everything you need to know about your year-end performance review

If you wait for your year-end performance evaluation with a sense of anxiety or even dread, resolve to be more proactive in handling the process this year, which can make the process a more positive and even useful one. Here are some of the things that people worry about most when it comes to performance reviews, and answers to help you make the process go more smoothly.

Is there anything you can do to influence your performance evaluation ahead of time?

Yes! Ahead of the time when your manager is likely to be writing your evaluation, provide her with a brief, bulleted list of your accomplishments for the year and/or a list of what your goals were for the year and how well you performed against them.

People sometimes assume that their managers remember everything they’ve achieved during the year, but you’re always going to be more familiar with your work than your boss is. Providing a list to jog her memory is a chance to make sure that you’re both working with the same information. What’s more, some managers will pull language directly from this kind of self-assessment and use it in their own evaluation of you.

What if your manager’s evaluation of your work overlooks a lot of key contributions you made during the year?

An evaluation generally won’t include everything you did during the year, but if you feel that your manager’s overall assessment of your work would be different if more of your accomplishments were taken into account, speak up! Say something like this: “I appreciate the feedback you’ve given me here. I wanted to note some of the contributions I made this year that aren’t included here, like X, Y, and Z. Would it be possible to factor those into my overall evaluation as well?”

What if your manager brings up criticisms that you’ve never heard before?

Ideally, nothing on a performance evaluation should be a surprise. In general, your manager should have been giving you feedback throughout the year, and the evaluation should be a summary of the year overall. But the reality is, sometimes managers don’t get as much feedback as they should. And sometimes evaluation time forces a manager to step back and reflect on how things are going, and prompts the realization that there are problems in your realm. If that’s the case, it’s legitimate for your manager to raise those issues as part of your evaluation, even if they haven’t come up previously. Of course, a thoughtful manager will acknowledge that and say something like, “I realize I haven’t raised this previously, and I should have.”
It’s also reasonable for you to ask to receive feedback on a more ongoing basis in the future so that you aren’t hearing about things for the first time in your evaluation.

What if your manager criticizes your work but doesn’t provide concrete examples?

It’s frustrating to hear things like “you need to take more initiative” or “you need to bring the quality of your presentations up” without being given any concrete specifics to help you understand what your manager is asking you to change. If this happens, don’t be shy about asking for more clarification; in fact, it’s important to do that because otherwise you’re not likely to be able to make the changes your manager is requesting. You can say it this way: “I really appreciate getting this feedback. So that I’m able to understand the issue and what you’d like me to do differently, could you give me an example or two of where I haven’t been hitting this bar and what it would look like if I was?”

Will your performance review be tied to the kind of raise you receive?

At most companies, yes. Some companies only do cost-of-living increases, which are generally roughly the same percentage increase from person to person, but most companies tie performance to compensation.

If your manager doesn’t mention a raise as part of your review, should you bring it up?

People often wait for their managers to supply the perfect opening for a conversation about salary, but the perfect opening may never come. If your manager doesn’t address salary as part of your evaluation and it’s been at least a year since your salary was last adjusted, bring it up yourself! Say something like this: “I was hoping we could also discuss my salary. It’s been a year since my last raise, and in that time, I’ve taken on quite a few new responsibilities and am performing well, as we just discussed. I’d like to discuss increasing my salary to a level that reflects these increased contributions.”

Do you have to sign your evaluation if you disagree with it?

If you disagree with your evaluation, you might feel funny about signing it (if you’re at a company that includes a signature as part of the process). But signing an evaluation doesn’t mean that you agree with its contents; it simply indicates that you received it. Because of that, refusing to sign is generally seen as a hostile and adversarial move, and it can do real harm to your standing with your manager and at your company. However, you can certainly add a note that says “signing to indicate receipt only.”

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

{ 45 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Karen

    This is going be to my first regular annual performance review at this job and it’s going to be weird. I had my one-year anniversary review in May, shortly after my manager went on maternity leave. She returned in October. So it’s only seven months later, during most of which time my manager wasn’t even here.

    1. hbc

      I had to give a negative one, and it seriously wrecked my stomach for days. It wasn’t even all that negative, but I knew it was going to floor him because he gave himself solid exceptional ratings in every category.

      Here’s a hint: if you’re going to be late getting your self-review submitted with no explanation (to the point that your manager needs to remind you), maybe don’t give yourself the highest possible score for reliability.

  2. Murphy

    “Ideally, nothing on a performance evaluation should be a surprise”

    We had yearly evaluations when I was in grad school, and one of them has forever put a bad taste in my mouth for performance evaluations. The faculty was taking an unusually long time to send us our official letters about our evaluations, and when I asked my advisor at our normal check-in meeting, he said we could talk about it then. He gave me a few small points for improvement, but basically everything was really good. When I finally got the official letter, there was this whole paragraph of criticism (which was fairly personal, rather than professional). Not only had he not mentioned any of it it at any point during the year, but he didn’t even mention it when we specifically discussed the content of my evaluation! Now I’m always afraid of a “surprise”.

  3. hi.

    I’m not looking forward to mine. I wrote myself a good self-evaluation but my manager isn’t crazy about me. She’s very warm and cold – sometimes I’m ok and doing a good job, the next day I’m not and I need to get myself together and do better. (I’m not the inconsistent one, for the record.) My first year with this boss and I’m dreading the entire process. I need to toughen up before going in there, I KNOW there will be surprises and negative things and I have to not take them personally. I wish I could just skip it altogether!

    1. Jeanne

      Mine always had surprise things, a lot of which seemed made up. I got to the point where I wished I could skip the talk and have him just email it. No point in discussing some made up garbage when he made it clear nothing I said would change his mind.

  4. Cat

    Wait, you guys get annual reviews?!

    Soon-to-be OldJob doesn’t do annual reviews because (GASP) then they might have to give raises.

    1. Not Karen

      It’s better than my OldJob that did annual reviews but didn’t give annual raises, just COL increases that had nothing to do with one’s performance.

      1. Jessesgirl72

        And my husband’s OldJob sometimes did them and then announced they weren’t even giving the COL increases that year.

    2. Rebecca

      At OldJob, yearly reviews were listed as a thing in the employee manual, but never happened. 5 years after our company was sold to another company, all of a sudden, we had to fill out performance reviews. There would be no raises, and there hadn’t been for years prior, but we were required to do it anyway. Plus, as a bonus, we had to evaluate our manager. That was a joke. Anyway, 9 months went by, and I left for another job at a new company. Nothing was ever said to any of us about the performance reviews we had to fill out. I really think 9 months to review 15 people was enough time, even for my manager.

      I got to my new job, and my new coworkers were working on their performance reviews. Which are done every year. And precede raises. I’m actually looking forward to next year’s reviews. I’m hoping someone will show me a blank form so I know what I’ll be expected to fill out.

  5. Chat Noir

    I just completed my performance review the week before Thanksgiving and it was so painful. I had to document how my accomplishments from the past year fit into 12 different behavioral categories. I also had a separate section for goals and I had to document how I met each of six goals. There was a lot of overlap between the two and I had to use certain buzzwords. I switched managers in August so I especially had to sell myself to my new boss.

    Also, they moved up the deadline so I had to scramble to get it done before leaving for vacation. It was so stressful. Next year, I hope to be better prepared and document things throughout the year so I’m not struggling at the last minute.

  6. Annie Moose

    Ah, the most wonderful time of the year…

    I have no clue how NewJob does them. I feel like I haven’t been doing as awesome as I should, but I’ve only been here two months so I don’t know if my manager will feel the same way. Additionally, unlike OldJob where my manager was closely involved in what work I was assigned to, my NewJob manager likely has no clue whatsoever what I do on a day-to-day basis! He knows what project I’m working on, but he’s not closely involved in its progress.

    So… I don’t even know what he’ll evaluate me on! Asking coworkers, I guess??

  7. AnotherAlison

    I’m not sure how I feel about reviews this year. My manager won’t be giving me my review. On the org chart, ~30 people report to her, and there are 3 managers parallel to her with no direct reports. One of those managers, with whom I work closely, will give my review. That’s fine, except that my direct manager administered my mid-year review, and the other manager did my year-end and mid-year last year. I don’t know whose feedback to follow (i.e. my reviewer set different start-of-year goals with me than my manager did at mid-year). Growth conversations also seem awkward when they are with the person you work with daily, but not the person who can promote you. I didn’t mind it when I was a noob, but when you’ve moved up and the next logical job progression is your reviewer’s. . .awkward. (If not moving more into his territory, then actively seeking opportunities NOT working with him is the alternative, which is equally uncomfortable for me.)

  8. Clickety-Clack

    One year, one of my boss’ criticisms was that I typed too loudly. She was a weird and terrible boss in many ways, but that one is still a mystery.

    1. Leatherwings

      Typing too loudly is a thing. I used to sit next to a loud typer. But she brought that up in a performance review? Stellar management, that.

      1. Jeanne

        Yes. It’s a thing but it’s for the moment. “Hey, Clickety Clack, can you please watch the noise?”

  9. WhichSister

    My one year anniversary is in two weeks and I expect I will get a review. I work for a small company where most of the execs are owners. At my 6 month I compiled a report of what my division (consisting of me) had accomplished and received no feedback.

    At my 9 month mark, my boss (who is also an owner) suddenly seemed unhappy with everything I did. he isn’t much of a communicator so sometimes it hard to tell. (we have hours long staff meetings where he doesn’t say a word.) We have a joke about how long it takes him to respond to my emails and texts. (I sent him this today! I give it 5 days! ) Last week I had to ask him three different times if I had Friday off. Finally he emailed me from 10 feet away letting me know he needed these three major projects by Monday. Couldn’t even look me in the eye. I emailed all of them to him last night. But guess who isn’t in today!

    I suspect the sudden unhappiness is a way to get out of giving me more than a minimum raise If at all.

  10. NW Mossy

    I’ll offer an additional item to watch out for that I didn’t realize until I got into management myself. If your organization is one that normally offers raises at a specific time of year (often because they’re tied to performance evaluations, but not always), find out when the decisions are made and plan to have your “here’s what I’ve done to deserve a raise” pitch done well before that time. This is important because this timing can be well before you actually have your evaluation, and by then, the amount you receive can be effectively locked in and your manager may not have the ability or budget to adjust it. Your best bet is to get the information in front of your boss before she has to make the decision, not after.

    For example, in my org, raises are annual and tied to evaluations. The process starts with giving each leader a fixed amount to allocate how they see fit across their team. Leaders collaborate with their bosses and decide how to divvy it up. Those decisions then run up and down the chain of command until the final approved figures are determined. These amounts are then communicated to employees in annual evaluations. The catch is that if you want a bigger slice of the pool than was allocated to you, the only way to do that is to change the allocation across your entire team and then seek multiple layers of approval again and/or increase the size of the pool. Even assuming that your manager wants to take that on and can succeed (a rare thing in itself), reallocation hardly ever happens because no manager is going to go back to your teammate and say “I know I told you that you’d get a 4% raise, but I need to change that to 2% because Wakeen made a good case for a raise.”

    1. periwinkle

      Ugh, sounds like my org. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive raises in my first couple years here but am aware that my boss only gets $X to allocate across his reports. Whoever does standout work gets more, which is fair, but the overall pool is so small. Between that and the near-impossibility of promotions and the hiring freeze so it’s hard to even transfer laterally – is it any wonder our retention rate is an issue? Thankfully the PM system is supposed to be overhauled next year. Maybe.

      Luckily I have a boss who gives us continuous feedback. There’s no blindsiding. He may be a rarity, though.

    2. Nerfmobile

      Sounds like my company, only we do it even more so. The time when allocation decisions start being made is about 4 months before they are communicated, and that chain they get run up and down is complex and interventional. Trying to make a case at the time you are told is WAY too late, though it might help start the ball rolling for the next year….

  11. HardwoodFloors

    Oh, I hated oldjob reviews. Company had 10 soft buzzwords, “changeable, happy” for example and then an essay. Old manager wrote reviews that covered his rear in case you screwed up in that future, “Employee is entirely successful in this goal but might fall below because the economic climate might turn south.” Also was tied to raises that were zero sum so one year I got a substantial raise because a star employee left the company and there was nothing else to do with the leftover in the pool.

  12. Chriama

    I just wanted to share that I read the letter and AAM’s response to the coworker’s “plumber’s crack” issue, then scrolled down to see this post and read “everything you need to know about your REAR end performance review” :D I’ve been quietly snickering to myself for at least 5 minutes.
    Yes, I have the mental development of a 9 year old boy. How did you ever guess?

  13. Lady Dedlock

    We were supposed to have our annual reviews by the end of the summer, but my department just sort of… bypassed them because we were too busy. I’m not sure whether I should ask for a review or not. We get cost-of-living raises, but historically haven’t had performance-based raises. I’ve been here over six years, and the only times I’ve ever been able to get a raise were when I was also getting a promotion.

    I’m debating because I’ve basically climbed the ladder as far as I can, and have gone two years without any raises beyond COL adjustments (which get eaten up entirely by increases in my employer’s health insurance premiums). I’m debating whether I should ask for a raise even though it’s “not done,” or if I should just start putting my resume out there. Or both. (Probably both.)

  14. Always Confused

    I’m filling out a self-evaluation form for the first time (and also getting my first annual review this year).

    Part of the evaluation is rating myself on a scale of 1 to 4 for a list of skills. I’m not going to rate myself a 4 for anything since I’m new and obviously still have a lot to learn and have room for improvement. I feel like I can rate myself a 3 for most of the skills, and then I’m wavering on 2 or 3 for a few. One of Alison’s posts/blogs said, “Don’t be falsely modest when it comes to rating yourself.” I don’t feel I’m being modest, but I do know I tend to judge myself very harshly, so I’m not sure how accurate my judgements are, and I’m scared giving myself a few 2’s will have negative consequences somehow. Should I avoid giving myself 2’s?

    (Also confused because I was told my supervisor will change my rating if they think it is too low or too high.)

    1. The Rat-Catcher

      Until I got to the last sentence, I was going to say don’t be scared of 2’s. Giving yourself the same number on everything makes it look like you didn’t give it any thought, even though that’s clearly not the case. There’s no shame (or there shouldn’t be) in acknowledging that you’re better in some areas than others. Also, have you thought about giving yourself just one 4 in a particularly strong area? (Unless 4 means “I am perfect and there is no room for improvement.”)
      But if they’re going to change your own self-ratings (?), then I guess all bets are off.

  15. diaphanous

    I just had mine and need a quick vent. When I asked “What does [better performance] look like to you” during my review, the response I got was “I don’t know.” Full stop. End of story. So you know, it’s nice that there’s no real way for me to improve my scores.

    1. Jeanne

      It’s nice to know your manager doesn’t even have to think to be a manager. This is common but your manager is a jerk.

    2. The Rat-Catcher

      I understand if you don’t want to make a stink but I’d send that up the line. SOMEONE must know how you can improve (if at all…this sounds suspiciously like a case of Arbitrary Scores).

  16. Maggie

    Hate hate hate performance reviews. At my company it gives the chance to people who don’t particularly like you to air their grievances to the boss, who then goes through every one of those grievances. “You didn’t smile when you said good morning to Joe back in March.” (I wish I was kidding.)

    One year I was pulled up on not being in two places at the same time. Again, not kidding. I was told it was something I “should work on.”

    1. Amelia

      That’s common at my work too. Someone’s gone to my boss a few times about me using “hey” instead of “hi” in an email to them (fixed!), and about not having a much, much more formal out of office notice (!!).

  17. HKM

    I just spent three weeks on my half of my appraisal form. My boss gave it to me then went out of the country suddenly. I’ve had three weeks to mull over “things I could improve”…

  18. Amelia

    I actually emailed Alison about this last week because my evaluation went dismal – asking here, since I think Alison will link me to this:

    How do you recover your confidence after a devastatingly bad review? For context: last year I had a stellar review, and received a raise despite only being there for six months. In January, I was called into a meeting with my boss where he said I was being highly unprofessional in a meeting earlier that week (I was having a lot of anxiety, which isn’t an excuse, and I apologized for how I acted.) It shattered my confidence, and for the rest of the year I kept relatively quiet in meetings. I did all the projects thrown at me, which, since the person who started a week before me was fired, was a huge workload. But he said in my evaluation that I needed to work on thinking of how I can “transform and add value” to a project instead of just doing it. Basically the only positive I got was that I’m fast.

    I spent most of Thanksgiving weekend having anxiety attacks over coming back to work because I’m just waiting to be fired at this point. I’ve never had such negative feedback, and never to the point where I’m doubting there’s *anything* positive I’m doing besides, well, being fast. I thought I was doing so well, too… I mean, his dings on my professionalism I got (slouching, nail biting, etc) but my work? That was a shock. I even told him in the evaluation I spent most of the year waiting for other shoe to drop and for him to fire me because of the lack of any feedback and the January meeting. Sigh. In the end I scheduled a touch base for January and again for April for regular feedback.

    Any help in restoring my negative confidence here? I’m basically faking confidence right now and feeling like a giant ball of nerves and it’s a little miserable.

  19. The Rat-Catcher

    February will mark my third year at this company and also my first performance review :O ours don’t affect raises at all (yay government…) We don’t have self-reviews, we just meet with the supervisor and they tell us the stuff. I’m super afraid of a surprise.

  20. asteramella

    At my (for-profit) company, our annual reviews are explicitly NOT tied to raises. We also don’t have discretionary/merit-based bonuses–everyone receives a small annual bonus based on the previous year’s profitability (usually equivalent to 1 or 2 days’ pay). I have asked why we do formal performance reviews since they don’t affect compensation at all… Nobody has an answer. I guess it’s just something that higher-ups figure that “companies do.” It’s a massive waste of time.

    Some people receive merit raises but those decisions are made months before performance reviews are completed. It’s baffling.

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