Taking the opportunity to learn more about yourself – and your employer

An illustration showing a clipboard and a goal target

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Appraisals aren’t only for seeing whether you’ve hit your targets

As we move into the final stretch of a terrible year, many employees will be facing a task made unusually difficult by the events of 2020. It goes by many names – annual appraisal, performance review, personal development discussion – but the core activity is generally the same: you talk to your line manager about your strengths and weaknesses, how this year has gone and your ambitions for next year. Plus, of course, there is the excruciating discomfort of filling out forms about your own strengths in a way that doesn’t underplay them, but also doesn’t come across as arrogant.

Preparing for an appraisal can be challenging at the best of times, particularly when the outcome often translates into bonuses or performance-related pay increases. Do your achievements justify your salary? Even in companies that insist that the focus of the review is to assist your professional development, this question hovers, unspoken, around the conversation. The pressure and worry this brings is perhaps even greater currently, as few of us have achieved the goals we set at the start of this year and straitened finances are driving many companies to cut costs.

As with so many things in life, honesty is a good approach to take in an appraisal; and even better if you combine that with a positive outlook. What might feel like a failure can be turned into success if you can show what you’ve learnt from the experience. And while you might not think you have accomplished as much as in previous years, reflecting on your lockdown activities might reveal you’ve developed several new skills, as Sarah Salter explains in her advice for how to approach pandemic-related job interview questions.

It’s just as important to be honest about your strengths as your weaknesses. If you think your performance deserves a pay rise or promotion, an appraisal is the ideal opportunity to present your evidence for it. Honesty about your career goals is also valuable. Some of my most productive review conversations have begun with me sharing career plans that couldn’t be achieved if I stayed at the company long-term. Because of this, my manager was able to suggest tasks and projects I could work on to develop the skills I needed to make that career move. As a result, I was more enthusiastic and productive at work, and it prolonged my employment with that company.

Not everyone will feel that they can discuss their professional ambitions or the challenges they face outside of work with their manager. But even then, a performance review shouldn’t be limited to an assessment of your skills. Were the goals you were set last year reasonable? Do you feel unable to be fully honest in the appraisal meeting, or that you’re being reviewed unfairly? A healthy discussion should allow you to evaluate your workplace as well as yourself – you’re not the only one under review.