Self-assessment is critical to your long-term career success. Here’s how to examine your performance, determine the progress you’ve made, and lay the groundwork for improved career prospects.
By Rich Hein and Sharon Florentine, CIO
MARCH 7, 2022 Thinkstock
If you approach the self-evaluation portion of your annual review like many people do, you give it only perfunctory attention — and start thinking about it a half-hour before the review meeting with your boss.
That’s exactly the wrong way to go about it, experts say. Self-evaluation, done correctly, can help guide you through the next five or more years of your career, whether that means staying with your current company in your existing job or moving to a different position, going to another firm, or striking out on your own
“Self-evaluation is critical to your long-term success,” says Victor Janulaitis, founder and CEO of HR consultancy Janco Associates. “If you don’t have a plan, you won’t get there. Things don’t happen by accident.”
The process has evolved from even a few years ago. “They’re no longer a one-way conversation led by the manager in the way they used to be,” says Samantha Lawrence, senior vice president of people strategy at online job site Hired. And “many companies have done away with rating scales that put stress on both employees and managers.
Self-evaluation can also help you score more training, put a raise or bonus on the table, help you get a more flexible work schedule to help with work/life balance, and enlist your manager as a stronger ally overall. “It’s important to advocate for yourself,” says Megan Slabinski, district president for IT search firm Robert Half, “but not enough people take the time to pull together the data and information they need” for a successful review.
Most companies, particularly larger ones, have an annual review process of some sort, and some do it in six-month increments. If you have to go through it, you might as well make it work for you. Here’s how to assess your performance, determine how much progress you’ve made, and lay the groundwork for an improved career journey, according to experts.
1. Track and map your progress from your last review
Your manager has likely given you specific goals for this review cycle, and of course you’ve met or exceeded them. Right? You’ll be better positioned to talk about the particulars if you’ve kept an “accomplishments” file of some sort. This should include your progress on those goals, as well as any thanks or praise you’ve received from customers, peers, other managers, and anyone else in your world of work, for doing more than what’s in your job description. Or for doing what is in there particularly well.
If you don’t have this record, start one ASAP, and make sure you update it regularly. (Put the task on your monthly to-do list to make sure you remember.) Look at email, your work calendar, and anything else that will jog your memory about what you did and how it went down.
“Do yourself a favor and keep track of your projects throughout the year,” says Paul Farnsworth, CTO of job-search site Dice. IT pros “often get stuck in a cycle of completing code or a project and moving onto the next thing due to the demanding nature of technologists’ work. It becomes easy to forget the multitude of things you contributed to or completed in a 12-month span.”
2. Be honest
If you didn’t meet your goals, be clear and up-front about that, too. What went wrong, and what will help you do better going forward? Take responsibility for the things you can improve and ask for help with anything you don’t control directly. Work out a plan that both you and your manager can live with, including any benchmarks that will be used to measure your progress. And set up a schedule of 30-minute (or shorter) monthly meetings to make sure you’re on track, and that your boss agrees you’re on track.
3. Talk about your whole self
These days, many companies are very active in helping the larger community in which they are based. Make sure to mention volunteer work you’ve done that may further the company’s mission — participating in user groups on your own time or helping at a local food pantry, and so on. “What do you do above and beyond your job description?” asks Robert Half’s Slabinski. “Are you on a task force, or in a leadership role on a nonprofit board?”
Dice’s Farnsworth agreed it’s important to look beyond your job. “We’ve found success in guiding team members to focus on the self-evaluations more holistically, encouraging them to include things like wellness and different areas of their lives, not just work,” he says.
4. Be specific
Give concrete examples for your largest accomplishments. Instead of saying only “I helped launch new CRM software,” describe what you did to make it a success. Did you need to learn a new programming language, framework, or other tool to complete this project? Did you work extra hours to meet the deadline? Did you help train anyone to work on that (or another) project? Have you mentored anyone, formally or informally?
Also “consider qualitative vs. quantitative accomplishments,” says Hired’s Lawrence. It’s not just a checklist of what you’ve done over the past six months or year; it’s about “how you approached and completed projects.
5. Translate your accomplishments into business-speak
Even if your manager is a fellow techie and knows exactly what your work means to the bigger picture, their boss (and the person who also signs off on your bonus/raise) may not be able to make the connection as readily. So do your best to map your work to what it means to the company, or to customers and your fellow employees.
If the software you created helped improve employees’ productivity (by allowing them to work from home, or to do so more securely), claim that. Does your business interact with customers differently these days, and did you play a role in that? Keep in mind that the view of IT pros has shifted a great deal because of the pandemic, with technology playing a major part in driving revenue, devising new approaches to old problems, and creating new products, says Robert Half’s Slabinski.
6. Spend the time to do this right
Carve out two to three hours to complete your self-evaluation, experts say. You want to make sure it reflects your progress since your last review, of course, but you also want to have time to think about what you want to achieve, how that might happen, and whether you’re on the right path.
Some might want to split this time into one-hour increments — one to document all your accomplishments and the second to reflect on what you want to do going forward, Hired’s Lawrence suggests. Use the third to make sure the self-review says what you want it to.
If you’re happy where you are for the time being, great. But try to think ahead a bit, too. Are you a networking guru who wants to work in cybersecurity? Or do you want to switch, say, to the red-hot areas of AI or DevOps? What’s going to help you get there — off-site training, some on-the-job learning time? How will you make sure your current job isn’t neglected as that’s happening? How will that change benefit your team or company?
7. Remember you and your supervisor are on the same side
Complaining about one’s manager is a time-honored work ritual, but keep in mind that usually your boss wants you to succeed. (If nothing else, it makes him or her look better to the higher-ups than if you fail.) During the process, it’s best to treat your manager as a work partner and not as someone who’s blocking your path.
This is your time to ask for what you want, so make it count. “You’re in the driver’s seat,” Hired’s Lawrence says. “Reflect on your previous performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and set future career goals. Have open conversations with your manager about these items and where you want to go. Then work together to build a plan of action that gets you there.”
8. Be yourself
Forget the websites that promise words and phrases for a “successful self-evaluation.” These bits sound overused and canned — because they are. And you really don’t need them; just use the language you do in your everyday conversation. That said, don’t write anything in your self-evaluation that you wouldn’t say in a conversation with your manager, advises Hired’s Lawrence.
If you’re nervous about how your self-eval sounds, ask a close friend or family member to read your form and see whether it reflects the person they know you to be. (When you’re finished, a spell-checker isn’t a terrible idea, though.)
9. Do your research
Even if a raise or bonus aren’t going to be part of this conversation, do your research and know your value in the overall market, says Robert Half’s Slabinski. Check data to see where you stand in relationship to others with your job title and in your general geographic area. To do this, you can look at your company’s listing of open jobs and the websites of job-search firms.
10. Ask for feedback if you’re not getting enough
Not all managers are great at providing feedback, and some are downright awful at it. If you’re not getting what you need, or if you work in a company that has no formal process for this — some smaller ones don’t — take matters into your own hands. “Work up the courage” to ask for this discussion, Robert Half’s Slabinski says. Sometimes it’s not a good time — during a huge project, say — but you can approach your boss to ask when you can have this conversation. And make sure to do a self-evaluation; if your company doesn’t provide the form, you can find it easily enough on the web or use a form you’ve filled out for a previous company to guide you.
How managers can help make self-evaluations more meaningful
It’s not all up to the employee to make this work; the manager needs to put in time to deliver thoughtful commentary that’s not rote. “If you don’t, you’re telling employees you don’t value what they contribute,” Slabinski says, and in these Great Resignation days, that’s pretty much a guaranteed way to lose good workers.
The most common complaint about self-evaluations is that they take up time that technologists would rather apply to their day-to-day work, Dice’s Farnsworth says. “However, I believe there’s tremendous value in taking the process seriously as a leadership team, and making it work as well as it can for the individuals on the team.” Internal reflection can help an IT staffer recognize, for example, that they’d love to collaborate with a neighboring team, or learn a new skill.
From a leadership perspective, these self-assessments can “also help uncover successes/wins that have yet to be celebrated and shared within the broader organization,” he adds. “And when it comes time to assign resources to a new project, knowing that an individual is looking to stretch and grow can make all the difference in providing them with the right opportunity. You have to convince your technologists to give it a chance, and that means outlining the purpose, your goals in doing it and, most importantly, what’s in it for them, at the very outset.”