“I can’t believe my boss is so lazy!” a
colleague said recently. “He wants me to do a self-assessment
for my performance review. That’s supposed to be his job,
isn’t it? I don’t know what to say about myself. I
don’t want to look too boastful, or too low in my
self-review. Can’t I just skip it?”
No, you shouldn’t skip this opportunity. It’s a
great way to help your manager give you a balanced review.
It’s also a chance to demonstrate self-awareness about your
accomplishments and disappointments, as well as an opportunity to
ask for some career development support.
I can’t argue that some managers are lazy, but most
managers ask employees to do a self assessment for noble reasons.
He or she may simply want to be thorough. It’s a way to
remember all the good things you’ve done throughout the year.
It also helps the manager prepare for any differences in perception
you and she have about your performance. And with employees
increasingly living and working globally, the manager may not see
you on a regular basis, to even know everything you’ve
“So, shouldn’t I go in high, to try to get the
most I can?” This isn’t a job interview or a
negotiation. Your manager has the final say. If you try to pump up
your accomplishments to an artificial level, your manager will be
forced to come in prepared to justify a lower rating. You will look
uncoachable and arrogant.
“Well then, should I rate myself lower, so my boss will
tell me all the good things I’ve done?” Not exactly. If
you are too modest, you might set yourself up for a lower rating.
You will also look meek and nonassertive. And when salary dollars
are passed around, you could be the one with the smaller
So the obvious answer is to use the unvarnished truth.
- Be specific about your accomplishments. Use as many measures as
you can. Where concrete measures aren’t feasible, use softer
measures, such as, comments from internal customers, buy-in from
users, and satisfied employees. Avoid grand and vague words such as
“excellent” or “outstanding.” Instead, use
factual descriptions such as, “The outcome was very
satisfying to me, because it came in on time, under budget and the
client immediately signed up for another project.”
- If you don’t want to sound boastful, a good way to blow
your own horn is to let others blow it for you. You could quote a
customer, “I trust your team’s expertise.”
“I really felt like you took the time to work with us and get
- If you didn’t do well on something, don’t dodge it.
Take responsibility for what you didn’t do well, or a goal
you missed. It shows you are self-aware. It also makes the
discussion go much smoother with your manager, if you admit things
aren’t perfect. In recent hearings in Washington about the
financial meltdown, some performance reviews and self assessments
were called into question. One laughable example was an
employee’s comments about his “weakness.” He
said, “I tend to check the work of my coworkers too
much.” Not only were his comments transparent, he looked like
an idiot in front of millions. (Note to self: it may say
“confidential” on the top of your performance review
document but it could be subpoenaed.)
- Don’t just check the box. Use the narrative section to
illustrate the details of your performance. But don’t
write a book. A few paragraphs under each section are enough.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. This isn’t a time
to write about how you work harder or do more than your coworkers.
Your focus should be on you—no one else. If someone else was
partly responsible for missing one of your goals, emphasize what
you learned from that and talk about what you did on your end, as
well as what you will do differently next time.
- Ask for what you want regarding career development in the
coming year. Don’t ask for a particular job—that will
sound naïve. Look for ways to expand your skills and leverage
your strengths. Taking classes and seminars is fine but the deep
learning comes from new responsibilities and work experiences.
So rather than avoiding the self-assessment experience, why
not use it to reflect about what you have accomplished and learned
in the past year? It will help your manager to help you.