they’ll undercut themselves if they’re too modest.

Here’s how to take the mystery out of the process and write an effective self-assessment.

1. Instead of dreading the self-assessment, see it as an opportunity.
Writing a self-assessment is a chance to remind your manager about key highlights of your work that she might not otherwise have at the forefront of her mind as she sits down to assess your performance. After all, you’re more intimately familiar with the nuances of your work than your manager likely is, especially if she manages a large number of people. See this as a chance to make sure that you’re both working with the same data. And many managers will even pull language directly from a self-assessment and put it into their own evaluation of you.

Additionally, self-assessments can be a valuable way to spot areas where you and your manager have different perspectives on your work. That’s important. If you think you’ve been doing a great job at account management, and she thinks your work in that area has been lackluster, you need to know that. That information can help you figure out what’s causing the discrepancy.

2. Keep your focus on what outcomes you achieved this year.
People often focus their self-assessments on soft skills, such as how they get along with colleagues, how well they communicate or how much initiative they take. Those things matter, but a performance evaluation, including a self-assessment, should look at what you achievedthis year. So, start by listing out what your major goals were for the year, then reflect on what progress you made against them. And be specific. Don’t just say, “The X project was a success.” Instead you should say, “The X project came in under budget and ahead of deadlines, garnered enthusiastic praise from the client – who called it ‘one of the smartest campaigns I’ve seen’ – and resulted in a 15 percent increase in sales.”

3. Don’t be falsely modest when it comes to rating yourself.
Your manager isn’t looking for false modesty. She’s looking for your true assessment of how your work is going. If you rate yourself lower than you think you deserve, you risk influencing your manager in that direction, too. You also lose much of the value of the entire exercise.

If you have trouble tooting your own horn, try this exercise. Pretend that someone accused you of not playing a very valuable role on your team. What would you point to as refutation of that? What specific contributions have you made that would be evidence of your value? Your answers should point you toward how you should be describing your work in your self-assessment. To be clear, the point here isn’t to feel defensive, just to get you into a frame of mind where you’re comfortable talking about your own achievements.

4. Don’t give yourself falsely high ratings either.
If you give yourself the highest rating in every category when you’ve had some significant failures, or your manager has been coaching you to improve your work, you’re likely to come across as out-of-touch or lacking self-awareness. Strive for honesty. Try asking yourself how your manager or a trusted colleague would likely rate you.

5. Be straightforward about areas where you need to improve.
If you’re struggling in a particular area or with a particular skill or goal, use this opportunity to reflect on what’s going on and how you can improve. If your manager is doing her job, she’s going to bring it up anyway. It will be a much easier conversation if you’ve already acknowledged the problem. Of course, this assumes that you have a competent and fair manager. If your manager is the sort to punish this kind of honesty, modify accordingly.

6. Don’t forget to look back at last year’s performance evaluation.
If there were issues raised there, or goals set out that you’ve been working on, your self-assessment this year should reflect on your progress in those areas. Reviewing last year’s document might also help you ground what you’re writing in some historical context. For example, you might note that you were still working to master skill X last year, and you’ve successfully used that skill to accomplish Y and Z this year.

7. Start planning for next year’s evaluation early.
This is a good time to ask yourself what you want next year’s evaluation to say about you, then plan out what you need to do throughout the upcoming year to achieve that. You might also set up a “kudos” file that you add to throughout the year, storing emails with praise for your work, notes about project successes and other specifics that will help you when you sit down to write your self-assessment this time next year.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle

    #7 was such a lovely thing at my last job once I started implementing it, so I wouldn’t forget half the major things I did or spend forever digging through email for reminders. I would toss even things I didn’t think would make the review (like one-off kudos notes) in there in case they formed a pattern by the end of the year. (And, at one point, they did – a series of emails I wrote up for knowledge transfer/expansion got me thanks and kudos, both direct to me and to my manager, from people in multiple departments, roles, and levels. So that felt really good and, besides looking nice on my review, also encouraged us to keep those types of emails going out.)

    1. kkcf

      I usually keep a “smiley faces” folder at work for these things. When I feel like I’m not doing well, need a pick me up or want to share in an interview/review, I pull out the smiley faces folder.

    2. Bea W

      I started doing this a year or more (?) ago on advice I read here. I have to write self reviews twice a year. This is hugely helpful.

  2. Bea W

    #3 I think the best self assessment I’ve ever written was when an employer renegged on a long-awaited promotion and I felt I had to defend my position that I was indeed qualified and working at the next level but without the pay or recognition. I’m generally self conscious about being braggy, and being put in that position made it feel less like bragging and more like presenting evidence of my performance.

    I love tossing numbers in there to help tell my story. One year I figured out a change to a clunky process I put in place improved the volume of chocolate tea pot spout quality control work we could do to the point where it was equivilent to adding an additional person to the Spout QA team while still turning out excellent spouts, and error rates remained the best across all of the teapot components!

  3. Sherri

    Excellent timing! I can’t stand doing self assessments and our year end one is due in a few days. THANKS!

  4. Regina 2

    I had just written in about this! Great recap.

    My issue for myself is I’ve never had a manager who didn’t love or praise me — but I know what I’m capable of, and I feel I always fall short. I also always compare myself to others. I don’t really know how to assess myself in any other way, especially during times when my manager DOESN’T give me ongoing constructive feedback, and instead just says, “You’re great!” One challenge is she doesn’t know the intimacies of my job — although that’s kind of the point.

    This year, I really honed in on putting in quantitative facts about what my work generated, and reasons for why some goals fell short (for example, we kept flat on a KPI we wanted to raise — but that’s because we doubled our lead gen, which was above and beyond that particular goal. So to keep the first KPI constant in light of the insane growth isn’t actually a bad thing).

    I still feel I tooted my horn too much, but I’ve never been close to a PIP, so my hope is I did good for myself. I don’t know when my actual review will be, but fingers crossed!

    1. Dan

      If you accurately tooted your horn, then you didn’t toot it too much. Keep in mind that a lot of these documents are the justifications for raises and promotions, and by not tooting your horn, you’re leaving off “the official record” the things you’ve done. Do you want to get passed over for promotions because people don’t realize the contributions that you make?

      The worst possible thing you can see on a performance eval is negative feedback that you haven’t seen previously, coupled with positive assessments that are left off. I had a former coworker who would come out of her reviews in tears because there were lots of negative things on the evals and the “positive” stuff project leads had allegedly said to her weren’t on the reviews.

      The thing is, I knew everybody (small company) and the review was more likely than not to be accurate, and said person was in absolute denial in how she was in the workplace. PSA: If your manager is putting down negative comments on your review, and isn’t generally known to be overly critical, your job is to find out why your manger has the perception that she does, and WORK to change it. Arguing won’t help.

  5. Dan

    My company switched to a review system based on three essay questions. The first asks us to define our role, the second asks us to discuss our accomplishments, and the third is more of a soft skills kind of thing.

    At a company full of engineers, one can rightly assert that that kind of review isn’t very analytical. But what I’ve found over the years is that the “on a scale of 1-5, rate your performance in 20 different areas…” tends to be 1) too formulaic, and 2) too political.

    1) The formulaic aspect comes from systems that have the same set of criteria that all people of all levels get rated on. Because you get every body from junior analysts to senior technical advisors, across multiple job families, the criteria becomes to vague and too abstract to really apply without pulling your hair out. For instance, a junior analyst who never talks to customers gets a score for “business development” just like a senior technical person who’s job it is to fish for follow on funding from sponsors. Then you get stupid stuff like administrative tasks. For a junior analyst who never travels and is not a telecommuter, his sole responsibility is to fill out his time card every day. How do you rate his performance in that area, on a scale of 1-5? (I’d get it if there were a hard number of “misses” assigned to each category, but there weren’t.)

    2) The political aspects come in in the sense that no matter how well you really did in certain categories, when companies use these scores to drive promotions, they’re going to give better scores to those they want to promote, and lower scores to those they don’t. I’ve noticed that my scores in promotion years are higher than non-promotion years, when really, I just show up to work, do my best, take on the tasks they want me to take on, and keep my nose clean.

    So this “essay” system, while not quantitative, is a way to have a straight forward conversation about the expectations of my specific role, what I accomplished, and my abilities to play nice in the sandbox. It was much less stressful than sweating over a bunch of abstract numbers.

  6. azvlr

    My manager requests that we send our activities and accomplishments weekly. She’s otherwise very hand’s off, so it gives her a pulse check on what we are doing (she does read them!). At the end of the quarter, I just put what I have sent to her throughout the period into one document and aligns them to the objectives we have for our group.

    I also quantify what I have done, which my manager appreciates: Completed x number of teapot processes, worked x hours on teapot design, especially when what I’ve done is outside my normal pattern or above and beyond.

    I write the review text as if they were resume bullet points. They are, if you think about it: When (if) I leave this job, my resume will be all but updated.
    My weekly accomplishments are super easy to do – I just go through my sent emails and meetings on my calendar to jog my memory about what I did throughout the week.

  7. AnotherHRPro

    I maintain a status report that I review with my manager during our regular check-ins. I then reference this for quarterly and year-end performance discussions. I can basically pull everything I need for my self-assessment from these reports. I do the same thing to help me with writing evaluations for my direct reports. One tip in writing evaluations (for yourself or for your employees) is to use the STAR methodology: Situation, Task, Action and Result.

  8. Wendy Darling

    I was *severely* depressed for non-job-related reasons during review time last year, and then had to do a sort of exit review a few weeks ago after I found out I was being laid off, so I was depressed then too. My strategy was ‘avoid, avoid, avoid, drink, avoid, drink some more, finally bang the entire thing out at home after work in one sitting’.

    Alison’s suggestions are way better.

  9. Twyla

    Great timing. I encourage my team to keep an “I’m awesome” file for kudos received throughout the year!

  10. Stephanie

    Super helpful as always! Doing mine now–this is making the process a little less painful.

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