How To Write A Performance Review Self-Evaluation That Works For You

False modesty is not helpful in a year-end review, but neither is vague praise.
The year-end review is not just a time to brag. It’s also a time to share what you want to do better next year -- and for good reason.
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The year-end review is not just a time to brag. It’s also a time to share what you want to do better next year -- and for good reason.

December is the time for holiday festivities, but it’s also often the time to write your year-end performance review self-assessment. Bah, humbug.

Even though writing up a summary of your year can take up a lot of time, it’s best not to rush through it. Ideally, your employer lets you know ahead of time what exactly performance reviews are used for and what effect they could have on your career. The stakes can be high: Annual evaluations are typically used as part of the compensation cycle to determine which employees get raises, bonuses or promotions.

The truth is, only you know best what you were doing at your job this year. Year-end evaluations can be a way to get your boss up to speed on what they may have missed. Michael C. Sturman, a professor and chair of the human resource management department at Rutgers University, said self-evaluations can be a way for managers to get a deeper understanding of what employees are actually accomplishing when they aren’t directly supervised.

The point is, you need to be strategic about how you brag about your job performance and how you advocate for what you want to do more of and less of next year. Here’s how:

Don’t be vague. Be specific in mentioning progress that is relevant to the business and your team.

“Vague statements, such as about being a good co-worker, well-organized or a good communicator, end up not providing meaningful information,” Sturman said. Instead, he recommends mentioning specific accomplishments about which you can share how they occurred and why you were able to achieve them. That way your manager has better insights into how they can help you develop professionally.

And make sure those specific examples are relevant to your team’s goals or company’s values. “One of the biggest mistakes that I see professionals make is that when sharing achievements, they don’t quantify the impact it had on the business or the bottom line,” said Sarah Johnston, a career coach and co-founder of Job Search Journey.

If you’re stumped about how to mention a win, Johnston suggests asking yourself why it mattered. What was the effect? How would you measure the success? For example, someone in sales could frame their win as: “One of my [key performance indicators] for the role is growing revenue through new corporate contracts, through content marketing, social media and cold calling. In FY2021, I hunted and closed 100-plus new contacts. This represented 30% of total corporate new sales,” Johnston said.

Your collaborations with other teams and colleagues count, too, especially if you are a leader or want to be one.

“Think about all the people that you work with: your manager, colleagues, customers and other departments or teams. Reflect on what came easy to you while working with these stakeholders and what challenges you had,” said Angela Karachristos, a career coach who has worked in human resources.

“Gather emails, reports and communications that support your work,” she said. “Then for each, answer these questions: What did I do to make their life easier? What could I do better to support them next year? And again, don’t just think about the tasks you completed for these stakeholders. Also emphasize any leadership skills that were necessary in navigating these relationships.”

Laura Gallaher, an organizational psychologist at the consulting firm Gallaher Edge, suggests framing your job performance as you positioning yourself to help the organization hit their 2022 goals.

It’s not just a time to brag; it’s also a time to share what you want to do better next year.

Because self-assessments can be used to determine promotions, you may be tempted to just make yours a list of sunny accomplishments. But leaving out areas for improvement would be a missed opportunity to make the evaluation a pitch to your boss about what skills you would like to learn or ideas you would like to execute next year.

“Some employees will be so focused on trying to explain or negotiate a higher performance evaluation that they miss the opportunity to truly self-reflect on what aspects of the job they could do better, how they might be able to better contribute to the company, or in what ways they lack skills or personal resources which inhibit their overall performance levels,” Sturman said.

If you’re seeking to move up the corporate ladder, make sure your self-evaluation shows that you are ready. “If you feel like you are ready for more responsibility or a promotion, express that and make sure the self-assessment has the results in there to support it,” Karachristos said.

Your self-evaluation can also be a means to show that you are moving forward from past mistakes. If you and your manager both know about a particular setback in the past year, it’s better to own how you learned from it. It shows you are holding yourself accountable.

“When an individual can show a more balanced self-perception, it increases credibility of the whole evaluation,” Gallaher said.

Don’t blame COVID or another person for your setbacks.

COVID-19 has thrown many careers into upheaval. But directly saying you could not perform your job the best you could “because of the pandemic” is not going to put you in the best light, since it sounds like an excuse, said Norma Reyes, a career coach and clinical manager for a health care company that reviews her team’s self-evaluations.

She recommends “any words that are showing that you are moving forward versus any language that would show that you are being stagnant, [such as] ‘We didn’t have enough resources, so I had to do this.’ Anything that is negative is going to taint the evaluation in a way you weren’t intending.”

Instead of blaming circumstances or others for where you fell short, Reyes suggests spinning those bumps in a positive light, with language like “I was able to be agile during our challenges and changes.”

Keep track of your accomplishments and results throughout the year.

It’s tough to remember in December what you worked on in February. To avoid wracking your brain in the final hours before your assessment is due, make it a habit to keep track of emails, collaborations and projects that are relevant to team and business goals.

“It’s the end of the year, so it’s a little late to have a list of accomplishments that you’ve done. For the following year, have a monthly check-in with yourself ... ‘What did I do this month? What stood out to me?’” Reyes suggested.

Keep in mind that just because you weren’t able to finish a project doesn’t mean it didn’t make a difference.

“I would recommend keeping track of project milestones reached, emails with positive feedback, reports with sales numbers or other metrics and other moments that make you proud,” Karachristos said. “As priorities change throughout the year, a project you made a lot of progress on earlier in the year could be on the back burner now. However, that doesn’t invalidate all the work you did.”

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