Performance reviews can be stressful, especially if you’re new to the workforce. According to a 2017 Adobe survey, one in three millennials have been reduced to tears by a performance review, and 47 percent have even felt compelled to look for another job.
Part of the problem could be the way we prepare for these meetings. Being honest with yourself and doing some prep work ahead of time can help keep your expectations realistic — and even influence the outcome of the meeting.
Whether you’re preparing for your first performance review ever or just looking to make a better go of it this time around, here is some advice to help you ace it without the stress:
1. Keep a Brag Book
The main focus of a performance review is, well, your performance. Ahead of sitting down with your manager, take the time to identify your relevant recent accomplishments that you can bring up during the meeting.
“I recommend that everybody keep what I call a ‘brag book,’” says Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume. “That can be an app you’re using on your phone where you jot down notes, or a Google Doc, or a physical notebook.”
Throughout the year, keep track of your activity, from the smallest contributions to your major achievements, especially anything that directly bolstered the company’s bottom line. Think about the times you made a client’s life easier or the projects you can link to measurable revenue goals. The more you can quantify your accomplishments, the better.
If you’re an entry-level employee and haven’t really had the chance to flex these muscles yet, Augustine suggests focusing on times when you took initiative or got creative to solve a problem or meet a deadline. You can also mention any classes you took over the past year. Learning new skills translates to added value for the company, and you may even get reimbursed for any money you paid for those classes.
2. Take Constructive Criticism Gracefully
It can be difficult to keep your emotions in check while a higher-up is picking apart your performance, but it’s simply something you have to do. Augustine says the best way to go into these conversations is with an open mind and your defenses down.
“Always thank your manager for providing feedback, whether it’s negative or positive, because constructive criticism is one of the greatest gifts your manager could ever provide,” she says. “You can’t grow and develop if you’re not aware of what areas [in which] your manager perceives there to be room for improvement.”
If your manager highlights a skill or behavior for you to work on, ask them if they’d be willing to help by pointing out the next time they see an opportunity for growth.
“That is music to a manager’s ears,” Augustine says. “You seem like a willing player who is dedicated to your self-improvement, and it’s a positive conversation.”
For more expert career advice, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:
3. Know the Dos and Don’ts of Asking for a Raise or Promotion
Going into your performance review with a list of demands isn’t the best approach, especially when you’re a first-year employee.
That said, good work does deserve recognition, and a pay raise or promotion may indeed be in order. Most companies budget around 3 percent for annual raises. Keep that in mind to help you formulate a reasonable raise request. Women in particular have some room to advocate for themselves. In a recent survey, 64 percent of men reported receiving a raise in 2018, compared to just 52 percent of women.
When making your case, Augustine recommends basing your request on two factors: your performance and any market research you’ve done regarding the going rate for your role.
“You can’t say [you need a raise] because you’re trying to move into your own apartment or get out of your parents’ house, or because you really want to take that vacation next year,” she says. “Those are all great for you, but that does not justify why you deserve a raise in the eyes of your manager.”
Bring concrete data to the table, particularly any quantifiable figures that outline the value you bring to the company and the ways you’ve grown and evolved in your role over the last year. Be sure to do some research to get a better sense of the market value of your position. Try to find out how much other people doing your job in your area are being compensated. This will give you an objective baseline to reference during your request.
4. Practice Beforehand
Like anything else, practice makes perfect for performance reviews. Augustine suggests rehearsing the things you’ll say during your review, perhaps through role-playing with a friend or taking a video of yourself. This can can help you weed out filler words like “I think” or “I feel” so you can communicate your message more effectively and confidently during your actual meeting.
Performance reviews don’t have to be stressful. Highlight your accomplishments, communicate clearly, and take constructive criticism like a champ. Do that, and your performance review can actually be another shot to impress your manager.
Marianne Hayes is a longtime freelance writer and content marketing specialist.