Mirror“Performance reviews are the highlight of my year!” said no one ever. Annual reviews make most of us uncomfortable, as we wonder whether we will be evaluated fairly. The entire process seems vague, subjective, and frequently intimidating.

Fortunately, you can greatly reduce your performance-appraisal anxiety. Before your next formal evaluation, take the initiative to do your own performance appraisal first. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds, especially if you start early.

The best time to lay the groundwork is when you’re hired by a new company or when you are promoted. Ask the HR department to email you a copy of the form that will be used to evaluate your performance in the new job. Study the criteria listed or directly review the form with your boss. Determine which categories are most important and what your boss considers outstanding performance in each one.

With these performance criteria in mind, regularly review your on-the-job efforts. Match your accomplishments, with specific examples, to the categories on the form. Unless you do this every month or so, you will inevitably forget many of your achievements by the time the formal appraisal rolls around. Some people even keep track of their accomplishments in a detailed journal or Google Doc, to help develop a portfolio of their work. For example, if you’re a design engineer, you can build a portfolio of your designs. A creative director can compile the designs  that they have created for advertising.

Any emails, company documents, or other messages that commend you on your workplace accomplishments should also be saved whenever possible. If someone compliments you verbally on the quality of your work, ask that person to repeat the comments in an email. Record any publicity you’ve attracted for your firm through published papers, press releases, speeches, presentations, or any other methods.

If you’ve solved difficult problems, or used good judgment in complex situations, be sure to document them in detail. Outline your initial alternatives, the course of action you took, how you arrived at your decision, and how this demonstrates your capabilities in a particular category on the appraisal form.

When aiming for a raise or a promotion, consider how the action would be justified from your manager’s point of view. This is where your journal of weekly self-assessments and portfolio of accomplishments come in handy. Be ready to quantify your actions in dollars and cents earned or saved. In today’s economy, nothing will bring you greater accolades than boosting your company’s bottom line.

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