Whether you work for a small company or a large one, your performance review probably raises your anxiety to a frightening level. It’s tough to hear criticism, even when it’s constructive, and you might even be uncomfortable taking compliments. And while you may dread bad news, your performance review can be great opportunity to advance your career and build a better relationship with your supervisors.
If you have a performance review on your upcoming schedule, make sure you take the opportunity to explore additional compensation, more responsibility or a change in direction, and advice on how to keep your career progressing the way you want it to.
You’ll never know for sure how the conversation will go, especially since the manager conducting the meeting is likely to do a lot of talking, but if you take the initiative with a few smart questions, you can have a very productive and fruitful conversation. Don’t waste your rare chance to discuss concerns, talk about the company as a whole, and position yourself for greater success over the next year.
Question 1: Is there room for advancement?
It’s natural to go in to a performance review with money on your mind, and a promotion is a great way to get a raise with a big step forward in your career development. Asking this question shows initiative and sets you apart from other employees who don’t exhibit any desire to move up within the company. Instead of flat-out asking for a cost-of-living increase or merit raise, you’re also including a request to take on more responsibility.
This kind of ambition increases the likelihood that you’ll come out of the meeting earning more money. But there’s a good chance that the change won’t be immediate. If there isn’t currently an opening for you in a higher-level position, remember that you at least made a positive impression by asking about it. Don’t be afraid to follow-up in two or three months to show that you’re determined. Bosses with a lot on their plates sometimes forget about important conversations like these, so remind them that you want to make the promise of a promotion come true.
Question 2: Am I eligible for a raise?
Asking this question takes a lot of nerve, but in many situations you are not going to receive a raise unless you ask for it. If you’re not eligible for a promotion, or if it’s going to take six months or a year to advance into a new position, you’re within your right to ask for a raise. But you need to make a strong case that you deserve it. Inflation and regular living expenses won’t be enough for the bean counters to justify giving you more money.
It is best to ask for a raise when you have some unique merits that back up the request. Did you recently close a huge deal that led to increased revenue, or have you taken on a special project and succeeded at it? Think about the things you’ve done over the past year that make you stand out among the crowd. Don’t insult your peers, but highlight your major victories, and keep your most valuable accomplishments fresh in your boss’s head.
If you know you’ve had a good year, ask this question after you receive your final “score” for the review. Once your manager shares your above-average review, it makes sense to ask if this evaluation can translate into a raise. Believe it or not, your employer expects this question. So don’t be shy – sometimes you have to ask to get what you want.
Question 3: What did I do well this year?
Whether your review is positive or negative overall, this question is a wise one to ask. It’s important to know the areas in which you excelled, and it’s a smart move to show your manager that you care. If your review is generally a good one, you’ll still want to know what qualities your company values most. And perhaps more importantly, if you’ve had more negative marks than you’d like, this question will give you a confidence boost and remind your manager about your best traits and redeeming qualities. You’ll know what you should keep doing over the long haul.
If your boss is one of many who don’t openly express appreciation or talk about your best assets, you’ll have to ask this question to get the positive feedback you’re seeking. By knowing what pleases your boss you can get on back on his or her good side, or make sure you stay there until your next review.
Don’t be afraid to dig deeper if your boss is not providing enough feedback. Some managers just focus on the negatives, but regardless of a stellar or sub-par review, you deserve to hear about the aspects of your job in which you’re excelling.
Question 4: What do I need to improve upon?
If your manager does harp on the negative, don’t let it get you down. You might have a supervisor who seems cold and insulting, but don’t take it personally. Instead, take it as advice to improve. Plenty of people who get positive reviews one year get complacent and then find that their next review is disappointing. Being just as good the following year often isn’t good enough. Avoid this trap by asking about specific areas in which you need to improve. Even if receive top marks, you’ll benefit from knowing the areas where you’re in danger of slipping in the coming months.
Just as some bosses do not like to give positive feedback, some are shy about telling employees what they are doing wrong. If you have a great relationship with your boss, he or she might not be comfortable giving you constructive criticism. While this might feel like good news in your review, it’s bad news for your career. You need the constructive criticism to keep advancing, so your supervisor isn’t doing you a favor with an “excellent” review and no discussion of your faults. By bringing up this question, you’re giving your manager a chance to help you become an even stronger employee.
As you talk about the areas in which you can improve, feel free to defend yourself and explain where you are coming from. Don’t be argumentative, but if you feel you’re being judged unfairly, the review is your chance for a discussion, not a one-sided critique. Unless you and your manager agree on the points that you need to improve, you will never make the progress that is expected of you.
Question 5: What are your goals for me between now and our next review?
Believe it or not, many employees do not fully understand their responsibilities as well as the goals they are supposed to be working towards, so this question is a great closer. Lately, it seems like companies, regardless of size, love to get away with not having job descriptions by relying on phrases like “open office,” “collaborative environment,” and “self-starters.” You’re not out of line if you ask about goals and specific tasks. In fact, the only way to exceed your company’s expectations is to know what they want from you in the first place.
Asking this question before your review is over shows that you’re committed to success in the year ahead, and it will help put you and your manager on the same page in terms of your responsibilities.
If you’re comfortable in your role, you can make your own suggestions about how you, your department, and the whole company can achieve greater results. This is another way of showing initiative and proving your worth to your boss as well as to the company as a whole.
These questions should spark ideas, and is not a script for your half of the performance review. Don’t feel like you need to ask them in order either. Just keep them in mind and make sure that you get answers to these five questions in the course of conversation. When your manager asks if you have any questions, lean on these topics to show your level of interest. Don’t feel pressure to end the meeting quickly just because your reviewer talked too much.
It’s essential that you listen carefully and take the opportunity to ask questions and engage your reviewer in a discussion. Whether your plan is to stay with the company for six months or thirty years, a performance review is your annual chance to build relationships and get career advice, so it’s always valuable. The more effort you put into getting feedback (i.e. answers to these questions), the more worthwhile it will be.
What questions have you asked in a job performance review, and what’s the best advice or feedback you’ve received?
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