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What is a performance review and how do you prepare for it?

performance review

The concept of a performance review (or performance appraisal) may sound scary — especially if you’ve never had one before. This is a completely valid feeling to have, but with a little bit of preparation, you’ll be handling your appraisals like a pro! So, What is a performance review?

Basically, it’s a method used by your supervisors or managers to formally assess your performance, but there’s quite a bit more to it. For example, there are dozens of different (and even creative) ways an employer may carry out a performance review. On top of that, these reviews can determine a lot about you, your career, and your future at your place of occupation. 

They are a useful way for your employer to identify your strengths and weaknesses and help determine which areas you need to work on as well as whether there is a pathway for promotion available based on that. This is a good opportunity to gather feedback and determine your career goals based on it.

Some companies carry out appraisals every three months, but normally, most employers hold one every six months or even just one big review once a year.

The review can be very subjective as it is often based on how your peers and your higher-ups perceive your progress and contributions. Additionally, reviews can also include your attitude and soft skills, rather than simply evaluating how you deliver your work and your technical expertise.

They can be quite helpful. A performance review is an arena within which your supervisor and you can have an open, holistic chat about your performance.

Your employers get to see if your performance quality is growing or declining and help you greatly improve your personal and professional development by offering you helpful feedback while highlighting problem areas (if any).

In many cases, employees get to assess their supervisors and the company in a less in-depth fashion, too. Therefore, thinking of it as a conversation rather than a scary one-way lecture can help you obtain the most out of your review while helping the company understand what they can do for their employees as well.

On the importance of performance reviews, Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, and Adam Grant state in their piece for Harvard Business Review, “Performance evaluations allow for an overall assessment that helps people prioritize. Employees learn what their key strengths are and where they should focus their development efforts. Evaluations also serve as a forcing function to make sure that tough feedback is delivered rather than swept under the rug.”

Types of performance reviews

As we mentioned before, performance reviews come in various forms. One example is the 360-degree appraisal, where everyone in the company contributes to an employee’s appraisal with their feedback. These usually involve questionnaires which collect feedback from your peers, managers, and even the CEOs. 

This tends to be a very in-depth and extensive review but of course, it can occasionally skew the outcome as it involves many different pieces of input from various individuals. An interesting twist to this is that the employee is also required to complete a self-assessment.

The 360-degree review can actually be broken down into other forms of performance appraisals.

A self-assessment can comprise the content of an entire review by itself. While this is not a very common method — especially in more traditional companies — it can be helpful in allowing an employee to honestly categorise their own strengths and weaknesses and rethink how they handle their work. 

Another option is the peer assessment method, where your coworkers take on the task of assessing your performance, your communication skills, time management, deliverables, etc., and convey their feedback to you — either directly or through your supervisor.

There are also appraisals that involve an impartial party who mediates the review session and conveys the feedback to you. 

 two-way conversations

Within these types, there are also certain criteria used to gauge an employee’s performance. For instance, some companies may focus on a project-based approach, giving you extensive feedback upon the conclusion of the project or after a certain period of time. 

Another approach is one that relies on grading, which involves assigning a ‘grade’ to the employee based on how well or poorly they’ve done. Other companies may prefer to evaluate you based on your traits. For example, if you’re highly empathetic and very creative, and that’s what they value most, then in such a situation, you can expect positive feedback during your review.

Furthermore, a company may use one, multiple or all types of reviewing methods to appraise their employees. For example, there is a type of review called the ‘720-degree’ appraisal, which not only includes your self-assessment and feedback from those within the company, but also feedback from other stakeholders, like clients, and sometimes, even external entities, like suppliers.

Handling a performance review

Now that we know what a performance review is, let’s talk about the difficult part: preparing for and handling a performance review. 

The first thing you need to do is clarify what type of review it will be. Without knowing this, it will be difficult for you to prepare. After you’ve been briefed on the procedure for the review (this will usually involve the date, time, who will be sitting in, and the review method that will be utilised), you can now prepare for it at length.

Let’s see how you can do this by using the self-assessment model as an example.

A self-assessment is what is required, you may want to carry out a SWOT analysis well before the date of the review. 

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). This is an effective way to visualise problems and find solutions, especially for those looking to self-assess, and can be very useful when planning your personal development path. 

Use this information to create a set of slides. Careful not to include too many; 8-12 is often enough unless it is required that you delve into the finer details of your work or provide a breakdown on a project-by-project basis.

The following points are vital for a good, well-rounded self-assessment.

1) Achievements: Start off with your achievements. This way, you’re starting on a positive note, which will soften the blow of any negatives that may follow. Highlight them in a humble yet confident manner (also known as professional humble-bragging). Tip: Use numbers! Numbers are very impactful and perfectly summarise your achievements in an objective manner.

2) Challenges: Next, move on to the challenges you’ve faced over the period of time under review. Make sure to not make it seem like you are complaining but rather present objective facts regarding hurdles you’ve faced at work.

3) Strengths: This is your time to shine. Be bold with your strengths. What technical skills of yours do you think have served you well during your time at work? What soft skills are you a master of? What attitudes or behaviours of yours positively contribute to your workplace? 

4) Weaknesses: These are the areas you need to improve on. Don’t just state your weaknesses. You must always follow it up with what you’re doing to improve on them. This shows initiative and turns a negative into a positive.

5) Short-term development plan: Companies may ask you what you’re doing to improve yourself over a period of several months. You can talk about courses you’re taking to upskill or how you’re experimenting with certain software. You can even talk about more qualitative things you’re working on, like your socialising skills.

6) What you’ve learnt from the company: This is helpful for both you and the company. You get to reflect on what benefits you’ve obtained from your employer and they understand what they’re doing well, too.

7) What the company can do better: Here’s where you can highlight areas for your employer to improve on. For example, if one of the challenges you encountered at work was ‘lack of resources, under this section, you can talk about how you would appreciate it if the company can allocate more resources. Be sure to provide reasoning and examples to further bolster your point.

What to do after a review

Once the review is complete, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of what you’ve done well and what you can improve on. Drop your supervisor a message (or if another individual handled your review, drop them one) and thank them for their time and all the useful feedback you’ve received. Handle it with grace and be polite, even if you disagree.

Some companies provide their employees with development plans to help them improve and grow, while others may simply conclude the review and expect the employee to take initiative.

 performance criticisms

Either way, the next best step for you would be to reflect on the session. This would be made easier by taking notes during your review. It’s perfectly fine to write down what is being discussed and it shows that you’re taking it very seriously. 

Go through all the points that were brought up during the review and utilise this to set goals for yourself. Use milestones to help you organise your thoughts and the next course of action you need to take to fast-track your career development.

List out what skills you need to work on and put in place a plan to improve them. Think about what responsibilities you currently have and which ones you’re willing to take on. Actively work on the feedback provided to you.

Another important point to remember is if your goals don’t align with what your company expects of you, or vice versa, you may want to re-evaluate if this is the best place for you to continue working at.

At the end of the day, you need to put yourself first and take care of your own career and aspirations. All the best with your performance review!



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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