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Have to write a self-review? Here’s what to say

What if you could use this dreaded task to help build your career? Here are seven ways to get started.

Have to write a self-review? Here’s what to say
[Photo: thawornnurak/iStock]

As part of the review season, many companies ask employees to do more than sit attentively through their manager’s feedback, but task them with the challenge of self-reflection. This practice is often one that doesn’t come easy to most professionals—especially ones who aren’t routinely asked to write. But while many professionals in every industry will provide a few paragraphs on the submission due date, a self-review should help you to meet your career aspirations.

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It provides an important yet often overlooked space to illustrate your successes—and yep, your weaknesses—to your organization’s leaders. “An effective self-review gives each team member the opportunity to share information that we might not otherwise know. It’s an opportunity to brag, but in my experience, many team members will also share areas where they’re struggling—even if we aren’t aware of them,” explains Chip Munn, career expert and managing partner at Signature Wealth Strategies. “By comparing self-reviews with the assessments of other team members, we can come to recognize potential blind spots and areas for improvement, along with opportunities to give praise and encouragement.”

Here are the smartest strategies that will deliver the progress you deserve, and not waste yours or anyone else’s time:

Accept that it might feel uncomfortable

In Munn’s experience, hard-working, enthusiastic team members are hardest on themselves during review season. They also might be the ones who foster the most anxiety about a review since they value and likely enjoy their jobs. Before you start to type or put pen to paper, Munn says to accept that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable, especially when detailing what you have—and maybe haven’t—achieved in the past six months to a year.

“Self-evaluations require a level of introspection that many team members don’t frequently utilize. Often it’s easier to assess the performance of others than it is to judge our own performance, particularly when our observations have to be shared with a supervisor,” he explains. “Whether our opinion of ourselves is positive or negative, sharing it can create vulnerability and discomfort that we typically try to avoid.”

Phone a friend

One of the easiest ways to begin thinking about your personal evaluation is to start with those you feel the most comfortable and authentic around. As Wendy Osefo, PhD, career expert and professor at John Hopkins University, explains, a review isn’t meant to be merely about your tactical, hard skills, but also to provide evidence of your soft skills in action, too.

She suggests your best friend or partner as a sounding board: “Talk about the qualities that make you a good partner or a good friend. They might see something in you that you had not thought about. Then, reflect on what this individual said to you, thinking back on situations and examples.”

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From here, you will not only be able to better understand your shining qualities, but perhaps pinpoint areas where you could improve, too. “It is easier to think about our weaknesses when we are thinking about how we can improve on them. Everyone has weaknesses, so do not knock yourself for being honest with yourself about yours,” she says.

Get gut-wrenchingly honest about everything

Now that you’ve asked your closest pals to share their opinion, it’s time to think about yourself. As career and branding expert Wendi Weiner explains, to have an compelling audit, self-awareness is essential. And if you can dig deep, push yourself to get brutal. “Make sure that you are really looking at yourself objectively at some of the struggles you have faced in the last year, and what you can to do improve them. The best self-reviews come from a willingness to be honest and focus on goal setting to improve yourself in the coming year,” she suggests.

This is also when you should start to think about changes and strides you’ve made since your last review, creating a holistic lens to peer through when you begin to write. “Consider the full circle of what you have acknowledged is a weakness, to what you have done to work on improving it,” Weiner adds.

Align criteria with your manager

As you write your self-review, make sure you follow the company-wide outline to save yourself time, edits, and hassle. As cofounder and CEO of Recruit Loop Paul Slezak explains, your individual assessment must be based on the same principles set forward by your manager. After all, you want to focus on what will make the difference in a title change or a salary bump, and that usually means aligning to your boss’s expectations of your performance. “There is no point reviewing yourself against certain metrics, objectives, financial targets, or values if your manager—or the organization in general—assesses against completely different criteria. You want to compare ‘apples for apples’ and not ‘apples for oranges,'” he continues.

This doesn’t mean you can’t throw a few zingers into your review that emphasize the moments when you’ve gone above and beyond; just make sure they aren’t at the core.

Get out of the office to start the flow of thoughts

If you wouldn’t label yourself a wordsmith, or your ability to string together sentences becomes stunted once you know your boss will read it, consider writer’s block tactics. Career expert and cofounder of Early Stage Careers Jill Tipograph suggests getting out of your daily routine and heading to a place you don’t normally frequent—whether it’s a coffee shop, a library, the park, or another place that it’s calming. Set a timer and consider questions like, “How am I getting along with my team? With my manager? Other colleagues?” and “What am I really proud of?” or “What haven’t I been exceeding at so far this year?” Let these questions guide you, but also allow for other thoughts to flow through, not editing or filtering as you scribble.

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Once you brainstorm for up to an hour, now you can begin to comb through your first draft. Her advice on where to start? With the hardest part—recognizing your shortcomings. “Many colleagues do not document anything in their self-review to demonstrate that they took the time to become introspective about their own technical or interpersonal development. In your final document, the negative points should certainly be at the end, rather than the opening, but start with the toughest section first,” she explains.

From here, you should go through the basic checkpoints (like a rating system if your company uses one), and end with areas you would like to highlight. Once you’ve made a first draft, sleep on it. Then you can restructure your review to ensure it’s following the overarching standard of the company, but using the same well-thought-out material you developed the day before.

Focus on building relationships and creating alliances

Hopefully your manager does more than skim over the document you diligently created—and discusses every paragraph. As you sit across from him or her, try to dissolve your anxiety and think of the meeting as an opportunity to build your relationship. As CEO and founder of Remarkable Leadership Lessons Denise Cooper explains, a review is a time to improve transparency and create alliances. The more honest you can be with your boss and the more they see how much effort you put into your review, the stronger your trust binds. How come? It can illustrate you’re not only good at your gig, but you’re a team player, too.

“No one achieves their goals without the help of others. Sometimes those others are family members, friends or relatives, and sometimes it is coworkers, bosses, mentors, and sponsors at work. We succeed because we have a strong, diverse network of supporters,” she explains. “The self-review is a way of making sure you’re not only meeting your career goals and expectations, but personal goals important to you and those around you.”

Take monthly notes

After your review, it’s up to you to track your progress, Cooper stresses. It’s also up to you to verbalize your gains to your manager along the way—not just once a year. After all, while there are typically seasons for assessments, that doesn’t mean you’re not being monitored frequently—whether intentionally or not. The more you can show progress, the more prepared you’ll be for the next “formal” report.

Slezak suggests professionals think of self-reviews as they would New Year’s resolutions: If you’re only setting them once a year and quickly forgetting about them, you’ll lose stamina. Instead, set aside an hour a month to go through everything you’ve accomplished. These notes will come in handy during the next go-round.

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“You are hopefully familiar with the skills, values, behaviors, and competencies that are expected of you in your role. Monthly, go back to that list, and think about all the things you’ve done that demonstrate a personal success or achievement,” he says. “That’s a true self review.”

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