How to prepare for a performance appraisal

A business owner chatting to her employee in the office.

Performance appraisals are undoubtedly a popular HR tool. Typically, these reviews are something that businesses carry out with employees.

However, it’s possible that your business performance will be assessed in a similar way as a contractor or agency, particularly if you have long-standing relationships with clients.

Regardless of your employment status, performance reviews could be a big factor when it comes to how you progress in your career. They could impact anything from your pay and other rewards to the strength of your working relationships with managers or clients.

Keep reading to discover more about exactly what these appraisals are, what makes them effective and, crucially, how to prepare for them.

What is a performance appraisal?

Performance appraisals are regular reviews of a worker’s performance in their role, as well as their contribution to the company more broadly. These meetings can also be known as employee appraisals, performance reviews and annual reviews.

They are intended to evaluate your achievements and skills. They also look at your professional development and any training needs you might have. These assessments are often used to determine pay rises, bonuses and other rewards. As a freelancer or contractor, they could also be influential in helping clients to establish whether or not they wish to continue their working relationship with you, and if so, in what capacity.

Are performance appraisals effective?

When they are well planned and both parties prepare for them properly, performance appraisals can be highly effective. They can have a positive impact on businesses and workers in a number of ways. For example, they can:  

  • Increase employee motivation by providing clear targets and incentives
  • Boost morale and engagement by recognising worker’s achievements
  • Help ensure any problems are identified and resolved quickly
  • Create opportunities for career growth by highlighting training needs
  • Improve communication between managers and employees/ freelancers  

Performance appraisal tips for employees and freelancers

To help ensure you’re ready for your next review, here are some suggestions to help you prepare.

Take a list of your achievements  

You will likely be asked about your achievements during your review. It can be difficult to think of specific examples when you’re under pressure during the meeting itself, so it pays to spend time beforehand putting together a list of your accomplishments since your last review. Try to focus on specific, tangible achievements. This could be anything from gaining a new certification, to receiving positive feedback from customers or colleagues, to helping to secure a sale.

It’s never too early to start this type of preparation. In fact, you should try to get into the habit of documenting your achievements on an ongoing basis so that it’s easier to pull them all together before a review. Be thorough when detailing your successes too. Remember that this is your opportunity to show your value to the business, and it could help you to secure extra pay, bonuses or other rewards.

Revisit your last performance review

If you’ve had a review from your employer or client before, revisit it to see how much progress you have made since then. For example, if you're an employee, have you undertaken any recommended training and met the goals specified in your previous appraisal? If not, be ready to explain why this is the case. 

Clarify your future goals

Be clear about your goals for the future too. What are you looking to achieve as a next step in your career? For example, are you interested in taking on new projects that give you greater responsibilities? Your appraisal is the perfect time to bring up your aspirations and to agree on concrete actions that will help you to achieve these goals.

It can feel daunting to make suggestions or requests like this, but if you don’t ask, you’re unlikely to get.

Note down some questions you want answered

Much of your review will centre on you answering questions, but you may also want to prepare queries of your own. Asking the right questions will help to demonstrate that you’re engaged in your role and in the review process.

For example, you could ask what the businesses’ overall goals are, and how you fit into these objectives. You might also want to know if there are any specific metrics you can use to track how effectively you are performing.

Prepare to accept and/or question feedback

Be ready to accept feedback during your review, and be prepared for the fact that some of this may not be positive. Being able to take fair and constructive criticism on board will help you to improve in your job. This means it’s important to resist the temptation to be overly defensive. Instead, listen carefully to any feedback and ask questions to get further context if necessary.

At the same time however, you should be ready to challenge feedback that you feel may be unjustified. Always do this in a polite and constructive way, citing specific evidence to back up your points where you can. 

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