You've been subscribed to the Lattice Blog newsletter. You'll receive an email next time we post.
Learn more about Lattice →

What to expect from your first ever performance review

So you’ve graduated from school, or decided to quit freelancing, and started working in an office. You’ve gotten used to the nine-to-five schedule, the office coffee machine, and have hopefully found your niche in your office’s culture. But there’s one thing left… performance reviews.

Some companies do performance reviews semiannually, and some quarterly, but most companies still stick to an annual schedule. If you’ve never had a performance review before, preparing for one might be stressful. But don’t worry—performance reviews are designed to help you improve your work, and there’s plenty you can do beforehand to make sure that you go in ready to make the most of your meeting.

(If your performance review is next week, check out our guide here. If you've got a a few months before then, check out our more holistic guide here.)

Preparing for your first performance review

Many companies will expect you to write a self-assessment before your performance review. You’ll typically be expected to evaluate your performance over the course of the year—or however long you’ve been working at the company—including your overall strengths as an employee, areas where you could still improve, and most importantly your specific accomplishments.

It can be hard—and frustrating—to try to see yourself from your manager’s point of view. After all, you might find yourself thinking, isn’t the whole point of a performance review that they review your performance? But writing a self-assessment is actually a great opportunity for you to remind your manager of all the important and exciting work you’ve done over the course of the year. After all, you know more about your performance than anybody else does—your manager included.

Think back over the past year and make a list of things to highlight in your meeting. If your company's using an employee performance managment software like Lattice, this should be fairly easy. 

1. Was there a time you really took initiative at work?

2. Did you lead your team in a new direction?

3. Did you accomplish anything especially notable? Can you list those accomplishments?

4. Did you contribute to making the office a more efficient (and enjoyable) place to work in a concrete way?

5. What mistakes did you make?

6. If you made mistakes, did you take steps to prevent making the same mistakes in the future?

7. When your manager gave you feedback, how did you react?

8. Did you incorporate that feedback into your work, and can you demonstrate how?

Even if you work in a low-level position at your company, you are still contributing to its success every day, in ways your manager might not be aware of. Point out all the ways you help your manager, team, or office, and be as specific as possible. It may be tempting to say you’re good with people or are a hard worker, but it’s more compelling to give concrete examples of projects you contributed to or completed.

Make sure not to be overly modest: You should be proud of your achievements, and get credit for them. At the same time, your manager will notice if you avoid mentioning your shortcomings. Everybody has flaws, and acknowledging yours will make you seem self-aware and open to growth.

During the review itself

Different managers have different approaches to performance reviews, just like every other aspect of business. Ideally, you’ll be able to guide the conversation, so you should be prepared to give a summary of your written assessment. Even if you didn’t have to complete a self-assessment, writing down and memorizing notes on your performance will help prepare you for this part of the process. This way, if your manager asks you about your achievements or contributions, you’ll have concrete examples at your fingertips.

Your manager will give you feedback on your performance, both positive and negative. Hopefully, nothing they say will surprise you: if you’ve successfully identified your weaknesses, they may agree, and give additional comments and suggestions for improvement. Be ready to ask follow-up questions. If you have other lingering questions about your position or your role in the company, ask them. This is your time with your manager, and you should make the most of it.

One of those questions might be about the possibility of a raise. Unless your company has another preexisting setup for raises, your meeting can be used to broach the subject of a raise and possible promotion with your manager. If your company does annual reviews, you can say something like, “It’s been a year since my last performance review, and in that time I’ve contributed [X, Y, and Z] to the company. I’d like to discuss the possibility of a raise.” Talking about your salary can be nerve-wracking, but there’s no reason to get nervous: everybody has to do it, and your manager will be expecting it.

After the review – Expect the unexpected

Sometimes, your manager may give you feedback you weren’t expecting. This can be a good thing -- the logic is, if you know if you’re not doing well in something, you have a plan to fix it, but you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. If you are surprised or upset by a piece of criticism, it’s important not to get defensive or visibly upset. Instead, take a deep breath and ask questions. If your manager’s feedback is vague -- if they simply say that you need to be “better” at something, ask them to clarify. How could you be better? What are you doing now that isn’t working? If you’re still confused when you leave your meeting, you won’t be able to change your performance in the future. It’s your manager’s job to eliminate that confusion.

If you’re particularly surprised by your manager’s feedback, and only have performance reviews once a year, you could ask for regular 1:1 meetings. Checking in regularly, and having a plan to improve, will make it easier for you to move forward constructively. Unexpected feedback can be upsetting, but don’t take it too personally. There’s no reason to worry as long as you and your manager wind up on the same page about your path forward.

Even if you don’t wind up hearing anything too surprising in your review, you and your manager should end your meeting by coming up with a plan for the following year. What goals do have for yourself in the year to come? What skills would you like to acquire? Would you like to take on additional projects? Again, be specific. That way, a year from now, in your next performance review, you can look back at the goals you set yourself and say that you achieved them.

Don’t fret

Most of all, don’t worry too much about your review before your meeting. Preparing is important, but over-preparing will only make you more stressed out. The night before your review, relax. Have faith in yourself: if you believe in yourself and your work, your manager will, too.