Review season can be a stressful time. On the one hand, there’s always the unknown of how your performance has been perceived, creating the anxiety that there may be a curveball or two in your review. At the same time, employees are often asked to write self-reviews, which can not only be time consuming and emotionally draining—but can also play a big role in determining how this review cycle goes for you. Here are four tips for writing a self-review that creates a strong case for your performance, regardless of your role or professional goals.
It’s easy to forget the details of the important projects you’ve worked on or outcomes you’ve driven, particularly if reviews only come around once per year. Instead of racking your brain come review time, begin collecting data points along the way.
This doesn’t have to be anything formal or fancy: Keep a word doc or collection of sticky notes where you can document anything you’re proud of, from quantitative outcomes to emails or conversations with positive feedback from colleagues. In the same place, keep a record of disappointments or things you would’ve done differently, which will also be an important part of your reflection on the review period.
It can be tempting to deliver a self-review that’s simply a long list of what you’ve achieved during the review period—the longer the list, the better you’ve done… right?
Not so, in most cases. Keep in mind that your manager (and the other people reading your review, such as HR), are responsible for multiple employees’ reviews, so the burden is on you to make their job as straightforward as possible. If you provide them with a laundry list, you’re leaving it up to them to sift through and find the most important examples—and running the risk that they’ll miss something valuable. By doing the work yourself, however, you’re guaranteeing that the best of your work shines through.
In addition, try to choose accomplishments which are specific and measurable—and which demonstrate your ability to drive towards tangible goals. It’s fine if you have one or two more qualitative achievements which you think are important (particularly if they’re something you discussed previously with your manager), but make sure they’re balanced with quantitative results.
In the bigger scheme of things, remember that your self-review is essentially a tool which your manager can use to make a case for your promotion—so it’s in your best interest to equip them well to do so.
One way to do this is by highlighting outcomes which are directly related to organisational priorities. If, for example, your company created a high-priority project to launch a new product or feature, try to quantify your contributions to the project. When your manager goes to advocate for you, they’ll have this as a bargaining tool, rather than simply saying that you’ve helped to maintain the status quo.
As with your achievements, you’ll want to come with a prioritized list of areas for development rather than an endless list. Choose a few key skills you want to develop, changes you want to make, or things you want to learn more about, and explain how these not only lend to your own professional advancement, but also create additional value for your company and team.
Importantly, outline which results you expect to achieve (and how you’ll measure them) because of your focus on each development area. For example, if you’re a Product Manager and propose a development goal of learning the intricacies of SEO, tie this to your company’s growth goals and explain how you see the company benefitting from your new expertise. This will not only drive home your commitment to strategic priorities, but also make it easy for your manager and HR to buy-in to your proposed goals.
While your self-review is certainly a chance to highlight your achievements, it’s also a place to show that you recognize where things haven’t gone as well as planned—and can think critically about what you would have done differently. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to advance professionally (nobody is!), but you do need to have the self-awareness to understand where there’s room to grow.
That said, keep your tone positive and constructive. Position your pitfalls as growth opportunities rather than failures, and make sure you don’t resort to pointing fingers to explain why things didn’t go as expected. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but when done correctly can create an even stronger case for your advancement than someone who claims they’ve been amazing all around.