Taking stock of your own professional worth is no easy task. Studies show that we’re poor judges of our own performance; underachievers often believe themselves to be all-stars, and overachievers are their own worst critics.
So when your HR department asks you to complete a self-appraisal, how do you know where to begin?
Find out how the self-appraisal will be used before diving into details. Will it weigh heavily into the overall performance review, is it a gauge of communication gaps, or just a formality?
Will your responses be confidential to the company’s HR department, or will your whole team trade notes? Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, tells Harvard Business Review to know if you have the kind of boss who is likely to cut and paste your self-appraisal into his or her performance review.
Knowing the company culture, too, can help set your tone. Candor might be a welcome trait or a turn-off.
Part of the purpose, personally, might be to see your year’s highlight reel set to paper. Michelle Roccia, executive vice president of Employee Engagement at WinterWyman, tells CIO Magazine: "The self-assessment is an essential part of performance evaluation because it's an opportunity for you to assess your own achievements. You own the performance appraisal. You should look across the past year and tell your manager what you've done and areas you'd like to focus on."
Avoid rambling on about irrelevant items—or coming up short on things to say—by staying focused on yourself and these points:
Your own accomplishments.
This is about what you’ve done—not a sounding board for what others have or haven’t helped you with along the way. Resist the urge to vent in your self-appraisal; address issues with co-workers separately. And don’t treat it as an Oscar speech, either. Keep the spotlight on you. It feels like bragging but it's not arrogance; this is your chance to show off what you contributed behind the scenes if your name isn’t top-billing on a project.
What needs work.
Acknowledge, with a light hand, any aspects you’re working to improve. Chances are, your boss knows about them already—and if not, she could have ideas for improvement. But don’t dwell on weaknesses: Frame them as works in progress, and show how you’ve learned from mistakes.
Your long-term career map.
"It's an opportunity for you to reflect on how you're doing in your career, not just your job," says Ford Myers, author of the book, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring. Take the chance to assess whether what you’ve been doing recently is helping or hindering your long-term goals, and be open with your boss about what you’re working toward—whether it’s a promotion, raise, or skill-building opportunities.
Now that your strengths and direction are on the table, it’s the perfect time to ask for items on your professional development bucket list. Contributing more to the company, and building your resume? It’s a win-win. If your goals include taking a social media class or starting a new project, work these requests into the appraisal. If you never ask, you never receive.
Managers stand to benefit, too. Being on the same page as your employees makes the rest of the year run smoothly.
The usefulness of a formal self-appraisal may be up for debate, but periodic self-reflection can’t hurt.