7 Questions to Reflect on Before Your Annual Review

My cell phone jolted me out of my last few minutes of sleep. Knocking everything else off my nightstand in the process, I grabbed it to see who was calling. My heart raced. It was my boss. I must have overslept. Trying to sound as awake as possible, I answered. “Sorry to call so early,” he said, “but I need you to come to the office now. You need to sign your review.”

My review? Being in my first year as a college access counselor, I didn’t even know when reviews happened, but apparently it was that day. I thought there would be a conversation, a chance to discuss opportunities for growth, a look back at the successes of the year. Instead, I rushed into my boss’ office less than an hour later and was given five minutes to read my review (which was several pages long) and sign that I understood it and had discussed it. What?!

RELATED: Dreading your Self Evaluation? How to Prep for Success

Being someone who craves personal growth and improvement, this experience and subsequent lackluster reviews left me confused and wanting more. It became clear that to get the feedback I needed to take my work to the next level, I’d have to take matters into my own hands.

So, I got more vocal. I started requesting meetings and asking for more meaningful reviews. In preparation of guiding the conversation, I crafted this list of questions to reflect on:

What was your biggest accomplishment, and why?

To kick off your review, choose an achievement that’s truly meaningful to you and highlights how you’ve exceeded expectations. This always helps me start the conversation on a positive note. I also like that it puts me in the driver’s seat by letting me set the tone and frame my success in the best light possible.

What was a mistake you made and how did you grow from it?

I know very few people who love talking about mistakes they’ve made, but I’ve learned how important it is to address issues openly during reviews. Make sure you’re especially ready to talk about anything obvious, like a mistake that’s already been addressed. Reframe it as a springboard for personal and/or professional growth and share how you’ve adjusted your behavior and improved.

What professional development opportunities did you seek out this year? How did they help?

I love to learn, so letting me go to a training I’m interested in is one of the easiest ways an employer can keep me happy. These opportunities are typically not free, however, so to make sure that I continue to get them, I connect my training to “wins” for my company.

If you’ve attended a conference or training on the company dime, choose one or two things to highlight from each event, such as a concrete skill you learned (and how it helped you improve in your job) or a new connection you made (and how knowing them helps your company’s bottom line).

How did you help your company?

While reviews should include a focus on personal growth, I also think about it from a company perspective. I like to weave in concrete details about how my work benefited the company so that my success isn’t just anecdotal, but quantifiable. Did you complete a project under budget, increase visibility through a marketing campaign, increase staff efficiency by updating old procedures? Talk about it in your review.

What are your goals for the coming year? What support do you need to reach them?

I’m hesitant to set goals without knowing that I’ll be given the resources necessary to reach them. So, outside of just saying what I’d like to accomplish, I always do my homework on what I’ll need to be successful.

Before your review, think about what you’ll ask the company to provide in order to reach your goals. Consider all aspects, such as time out of the office to attend training, purchasing a new software package, or getting assistance from other colleagues. This sets you up for success, while also showing your supervisor you’re cognizant of the impact on company resources.

How do you feel about your annual review?

Where do you see yourself in 1/3/5 years? Do you see yourself growing within your current company?

I’ve always been open with my supervisors about the importance of constant growth to me. This doesn’t mean that I’m always gunning for a promotion, but that I know my value and want to know what my company can offer in terms of next steps and professional improvement.

Vocalizing how you see yourself progressing and what interests you have can help both you and your supervisor keep an eye out for fitting opportunities. Gauging your boss’ reaction can also help you understand whether your vision can be realized at your current company.

What tasks did you work on that were not part of your formal job description?

While I know that all jobs will have “other duties as assigned,” I try to keep a pulse on what “additional” tasks are becoming a more regular part of my workload. I want to make sure that I’m including them as part of my success and also track how much of my time they’re consuming to be sure I’m not sacrificing my main purpose to complete them.

Consider what “extras” you’ve taken on this year. Share this with your supervisor not as a way to complain, but as a way to vocalize additional staffing needs, show areas for company growth, and position yourself as a leader.

Taking time to reflect on these questions (and speaking up when I’m not offered opportunities for these conversations) has reframed the way I think about my work, and empowered me by giving me an understanding of the value I bring to a company. And perhaps more importantly, it’s given me back the feeling of ownership I had lost after so many years of rubber stamp reviews.

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