5 ways to help you ace your performance review

Susanna Kahr

Many employees dread their performance reviews, but there is no need to stress. Yes, performance reviews are a time when you’re evaluated on the work you’ve done, and not all bosses are great at constructive criticism. However, with some foresight and the right phrases at hand, you can turn even a critique into an opportunity to impress your boss. Here are five behaviors to practice in your next performance review.

Show your accomplishments with a list of work wins

Your boss has prepared for the review, so you should do the same. Think back over the year. What were your biggest accomplishments at work? Is there data to back this up? What compliments did you got from clients or colleagues? What do others have to say about working with you? Draw from this list to create a highlight reel that shows your boss all the value you’ve contributed over the last year.

“My manager and his boss value my input and it’s a very friendly environment.” – anonymous employer review at 101 International Investment Group

Complete the picture by saying “Let me add some context/background.”

While some managers are hands-on and want to know everything you do, others give you more free rein. That’s great if you prefer a boss who empowers you to get things done, but freedom to work also means that your boss doesn’t always know the full story.

There may be times during the performance review when you want to add background or context because your boss has a misguided impression of what happened. This is your chance to correct the record, so to speak, so take that: fill in the missing information so your boss better understands what actually happened.

One note here: There is a world of difference between enlightening your boss with background information and making excuses for sloppy performance. Never used this phrase to excuse a job you could have done better.

“I have a very flexible boss that understands my personal situation.” – anonymous employer review at AAEC

Boost your understanding by asking “Can you give an example/tell me more?”

If you’ve been knocked sideways by an unexpected critique during a performance review, you’re hardly alone. It seems like bosses have a knack for surprising employees with suggestions for improvements that are out of context. If your boss throws something at you that you don’t quite understand, take the opportunity to ask for more details using the prompts above. After all, how can you do better when you’re not even sure what your boss is asking for or where it’s coming from?

These questions get your boss to think about what they’ve just said and find examples of the behavior. It may be that they’re referring to one specific incident and generalizing, in which case the feedback is not as bad as it seems at first. It may be they’re comparing you to another employee who has a different way of going about a process; by modeling your work on theirs, you can make the requested changes painlessly. Ask whatever follow-up questions are needed for you to understand what your boss is after.

Get targeted feedback by asking “What would it take to excel in this area?”

Bosses typically add suggestions for improvement in the upcoming year. By asking this question, you encourage your boss to elaborate on specifically what they would like to see. This way, you can turn a qualitative suggestion into something quantitative, which is easier to act upon.

Asking this question turns your manager into an ally who can provide you with specific suggestions to guide improvements. Managers want to have high-performing employees, because it makes them look good too, so your manager should be eager to help out here.

“My company has my back and wants me to stay and succeed.” – anonymous employer review at GEICO

Check priorities and goals by asking “Let me make sure I understand the priorities.”

You probably have goals for what you’d like to do in the upcoming year. Your boss has their own ideas of priorities for you. By asking this question, you can tease out the areas of overlap between your priorities and company priorities. Understanding where there’s alignment can motivate you to improve in these areas.

Double-checking priorities before the end of the assessment redirects the conversation and narrows the focus. Rephrase what you’ve heard and ask your boss to confirm this is really the priority for the year head. In many cases, supervisors will elaborate, add milestones, and to give concrete suggestions that help you perform at a higher level.

“I’ve been able to advance as well as work on personal goals to further my career.” – anonymous employer review at GeoComm


Heading into the performance review, take time to think about your personal work goals and the accomplishments that have made you the proudest over the previous year or quarter. Your performance review doesn’t have to be a favorite activity, but if approached with an open mind and a willingness to learn, it can be a powerful tool in advancing your career.



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