How to Handle Your First Performance Review

Your first job performance review can be intimidating. Be prepared by taking stock, clarifying goals, and being open to feedback.
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  • A performance review is a tool for managers and employees to communicate job expectations, highlight achievements, and set goals.
  • The work review usually also includes an employee self-evaluation.
  • Prepare for your review by doing a self-assessment.
  • Be open and receptive to feedback and make a plan for moving forward.

You've landed the job and survived the first year. You've learned a lot. Perhaps you've had some moments that have challenged you. Then your boss says it's time for your performance review. You start to panic and sweat, and it gets worse when you realize you also have to write a self-evaluation before finding out what your boss has to say about you.

Take a deep breath. The performance review is standard practice in many workplaces and has a useful purpose if used correctly. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, only 14% of employees feel strongly that such job evaluations help them improve. But experts say the problem isn't the feedback itself, but rather how frequently the feedback is given. The performance review should be only one of several ways for managers and employees to discuss job performance. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Nevertheless, most companies still do reviews. Here's what the job evaluation is, what to expect, and how best to prepare for it.

What Is a Performance Review?

A performance review is a formal process that employers use to help managers and their employees communicate aspects of job performance and satisfaction. It usually has a written component and often includes a meeting.

As an employee, you may be asked to evaluate your job performance in areas such as time management, productivity, problem-solving, and being a team player. Your manager then evaluates your performance. This is also a time to set goals for the year, check in with goals set the previous year, and discuss any challenges.

Some companies use what's called a "360 review." This review incorporates feedback from your manager, colleagues or subordinates, and sometimes even clients and suppliers.

How to Prep for a Performance Review

Take an inventory of your strengths and accomplishments, even if it's something that might seem like no big deal, like organizing a file cabinet.

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"Your strengths are the actual reason you get hired. Don't be shy about discussing them and how they can continue to help you and the company succeed," Career Coach Jean L. Serio said. "Think about specific wins you can point to. When have you taken initiative? What problems have you helped solve? Even if it seems obvious or small, include it, and be sure to include any positive results, like a faster turnaround time."

Next, consider areas where you need to improve, and develop strategies for improvement, as well as tools and support you might need. For example, if there's a skill you'd like to improve, can you take a course or get some training?

What to Include in Your Self-Evaluation

Melissa S. Kaekel, creative director at Morgan Hill Institute, suggests reviewing the requirements that were first provided when you were hired.

"It should outline your performance standards, including the expectations and targets (timeliness, accuracy, outreach, etc)," she said. "Evaluate yourself on each element. Have specific examples of how you've worked to achieve that metric so far. If you haven't met it yet, be honest and ask for help."

Serio, who worked in human resources for 38 years, recommends the following steps:

  1. 1

    Talk about your achievements. "A company expects achievements and will always ask you to expound upon them," Serio said.

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    Use power words to describe your accomplishments and how you've benefited the company. Some of these include executed, developed, and organized.

  3. 3

    Anticipate upcoming issues or challenges and discuss how you plan to address them.

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    Showcase your development. What skills have you developed? How have you progressed?

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    Provide feedback about the tools and equipment you're using. The company might not change anything immediately, but your input will be valuable in making decisions in the future.

Ashley Stahl, career coach and author of "You Turn: Get Unstuck, Discover Your Direction, Design Your Dream Career," writes that you may be asked to assess colleagues, how your team works, and how your organization can do better.

While you don't want to use it as a complaint session, being able to see a problem and suggest ways to solve it is key. She recommends having a detailed description of how to amend anything that needs improvement.

During the Performance Review

You may or may not get to read your supervisor's comments before meeting to discuss the review. However you first encounter your manager's feedback, approach it with openness and receptivity. Try to tune in with what's being said without being defensive.

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Don't act on any emotions that may come up. It's human nature to feel your blood rising when you are angry and upset because your "fight or flight" mode kicks in. If necessary, you might ask for some time to think about the comments. If something is unclear, ask questions. It also might help to restate what you hear to ensure you understand it.

"If you get feedback you don't agree with, remember you don't have to agree with the feedback, but you do need understand that you will either have to work on the behavior (timeliness) or the perception of your behavior," Maureen Crawford Hentz, vice president of human resources and career coach, said.

After the Performance Review

You might need to take some time to process your review, especially if it was difficult to hear. Talk to a trusted friend or counselor. Try techniques for coping with bad news, including accepting it, reframing your thoughts, and practicing self-care and self-compassion.

Once you've taken some time, take an honest look at the feedback. Then, if necessary, make a plan for addressing the areas of concern. Ideally, you and your manager may have already discussed strategies, but don't be afraid to return to the subject if you feel you need more support or resources. Also keep in mind the aspects of the job you do like.

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., a faculty member in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, recommends emailing your supervisor afterward to thank them for their time and setting up any additional meetings you might need.

Frequently Asked Questions About Performance Reviews

How do you defend yourself in a performance review?

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If you think your manager has unfair expectations or has the wrong perspective, clearly and calmly state your case using logic and specific examples. Make sure to ask questions and listen closely without arguing. You also want to keep the doors open in the coming weeks, perhaps suggesting check-ins periodically to make sure you're on the right track.

Can you get fired during a performance review?

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Depending on your contract, you can be fired at any time for various reasons. Unless a regular performance review is not something your employer does, it's unlikely your employer will use this time to announce you are being terminated.

Most employers will give you time to correct any concerns, provided you are not breaking any laws or violating any codes of conduct outlined in your employee handbook. The important thing is to show that you are willing to work on improving.

How do I impress my boss in a performance review?

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Impress your boss by coming prepared and by making a strong case for your achievements. Point to solid examples of how you have contributed to the company and demonstrate that you're a problem-solver. Another way to think about it is, "How have I made my boss's life easier?" is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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