Annual review advice?
December 5, 2011 5:13 AM   Subscribe

It's annual review season! Looking for some guidance on getting through, with a few parameters inside.

I'm a lawyer, and as discussed in my past question, I hope to get out in 2012 and find a job better suited to my interests and aptitudes. But I've said the same thing every year that I've been a lawyer--and I don't want to get canned--so I have to put in a colorable performance at my annual review.

As I think about my impending review, however, three things trip me up:

1. Unexpected criticism can totally break the facade I have in interview settings, and I get defensive. The best I've managed when this has happened has been "That's surprising; I thought that project went well. I'll give that some thought."--or something similar. However, a couple of times these curveballs have been really meritless--as a made up example, "5845 is an OK writer, but consistently misuses 'there' for 'their'." As trying as it is to stay on message with unexpected criticism, I find it virtually impossible when it's something baseless. Any tips on keeping cool as a cucumber?

2. Notwithstanding 1., they've got me dead to rights on some things. Less performance related and more in the nature of not following the employee handbook (I know, watch out, we got a badass over here). As another made up example, putting draft files on a USB drive to work on at home. I'm not seeking legal advice (and you are not my lawyer)--just looking for best practices as a self-interested employee. Yes, you put the files on a USB drive--do you own up when confronted in the review (which could be admission of a terminable offense)? Or do you not recall, but perhaps? Or certainly not? Again, assume we're just considering policy violations (i.e., checking Facebook, having a cameraphone) that do not have a monetary cost to anyone; not embezzlement, not sexual harassment; no cardinal sins.

3. "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I'm at the point in my career where, in five years, I should be partner. I have no interest in being a partner, and I'd just as soon be gone in five months. Obviously, I would never say anything about my plans in a review setting (or otherwise). But as good as I might be at putting on a facade in these reviews, I doubt I could say with a straight face that I aspire to being a partner--but I don't think I can afford not to appear gung-ho. "We'll see what comes/I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that..." seem, in this context, far too weak, like a marathon runner at mile 25 uncertain whether she has plans for finishing the race.

Obviously, these questions are not unique to law firms, so I'd love to hear from anyone and everyone.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) to Work & Money (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think the only way not to get pissy about small things is to constantly remind yourself that feedback is a gift. Even the stupid stuff. If the main complaint is that your grammar is sometimes off it just means that they feel the need to say something negative and couldn't come up with anything good.
posted by MarkAnd at 5:44 AM on December 5, 2011

With number 3, of course you say that in five years you see yourself being partner. but I think what they really care about with such a question is what you plan on doing between now and then to get there, so make some things up about marketing and becoming an expert in some field and expanding your base of contacts by working with some other people. You know how to play this game; play it.

With number 2, I think it depends on why you did what you did. They have rules like no USB because they don't want people stealing shit. If you did it in the name of client service - because you needed a way to get the documents home or whatever - then I would own up to it. I used to violate policies all the time in the name of client service; how are they really going to complain about that? If forced between "put files on USB" and "don't get client work done", well.....

I think you're fine on number one. "That's surprising" is a good way to handle stuff that seems unfair, because it lends itself to explanation. When meritless stuff comes up in reviews, the person giving the review, if they've been doing it a while, will almost certainly know that its meritless. People who give reviews like that have a reputation for giving reviews like that; or they have a reputation for not knowing you. Take your cues from how the reviewer is handling it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2011

On #2, yes, I would just own up, and if at all possible sincerely say that you realize it was a violation of policy and will not do it again in the future. If they're bringing something like that up, they probably already know you did it.

On #3, rather than focusing on what job you want to have, focus on what kind of lawyer you want to be. You want to develop expertise in substantive area X, work on transaction Y, etc. I would avoid saying anything about wanting/not wanting to make partner.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:14 AM on December 5, 2011

I'm with dpx.mfx. As for #3, it's a time honored tradition in law firms to swear that you want to be partner all the way up to the minute you hand in your 2 weeks' notice. Nobody will be offended or surprised if you bail out afterwards. And the "in the name of client service" is a great justification for little rule violations that aren't harmful.

A good strategy is to bring with you 2 or 3 concrete examples of value that you created this year. Whether it's some compromise you thought of that saved a big deal, or a late night that you put in to get the papers done by deadline, or stepping in for a colleague, or whatever else you can think of, those can be effective counters to unspecific criticisms. Like, "I am surprised that the reviewer thought that I showed a lack of commitment, because on the Jones Deal I was the highest timekeeper and I put in 3 straight days of 11 hours billed to get it ready for closing." Nominally, the point of the review is to hear what people thought of your work. But you should also think of it as a time to remind your employers of the accomplishments you achieved this year and the value that you bring to them.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:31 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make a list of things that have gone well, positive feedback, etc. If there's a self-eval form, be really positive about yourself, and give plenty of detail. When you get a question you don't want to answer, be like a politician - answer some other question you want to answer, giving brief lip service to the question at hand. Lots of "that's a great question" and definitely mirror the supervisor.

I'm a supervisor. It's just as not-fun for me, or at least close. Make it easy for the supervisor to give you a positive review.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on December 5, 2011

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