How to Prepare and Write Your Self-Review
April 27, 2020
Tracking Progress

Your self-review is your opportunity to influence your company’s evaluation of you. As corporate review processes are the official decision making process for career advancement and compensation increases, you need to strategically prepare and write your self-review to make sure you are making the best possible case for yourself.

Preparing to write your self-review

You should start preparing to write your self-review well in advance of the actual review cycle. Review cycles often operate on compressed timelines and unfortunately tend to coincide with the end of year rush to close out the current year, prepare for the next year, and the holiday season. Don’t short-change yourself because you didn’t give yourself enough time to prepare.

What do you want?

You need to start with your goal in mind so you can shape everything else to build that case. Are you looking for a promotion? A raise? Growth opportunities? A transfer in roles/teams/departments? Each of these goals likely have different standards, and your self-review should be focused on your desired outcome.

How are you measured?

Next, you need to make sure you understand how you are going to be measured against your desired outcome. For example, many organizations have an implicit standard that in order to get promoted one needs to demonstrate that they can perform at the next level prior to being promoted. If your organization has a similar standard, writing your self-review using the expectations of your current role as your benchmark is sub optimal.

Make sure you revisit the feedback from your previous review so that you ensure you address those areas in this self-review.

Ideally, you already have this information, as you should be working towards this for the entire review cycle. But it’s worth it to validate the information you have, and if you don’t have it, better late than never. Talk to your manager and HR, and review any documentation your company has around the review process, expectations, and career ladders.

Collect data

Now that you know how you’re being measured, you need to collect the data to show that you meet that bar.

The data you need breaks down into two broad categories: business goal achievement and personal skills, competencies, experiences, and behaviors.

You should keep the data you collect around for future reference - this is the type of information that comes in handy when you start to plan for your next major career transition. After this review cycle, you may find that it’s easier for you to track this data over time instead of compiling it all retroactively right before reviews (not an issue if you’re using Nodabl to track your goals!).

Business Goal Achievement

Simply put, are you achieving your business goals, and/or how are you impacting the overall business goals?

If your company has a planning process that assigns individual business goals or OKRs, then this should be a relatively easy task. Compile a list of your business goals, how you performed against them, what you did to achieve them, why you missed where you missed, and for misses, what you learned / what you would do differently.

If your company doesn’t assign individual business goals or OKRs, then this is a bit harder. You need to come up with a list of your accomplishments and how they moved the needle on your team’s, department’s, and/or overall business goals. It is critical that you contextualize your accomplishments against some business objective. If you don’t tell the company how valuable you are to them, they will come up with some measure on their own.

Personal Skills, Competencies, Experiences, and Behaviors

You will often see the following types of requirements in career ladders:

  • Expert level knowledge in [a particular software tool, programming language, or business process, or company-specific items]

  • Successfully led a major company project / initiative

  • Pro-actively communicates status, issues, blockers, and suggest solutions

  • Demonstrated leadership and strategic thinking capabilities

  • Viewed as a leader and a mentor by peers

You may also see the following types of comments in your performance reviews.

  • “In order to get promoted, I’d like to see you take more initiative.”

  • “You should work on your executive presence.”

  • “You execute well on what you’re told to do, but to take the next step I’d like to see you be more proactive about suggesting what you should do.”

If you’ve been using Nodabl to manage your career growth and professional development with your review in mind, especially if you’ve been doing so in collaboration with your manager, then collecting the data here will be easy. Use the Reports feature of Nodabl to get summary data by goal for everything you’ve done, and you can use that to write a rich, fact-based self-review.

If you haven’t been using Nodabl, then you’ll have to pull together this information from whatever sources you have.

Writing your self-review

How you structure your self-review will be heavily dependent on your company’s review process and the structure of the review forms. However, you should keep in mind the following guidelines and incorporate them into your specific process.

Focus and connect

Keep your focus on your desired outcome, and make sure to connect every achievement, trait, experience, and anything else you mention back to the requirements to achieve your end goal.

If you’re asked to list three major achievements, pick ones that tell the best combination of business goal achievement and personal skills, competencies, experiences, and behaviors as they map to the requirements for your desired outcome.

For example, if you need to demonstrate the ability to lead a team, then ideally you pick an achievement where you led a team for a project / initiative that successfully delivered on one of your business goals and had a high impact on overall company goals.

Be specific

This is where your preparation comes through. Be specific and quantitative as much as possible. Don’t just mention that you achieved a business goal, mention the success metric and what you achieved. When discussing impact on the business use metrics as close to top line KPIs as possible - make it easy for people to understand your impact on the business.

When you don’t have quantifiable metrics to rely on, use qualitative evidence. Positive feedback and manager approval/sign-off are two forms of qualitative evidence that can support your case, especially when it comes harder to quantify aspects such as your personal characteristics.

Take ownership

If you failed to meet a business goal, then own it. Don’t blame other people or external circumstances. Demonstrate maturity, critical thinking, and the ability to learn from experience by describing what you’d do differently next time to meet your goal.

Make the ask

Lastly, make sure that your ask is clear. Don’t assume that your manager or the review committees know that you are looking for a promotion, a raise, that leadership opportunity. Whether it fits in the self-review itself or it’s better communicated outside of the review form depends on your company and the structure of the review process. Regardless, make sure that the right people know what you are expecting out of the review.

Summary

Start preparing for your self-review in advance of the actual review cycle to give yourself time

  • Know what you want

  • Know how you’ll be measured

  • Collect data on business goal achievement and personal skills, competencies, behaviors, and experiences to support your case

When writing your self-review

  • Focus on your end goal, and connect everything you write back to the requirements for the end goal.

  • Be specific - quantify business impact where possible, and if not possible, use qualitative support.

  • Take ownership over any misses, don’t blame others, and describe how you’ve grown from the experience.

  • Make the ask - don’t assume that people know what you want. You need to tell them.

Written by
Vikas Gupta

Vikas is the founder of Nodabl. He started his career in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. When he left and joined the operating world, he was shocked at the difference in the way he experienced development and growth at McKinsey versus industry. This difference became even more apparent when he started managing a team for the first time. He was challenged with both developing himself as a leader and fostering growth in his team. Since then he's been thinking about how to improve the growth experience and enabling every person to be their professional best.

Vikas Gupta headshot

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