What’s more awkward than a performance review at work? The self-appraisal process that precedes it, of course.
Measuring your own performance without coming across as arrogant or too self-deprecating can be an incredibly hard tightrope to walk. Studies have shown that we’re remarkably poor judges of our own work, and no one can remember what they did six months ago, anyway. All the more reason to dash it off in the five minutes before it’s due, right?
Nope, says New York-based career consultant Maggie Mistal. The frenetic nature of today’s workforce means your words carry an outsize amount of weight. “With managers having so much on their plates, many use the self-assessments as the basis for the employee’s performance evaluation,” Mistal says. Your boss can’t possibly keep track of all your victories (or setbacks). That means they might reference your self-assessment when deciding on your next raise or who on the team should land the next promotion.
If the stakes for your self-assessment seem high, it’s because they are. But there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you’re showing off your best self—without seeming like a braggart.
1. ADD JUICY DETAILS.
Now is not the time for modesty, says Mistal. When recounting your successes, details matter. To avoid staring blankly at your screen for 45 minutes, keep a running list, saved on your desktop, of projects completed and goals accomplished throughout the year. Then, when it’s time to turn that list into assessment material, Mistal recommends following a Position-Action-Result template. Identify what role you played, what action you took, and the details of the positive outcome. For example, rather than noting that you “oversaw the website redesign” you can point to the four-person team you managed for the two-month project, and the 25 percent traffic bump the redesign helped reel in.
2. BE (CAREFULLY) HONEST.
You shouldn’t ignore mistakes or failures, but be sure to frame them appropriately. Rather than saying, “I fell short” or “I failed,” flip your language to create solution-based statements. The Harvard Business Review recommends framing it as, “Here’s an area I want to work on”—then spell out what you’re going to do. Most employers will favor that kind of growth mentality, and crafting your own game plan for growth can actually earn you bonus points in the performance review.
3. DON'T COMPLAIN.
Now is not the time for disparaging remarks about your company or its leaders—save that stuff for happy hour with your BFF. Instead, the self-assessment should include an appreciation of what’s working in your job, Mistal says, even if that means digging deep to find a team dynamic that’s working. And, like with your mistakes, invert the negatives to create a more productive conversation. “Rather than say that you want to be promoted out of a department with little upward mobility, make it more empowering,” says Mistal. “Say you’re motivated and make your best contributions when your efforts lead to greater roles.”
4. GET A SECOND OPINION.
Discussing self-assessments with trusted colleagues can be good for everyone. Your work pal might jog your memory about a project-saving move that you’ve forgotten, or a team member might point out that your can-do attitude isn’t exactly the norm at the office. Those swapped compliments can be great details for the self-assessment, but don’t limit yourself to just talk. “Having another pair of eyes read over what you’ve written never hurts,” Mistal says. Because, just like with a resume or cover letter, a typo can be glaring for reviewers.