How to survive my work self-evaluation?
April 15, 2009 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Help me survive my performance review! I have to complete an extensive self-evaluation form for my boss, and it’s freaking me out. What would make this an easier and less anxiety-inducing experience?

This is my first annual review at this job. I work for a non-profit organization with offices scattered all over the country. I love this job, and I am in fact good at it, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to fill out this form and evaluate myself. I have a few specific challenges, and I’m hoping the wisdom of the hivemind will come up with some advice for me.

My challenges:
- Self-evaluation makes me feel profoundly insecure and unhappy. Yes, this is my problem. Yes, I need to work on it. I'm not getting that sorted out before I have to turn in this form, though. I have a hard time taking credit for things I do well, or saying good things about myself and my work. It feels like bragging and makes me deeply uncomfortable. I do know that I do a good job, but I have a hard time saying that, especially in the context of a performance review. I am much harder on myself than anyone else is, and can find "room for improvement" even in the things at which I excel. How do I manage to be honest and not too self-deprecating? How can I keep my insecurities and self-judgment from making me sound like an incompetent loser on this form?

- My direct supervisor is in a different part of the country. I see him every couple of months or so for work meetings. He never sees me working, interacting with our constituents or partners, or doing any of my other duties. He’s not a content specialist, either, so I rarely discuss the content of my work with him. How do I accurately convey to him how well I’m doing in this job, or where I need to improve, when he doesn’t have much to go on other than what I say?

- Related to that, the only co-worker I have regular contact with is my admin assistant. I’m still getting a sense of the agency culture and norms, and don’t have much exposure to the rest of the organization. How do I know how I compare to agency norms for productivity or collegiality, when I have only a faint idea of what those norms are?

What are the tactics or tips you’ve used to get through evaluations or performance reviews, especially if you have a hard time saying nice things about yourself or are isolated from the rest of your organization and its culture?
posted by gingerbeer to Work & Money (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It is really important for you not to think of this as justification for your job but a way for you to show off some of the neat stuff you've done and some of the neat stuff you want to do.

It won't help now, but for next year - every time you do something cool or save money or think of a great idea that gets used, write it down. I send myself an email with a string I can find when I have to fill these out (perfreview2009 for instance). Then I search when it's review time and have a nice list.

This is a good time to open up discussions about what everyone thinks you should do for the next review. It's a two way process and if you approach it as a way for you to get something, it may be easier.
posted by bensherman at 9:29 AM on April 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

Ok, this may sound silly but I have had the same problem in the past and one thing that helped me get over it was to imagine an adversary and that I needed to make my performance review look good because this adversary* was going to sabotage me/get promoted over me/gossip about me etc so I needed to be honest, direct, and not sell myself short. It is a bit juvenile, but it helped until I had practice at the darn things. Good luck!
* the guy/girl who stole your lover, Lex Luthor, Vladimir Putin, Homer Simpson, whomever
posted by pointystick at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes - you need to think clearly about how you provide value for the organization. Obviously, you know you have that value. Can you quantify it?

Don't be nervous. But if you are, tell your boss "Look, I understand that this is just a review, but I am very nervous. Could you help me understand what to expect?"

If you have a good relationship with your boss, that question will almost relieve all of the tension.
posted by Pants! at 9:32 AM on April 15, 2009

Best answer: Well, its not about writing nice things about yourself; the purpose of the performance review is to evaluate performance against goals.

So don't panic as you're more than likely already half way there. Take your job description as well as any goals & objectives you received when starting, and review accomplishments against each. This is best accomplished in at least three sections.

The first part will be clearly factual e.g., achieved X% of revenue targets, lowered costs by Y%, while others may be more subjective e.g., markedly improved working relations with team Z. I require the teams I mange to write a regular (i.e. weekly) status report. If you've got such a vehicle in place this would provide a perfect, fairly detailed record of your past year.

The second part is where you introduce mitigating factors. For example, if you underperformed in terms of revenue targets, here you'd like to raise reasons - not pointing fingers, but detailing what happened - why. Same thing goes if you outperformed.

The third part will serve for you to suggest areas for self improvement, or identify how and why you'll need additional support / training.

Finally, your self review document will serve to drive your performance review, and justify any salary / bonus discussions. Regarding your numbers; have a figure in mind before you undertake discussions, and be prepared to provide justifications that back up your argument for increased compensation.

Keep in mind that everyone has a boss and, if your boss is a good boss, she/he will use your self review to help you get what you want.

Most importantly - enjoy this process and your review!
posted by Mutant at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My feeling on this sort of thing is that while "performace review" sounds scary it's basically a chance to touch base regularly and make sure you and your boss are on the same page vis a vis you and the workplace. While a small amount of this may be "making sure you know it if you're fucking up" [and I also always feel like I'm one performace review away from getting fired which is insane so I know both how you feel and how it's not at all rational] a larger part is making sure you're both viewing your work in the same light and correct things if not.

Similar to how I feel that a thesis advisor has a resonsibility to make sure a student actually writes a decent thesis, not just writes ANY thesis, it's your boss's responsibility to help you do a good job, not just not get fired. Your boss should be able to give you advice and guidance if something isn't working right, not just dump it in your lap: fix this. So, this is a chance for your boss to help you be awesome. There are certain dysfunctional workplaces that use performance reviews as an opportunity to put slackers on notice and to vent on people but those are Bad Jobs and you'd probably already know if you had one.

So, ask other people if you think you have a hard time being objective "what are some cool things I've been doing around here, in your estimation?" doesn't even have to be someone at work, could also be a friend or someone in a related workplace. And while usually I'm not a big bean counting fan, I'd make a little list in your head of good things and bad things that have happened over the year and come prepared with ways to mitigate the bad things ["this didn't go well so we did THIS to make sure it never happens again" sorts of things] and play up the awesome things and highlight both the internal effects [this was good for morale] and the external effects [I was on the evening news sounding smart for our organization]

I like to think of a performance review as a way to explain not just what you've been up to but how you being at this job, in this situation make the whole organization better because of whatever is unique about you. So it's not just "I work hard" or "I stay late" but more like "I am very good at talking to the media" and "I organize people in the workplace to really go out and canvas for a campaign" sorts of things. Good luck and let us know how it goes.
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 AM on April 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Often times people who are good at their jobs feel like they're not; like they're phonies or something. Imposter effect I think it's called. Let's assume that you actually are good at what you do. Then, self-evaluation/perf time can actually be a good thing, as you end up enumerating all your accomplishments/skills and thinking "you know, I actually did get a lot done this year/quarter/whatever. go me."

Actually writing the damn thing is super pain in the ass, like a 3am college paper. Do you have any kind of weekly status updates? How do you keep your boss updated on what you're doing? Whatever updates you've sent over the last time period, go back and read through them all and build up a list of everything you did. You can start chronologically and put in lots of detail; then you filter this down into the important parts and extract from it the skills you demonstrated.

Be honest about the things you feel you lack; like half of what you said in this question could be reworded into 'stuff I need to improve on'. Like 'build more relationships.' 'find more avenues to get feedback.' This is a chance for you to fix some of these issues you're experiencing, assuming the perf review actually gets read by your boss.

If you need to figure out peer reviewers-- search /sort your work mail to figure out who you emailed the most in the time frame under review.

Think of it a bit like a resume-- you need to be honest but you sure as hell shouldn't self-deprecate. If you can justify what you write down, as long as it's not too hand wavey, write it down. Kinda like doing your taxes I guess?
posted by jcruelty at 9:42 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's partly a game. I've never seen any of these forms that didn't include part about "what didn't you do that you could have?" or "what characteristics about my work should I improve?" These can suck because they are easy targets for management "continuous improvement" board games. Therefore, write them such that asking for a change would be a net negative to the organization. For example: "My sense of humor is not so in evidence when I am under deadline pressure". What are they going to ask you to do, lighten up and leave earlier?
posted by jet_silver at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

It feels like bragging and makes me deeply uncomfortable.

One of the best things to know, I think, is that the virtue of humility isn't about being self-deprecating, but about seeing yourself accurately; that is, you don't pump yourself up as being more than you are, but you also don't portray yourself inaccurately as being a slug.

See this as an opportunity to portray yourself accurately, not in a bragging sense, but almost from the vantage point of a third-person perspective of yourself. If it's okay to see other people accurately in terms of their strengths, it's okay to do this of yourself as well. It doesn't suddenly become hubris because you happen to have a unique first person experience of yourself.

Perhaps you are worried about it feeling like bragging because you're worried about it seeming that way to your supervisor, as someone talking about themselves seems to come packaged with a biased interest. If this is the case, rest assured that talking about your strong points isn't going to be seen as negative by your supervisors. If anything, it's probably designed to help guarantee that you get a fair evaluation. They want your input, because sometimes they miss things that they shouldn't. At the place that I work, I'm encouraged on a regular basis to keep a running list of the positive things that I contribute to the job, in case these things get missed during the review. I suspect that your job may have something like this in mind, and it's likely designed to help protect your interests. It's a good thing!
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:02 AM on April 15, 2009

It feels like bragging and makes me deeply uncomfortable. I do know that I do a good job, but I have a hard time saying that, especially in the context of a performance review.

As others have said, performance reviews are not really about honestly evaluating your performance. It's not as if you're back in high school and the teacher is asking you to give yourself a grade for your own essay. A performance review is about listing all of the things that you were supposed to do as part of your job and giving quantitative data about how well you did them. Hopefully your boss is communicating clear goals for you or the overall organization so that you can use that as a base for how you define your progress. Focus on listing everything that you've done well on, because the most of the point of a self-evaluation is to give you a chance to put your achievements in writing.

How do I accurately convey to him how well I’m doing in this job, or where I need to improve, when he doesn’t have much to go on other than what I say?

That's where the quantitative aspect comes in. Anyone can say "I'm doing a great job" but not everyone can say "I saved $X" in such in such area or "I finished project Y three weeks ahead of schedule." If there aren't quantitative metrics being measured for the things you do, bring that up with your boss. For example, if your job deals with talking to customers, consider proposing customer surveys that will measure how satisfied the customers are.

How do I know how I compare to agency norms for productivity or collegiality, when I have only a faint idea of what those norms are?

You don't really need to worry about this. It's not your job to figure out how well you're doing in contrast to your peers, that's your boss' job. I would say that you should try to find ways to make sure that people notice you and your work though. The more people that know that you're doing a good job and communicate that to the rest of the organization the more job security you'll have.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just wondering if it would help to write the review in third person, so you don't trigger your issues about bragging. In other words, instead of writing "I, Sarah Smith...", say that "Gingerbeer did this and then she improved that" If you identify too much with gingerbeer, try "Susie Sunshine" or anything else that lets you write about this person who is not you but happened to have an identical performance. Just remember to not only change the name but also the pronouns before you hand it in.
posted by metahawk at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2009

Best answer: Hmm. If your direct supervisor is in a different part of the country, and doesn't have much of a sense of your day-to-day work, then I think you should think of this less as an exercise in evaluating how good you are at your job, and more as an exercise in weaving a coherent story for your boss about what you've done over the past year. My relationship with my supervisor is somewhat similar to yours--he doesn't have a very good sense of what I'm doing at any given time because we work on different stuff, but rather functions as a point-person for me to go to when I need something--and I have come to see the annual self-review process as something I do to fill him in on what I've been up to and to give him the tools to think about where I fit in the company (hopefully in a better position every year!). It's definitely not a time to write a 2-page angst-filled meandering meditation on how I feel about my job or my performance in it. That's not particularly interesting or *useful* to him.

Not saying you'd do that, just that often the language of "self evaluation" seems vaguely therapy-like or New Age-y and it seems like people who haven't done this before sometimes lean in that direction, when that's not where you want to go at all.

So, in terms of the brass tacks of how I approach this:

1. I look back through my timesheets or emails for the last year (actually last 15 months, since the review process lasts a few months and I want to include stuff that happened after I wrote my last review) to get a sense of the major stuff I worked on. My self-review is structured around those major things, with 1-2 paragraphs for each major project I worked on. If you have a job that is relatively static--you don't move from project to project--then think through what your major tasks are, and rank them from the ones you spend the most time on to the ones you spend the least time on.

2. Start writing an outline that just says what you did over the past year, including your specific role. This doesn't need to be too specific or list-like, but does need to include your role and responsibilities if you've worked as part of a team. If you've taken on new responsibilities or gone above-and-beyond on any specific task/project, definitely mention that.

3. The brag part is to now go through and put in information about how you've grown or become more skilled in your work. Do you have new responsibilities? Are you running something that you only assisted on before (formally or informally--in fact, it's almost more important to include the informal stuff that your boss is less likely to know about), or have you implemented new processes that everyone uses now? If you have metrics like Mutant suggests above, put those in as well.

4. The negative-evaluation part, where you talk about skills you need to sharpen up or things you need to do better, DOES NOT go sprinkled throughout the entire document. No no no. Instead, this is the last paragraph of your self review, where you're identifying "goals" for yourself next year. (And then next year, you can refer to these and talk about progress you've made! Win!) And here's the thing: your boss doesn't care if you feel bad about a part of your job you don't do well. It's either a problem--in which case, someone has complained about it to him, and he's aware of it--or it's not yet a problem, in which case all he really cares about is knowing how you're going to improve. So you need to couch all of the negative stuff in terms of skills you'd like to learn or experiences you'd like gain. Don't just put something in about how you're not good at X--put in that you'd like to improve your Y skills so that you can complete X in a more efficient manner, which will free you up to start learning how to do [things that are done by people in the position you'd like to be promoted to].

Just remember: your boss isn't requesting this of you because he wants to see how honest you are, or because he wants to evaluate your worth as a person. He wants this because he needs to take a step back every year, understand the "big picture" of what everyone underneath him is doing (and maybe what positions or skills that they'd like to be working towards), and make decisions about any promotions or re-organizing or what-have-you that needs to be done to make everything work better. If you're holding back information on stuff that you're doing out of a fear of bragging or appearing proud, then you're making his job harder.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:20 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Most bosses are on your side - keeping you happy keeps you loyal and productive. Even absent any caring about the people reporting to her, he'd still rather keep you happy and keep you, than have to find, hire and train another employee and take the hit in productivity and morale of increased turnover.
Assume he wants to give you a good evaluation, and potentially, a raise or other perks. But, as you point out, he doesn't know you and has come to you for help. Viewing it in that light, can you you focus more on what he cares about and less on what's making you uncomfortable?
Even though "I have a hard time taking credit for things I do well, or saying good things about myself and my work", you've already said"I love this job, and I am in fact good at it," and that's a great place to approach this from. It wouldn't even hurt to include it. Just write specifically, without embellishment, how you are good at it. You needn't compare yourself to agency norms. (Even if one of the norms is to do so, you aren't prepared to. Don't try to fake it.) Just hit the high points of what you've accomplished for him & organization, what you could improve, and what you're doing about it. If you're thinking about what you could do better - even if you only just now did - and are thinking about how to improve, you are already doing something about it - take credit for it! Be specific, be quantitative where you can and it makes sense, and don't embellish it.
Your boss needs your input to make recommendations (on your behalf!) to his boss. Providing it is another of the ways you make his job easier.
[On preview, what iminurmefi said!]
posted by TruncatedTiller at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. That's all really helpful.

I do have a workplan and goals, but the goals are not really quantifiable, and the workplan is the one I put together for myself about a month in to the job, when I still had no real sense of what I was supposed to be doing. So they are of limited use when it comes to evaluating my progress against them. Something to work on for next year.

More opinions and advice welcome!
posted by gingerbeer at 1:23 PM on April 15, 2009

Seconding the idea to write it in the third person. The first year I had to write a self-evaluation, in my first post-college job, one of my older, more experience colleagues told me to do this (and even let me look at what he turned in the previous year, bless him). His advice was to write it so that the boss can copy and paste what you write into your final evaluation. Our boss never did this, but it was a helpful to me to think about the evaluation from her perspective.

Also, I was never able to write my self-evaluation while I was actually at work. I ended up doing them on the weekends, when I had some separation and perspective on what my actual job was, not what I needed to be doing that minute.
posted by donajo at 3:41 PM on April 15, 2009

It may help to approach the self evaluation as you see yourself, like a highly effective executive.
posted by ooga_booga at 4:28 PM on April 18, 2009

Response by poster: Update: I made it through the evaluation with flying colors. The advice here was really helpful, both in giving me concrete actions, and in talking me down off the ledge of insecurity I had climbed out on.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:25 PM on June 12, 2009

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