How To Prepare For a Performance Review: Case by Case

Advice on how to prepare for a performance review if you want to focus on development, ask for a raise or promotion, or just stay where you are..

It’s that time of the year when you and your manager meet to evaluate your performance, exchange feedback on strengths and areas for improvement, and align your objectives with the organization’s high-level goals.🌟

Essentially, these meetings are an opportunity to communicate what you have done well, what you are working on, what others appreciate about you, and what is expected of you in your work moving forward.

Heather Zweig , Talent Partner at Elpha, suggests approaching performance reviews as a form of level setting where you align your expectations of progress with your actual performance.

“We can also zoom out and think of performance reviews as milestones that, when saved and reviewed over time, give us a snapshot of the progress we’ve made in our professional lives,” she adds.

Before diving into your performance review, it’s important to be clear on what you want to get out of it. 

Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself: How do I think I have done in my role? What have I excelled at? What have I struggled with? What does my career look like in the short and long-term future in/out of this company? Does my current career trajectory set me up for the lifestyle I aspire to have? What specific outcomes do I hope to achieve through this review? 

By gaining clarity on what you want to achieve – whether that’s focusing on development, understanding the path to a raise or promotion, or staying put – you can make the most out of the meeting and ensure the discussion aligns with your goals and aspirations. 

In this guide, we will take you through various goals you can consider for your performance review and how to prepare for them with advice from women in the Elpha community.💜

Here’s how to prepare for a performance review if…

  • It's your first one

  • You want to develop in your role

  • You want to stay where you are

  • You aren't feeling motivated to develop or grow within the role

  • You feel like you're failing

  • You want to ask for a raise or a promotion

…it’s your first one 

Performance reviews vary in each organization, so it’s important to understand what this looks like for your employer. Regardless, getting clear on where you believe you are and what your strengths and weaknesses have been will be key in preparing for the review.

Ask your manager about

  • Cadence: How often are performance reviews carried out at the company? (after your first 30/60/90 days; on a monthly, quarterly, semestral, or annual basis)

  • Expectations: How is this meeting different from other meetings/check-ins you may have? How should you prepare? Are there any company-wide frameworks they can share to help you prepare?

  • Weight: How do performance reviews impact raises, promotions, or other growth opportunities?

Ask a colleague about

  • Their experience with the performance review process at the company

  • Best practices they can share or preparation they have done, if any

  • Reflections they may have on your progress and learning edges to get a third-party perspective

Ask a mentor about

  • What they would add or tweak wording-wise to what you have summarized about your performance 

…you want to develop in your role

Do you want to learn a new skill? Take on additional tasks and responsibilities? Manage more people? Explore new approaches to current processes? Or maybe, grow into another role?

Once you've pinpointed these areas for growth, brainstorm strategies to foster their development.🌱

One approach may be to pursue continuous learning opportunities by signing up for trainings, workshops, and courses . This will enable you to apply fresh skills and knowledge directly within your current role or explore potential lateral moves, either within the company or externally.

Alternatively, assess your current workload to determine if you have the capacity for stretch assignments. These challenges extend beyond your present role, promoting networking and collaboration with colleagues from different areas.🤝

Seeking guidance is another excellent avenue for development. Ask your manager if there is an internal or external mentor they can connect you with to support you.

When you come to a performance review with clear development goals, it makes it easier for your manager to help you create a roadmap toward your objectives.

👉  Not sure how to incorporate professional development into your life? Find out how other Elphas distribute their time . 

…you want to stay where you are

There are many reasons why you may want to maintain the status quo and not focus on development right now. 

If you are happy and satisfied with your current role, honor those feelings by communicating them during your review. Highlight the consistent contributions you've made and the positive impact you've had on the team and express your commitment to continue delivering high-quality results and mastering your responsibilities.

A good practice is to keep a running “brag list” where you take note of all your wins at work – no matter how small – along with a record of all your work metrics.🏆

You may even want to keep a “kudos list” around, as one Elpha suggests ,

“A kudos list is a list of praise that people have written about you, either in public or private, through whatever text-based communication channels your company uses [for example, a log of emails or Slack messages].”

Another reason for wanting to stay put is that aspects of your life outside of your career are a priority at the moment. According to Emily Giddings , Marketing ManagerMarketing ManagerPresence Product Group, LLC, the key to communicating this to your manager lies in open dialogue.

“Make it clear that you love your job and that you are 100% dedicated to delivering great work, and that you also have separate personal priorities that prevent you from going into "above and beyond" work mode. 

Tell your manager that you want to communicate this now, so you can communicate about your performance consistency on an ongoing basis. That way you know your status at any given time and don't have to worry about being undervalued for not being an overperformer.”

Emily shares what a structured approach to this type of review might look like:

  • Express Satisfaction with the Current Role: Emphasize the value you find in your current position and the satisfaction it brings you. Be transparent about your accomplishments and your commitment to maintaining the level of quality expected.

  • Clarify Your Intentions and Motivations: Explain your decision to prioritize other aspects of your life and how this aligns with your personal values and goals. Share how this helps you be your best at work over the long term. 

  • Reiterate Your Commitment: Assure your manager that you remain dedicated to fulfilling your role's responsibilities and contributing to the team's success.

  • Request Understanding and Support: Ask for your manager's understanding and support in respecting your decision, and explore any potential concerns or expectations they might have.

  • Follow-up with Written Communication: If necessary, provide a summary of the performance conversation in an email, reiterating your commitment and thanking your manager for their understanding.

If you are met with resistance, here’s what Nadia de Ala , Leadership & Negotiation Coach at Real You Leadership™, suggests:

“Always keep receipts and state how you're meeting all expectations and making a positive impact already. Keep advocating to be recognized as a valuable team player as you are. Share other ways you hope to grow and how your manager and organization can support you. For instance, they can support you with coaching, courses, certifications and more mentorship in deepening your expertise, and how you can do that while staying in place.”📚

…you aren’t feeling motivated to develop or grow within the role

It's natural for motivation to come in waves throughout your career. There are moments when you may be fulfilling your role but the drive to develop and grow may not be as strong, and that's okay. It's important to acknowledge these phases and treat yourself with compassion.💜

During your performance review, take the opportunity to have an open conversation with your manager about your current feelings. While development is encouraged in most workplaces, it's equally important to maintain a healthy work-life balance and address any burnout or fatigue you may be experiencing. 

Discuss any factors that might be contributing to your lack of enthusiasm and explore potential solutions together. Your honesty can lead to constructive discussions on how your manager can best support you in your current role and in rediscovering motivation. 

If you have a less-than-optimal relationship with your boss, it's understandable that seeking guidance and expressing your feelings with them can feel daunting. You might want to balance your desire for honesty with the need for self-preservation. 

When the risk of negative consequences for being transparent feels too great, it might be wise to focus on some “low-effort development areas” as one Elpha suggests :

Margaret Ruvoldt, Co-Founder at Eve Was Framed, reminds us that professional development isn't always about growth or moving up the career ladder. In the interest of self-preservation, she suggests the following,

“You could frame your list [of development goals] as continuing to improve in your current role, worded as ‘I think I'm well placed in this role and my development goals are about continuing the good performance in it.’”

Here are some goals she proposes in line with your current state:

  • Continuing to develop as a subject matter expert in my role

  • Finding opportunities for efficiencies in my role

  • Anticipating the future needs of this role

Lindsey Lathrop, a Certified Coach, provides other wording options,

“You might say something like "I know there's more to learn in this role" and/or "I appreciate you recognizing my growth. I'm feeling really good about where I am right now."✍️

…you feel like you're failing

Going into a review where you feel like you haven’t done enough is undoubtedly an uncomfortable spot to be in.

Begin by reflecting on your perceptions and feelings about your performance. Ask yourself, 'Whose expectations do I think are not being met by my performance? Mine or my bosses?' 

Take a moment to examine the evidence that supports these beliefs. Often, we can be our harshest critics, and understanding whether your sense of underperformance aligns with the actual feedback and expectations is crucial.

Anna Miller, Job Search Career Coach for Women in Tech, shares insights into potential underlying factors when we experience a sense of underperformance,

“There are a couple of things potentially happening:

  1. Over-work due to taking on too many roles/projects/responsibilities

  2. Unclear expectations from team/manager

  3. Lack of support/constructive feedback within your team which can lead to feelings of failure

Performance is a two-way street. What you are doing and how it's being perceived are two different things, so examine your expectations of yourself and others' expectations of you through honest feedback conversations with them. Also, the role in itself might not be a great fit for your expertise, so that's something to consider as well.”

As Iynna Halilou , Community Lead at Elpha, points out,

“The learning curve may be too steep due to a lack of alignment between the candidate and the role, in which case it's helpful to recalibrate expectations.”

Remember, everyone faces moments where their performance may not meet the standard. It's a normal part of growth and development. Rather than dwelling on real or perceived shortcomings, focus on the valuable lessons you can draw from what you are experiencing going forward.

What specific areas are you struggling with and what actions can you take to improve your performance in these areas? Who can you turn to as a resource to help you improve or get a temperature check when you feel you are underperforming?🌡

Your willingness to confront these feelings head-on demonstrates your commitment to improvement. Embrace this review as an opportunity to engage in a constructive conversation with your manager, and remember that your worth extends beyond any single performance period. 

“Be bold, own it, and get the specifics of exactly what is required of you at this point to turn things around. Make a plan. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. This could be a perfect ‘reset’ for you. Often it’s one step back for 3 forward,” says Annie Salvador, High Performance and Personal Development Coach.

…you want to ask for a raise or a promotion

In some workplaces, performance reviews have expanded to include discussions about raises and promotions – though technically these should be discussed in meetings specifically intended for those topics. If performance reviews are the time and place to ask for a raise or promotion at your organization, start by vocalizing your desire beforehand.🗣

“If you're looking for a promotion or raise, vocalize this proactively. I've had male reports ask me about a promotion every 2 weeks whereas some of my other team members rarely mention it and if so, do apologetically,” says Sarah Ing, Entrepreneur in Residence at ZINC.

Sarah also advises asking for specific feedback in these early conversations. Being able to demonstrate that you’ve made progress in a specific area will reflect well during a performance review. 

Jennie Lees, Engineering Manager at Google DeepMind, stresses the weight these early conversations can have on what happens during the performance review from a manager’s perspective.

“If someone came to that conversation [a performance review] with a list of achievements and asked for a promotion, I would have to kindly tell them that it is way too late for that. I'd want to make sure you make your achievements visible to me before the review cycle starts. I hate those performance conversations that seem so final and one-sided. They never really are, but sometimes you just don't see what goes into them and where you could have impacted their trajectory.”

As you build your case for a raise or a promotion, make sure to arrive at the meeting with a specific number in mind and be ready to negotiate if necessary. You can consult salary benchmarks for your role and industry from sources like Elpha’s Salary Database which has over 8,500 salaries from real women in tech.💰

👉  For negotiation tips, check out our Top 20 Do’s and Don’ts of Salary Negotiation according to expert career coaches.

Also, consider expanding the conversation beyond money. Think about asking for other benefits like hybrid/remote work options, additional perks, or improved benefits. 

“I call this the "no shoes and a dog" asks. Something that may be huge for your mental health. Things that sound kind of crazy – like not wearing shoes or bringing your dog to work – may actually not be so crazy. They can be easy yes’s to your manager – easier than a raise. Often with start ups, there isn't a lot of extra funding for raises. So offering other ways that your performance can be recognized may be a good way for you to feel recognized for your accomplishments, have a better work-life balance, and for your manager to not have to increase the budget,” says Lauren Nkuranga, Founder at GET IT.

Need some inspiration on what to ask for? Here are some unique perks crowdsourced from the Elpha community to get you started.

And lastly, bear in mind that promotions and raises can sometimes be arbitrary and have nothing to do with you and your performance,

“It depends on whether the team has the budget, headcount, office politics, etc. I've seen many deserving people get passed over for promotions for those reasons, so I think it's good to realize this goal doesn't only depend on your skills and contributions (something you control) but also on how your company/org/team is doing (not something you control),” says Ara Medina, Technical Writer at Branch.

We hope this guide helps you navigate performance reviews with more clarity and confidence, enabling you to get the most value from these meetings and ensuring that the conversation aligns with your goals and aspirations. 💜

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