How to Be Compelling at Your Annual Review

A tiny effort will help you impress your manager and get better results at your annual review.

December 7, 2021
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3
min read

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It’s December and time for your annual review. This is the year you want to ask for the big raise so you’re slightly nervous. You sit down with your boss, and she says, “How do you think you did this year?”

Maybe you’re prepared, you thought through a few major projects you worked on. You mention how back in the spring you worked a number of late nights to get the project done. You talk about how you supported teammates over the summer. You leave the meeting thinking it went pretty well. But did it?

Saying you “supported others” or “put in extra time” is the annual review equivalent version of answering, “Why should I hire you?” with “I’m a hard worker.”

Saying you “supported others” or “put in extra time” is the annual review equivalent version of answering, “Why should I hire you?” with “I’m a hard worker.” (If you don’t know why that’s bad, see last week’s article: The Secret to Answering: Why Should I Hire You?)

As with the question “Why should I hire you?”, you want to be specific with your accomplishments. How much detail do you actually remember about your work from six months ago? You recall the project, sure but not a lot of details. If you can’t remember those details, how is your boss going to reward you for them?

Your co-worker, who may be competing for the same promotion or bonus pool will also claim to be a hard worker. How does your boss know who worked harder? If you’re relying on her to have noticed everything you did and everything your co-worker did, you’re putting too much faith in your boss having time to pay that much attention to her subordinates. Don’t rely on her availability to notice things the past twelve months.

As with last week’s advice: show, don’t tell.

Instead of saying something generic, it’s better to give details. As with last week’s advice: show, don’t tell. You might say, “I spent a lot of time supporting others. Last spring, I spent about four hours each week throughout April helping Sarah model the new product. In early July I noticed Zach was stuck on a problem so offered to brainstorm some ideas with him and we spent a couple hours at the white board until he eventually came up with his casing solution. You might also remember multiple times at the department I offered to help out when the orange team was facing a big deadline in the fall.”

The problem is, it’s hard to recall all those details months after the fact. Fortunately, you don’t need to remember, and taking only five minutes a month, you can solve this problem and improve both your reputation and odds of promotion.

Keep a log of your accomplishments. At the end of each month, write down some notes. Did you work late for two weeks straight to hit a deadline? Note that. Three of the nights did you work past 10pm? Write that down. When you spent a lot of time helping co-workers with a project that wasn’t your job, but you knew they were behind schedule? Make a note. Who did you help? How did you help them and what was the result? How much effort did you contribute?

It might be simple bullet points like, “Spent eight hours in April doing the financial analysis for the Mercury Project.” If that’s the only thing you did all year, those eight hours might not sound like much. But you’ll find that it was eight hours this month; and mentoring the interns the first two weeks of summer, because Devon, who was supposed to do it, had a family emergency; and then there was the time you had an idea that saved $15,000 on another project. Put together the contributions start to add up and look pretty good.

The key is to record those details. It will likely be effort (time, nature of help) and/or outcome (savings in time, cost, risk). Most people on a team do help out others; but when it’s time for your review, you can and should be explicit about what that help was.

Keep a log of your accomplishments.

This may sound familiar, it’s the same advice you get on your resume about being specific about accomplishments. “Increased sales 10%” is much better than “increased sales.” When it comes to a raise or promotion, the annual review is an interview and this list is your resume. Some people even print it out and give it to their manager or have a written assessment as part of their review. By keeping an accomplishment log, yours is already made. Isn’t it worth five minutes a month to increase your chance of success?

Some readers might think, you know a month can be a long time, maybe I should do this weekly. You certainly can. I usually record accomplishments as I do them and then also have a time marked on my calendar for a formal logging each month to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I might even reference an email thread or other artifact in case I need to review my accomplishments prior to my annual review.

Very astute readers might also realize this isn’t just for subordinates, but also managers. When it’s time to do an annual review for an employee, how often do you remember what she did six months ago? I keep a log of everyone I manage and as they do something noteworthy (good or bad) I log it. When the annual review rolls around I don’t need to recall what they did, I have my notes (and good employees have theirs in case I missed something).

Some work tasks are best batched up and done at once, to minimize a thousand tiny disruptions. Anything that requires remembering details from months back is not one of them. Log your accomplishments, and those of your subordinates, as you go, and come review time you’ll have much more effective, and productive, conversations.



By
Mark A. Herschberg
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