How to do a performance review, self assessment

“I can’t believe my boss is so lazy!” a colleague said recently. “He wants me to do a self-assessment for my performance review. That’s supposed to be his job, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say about myself. I don’t want to look too boastful, or too low in my self-review. Can’t I just skip it?”
No, you shouldn’t skip this opportunity. It’s a great way to help your manager give you a balanced review. It’s also a chance to demonstrate self-awareness about your accomplishments and disappointments, as well as an opportunity to ask for some career development support.
I can’t argue that some managers are lazy, but most managers ask employees to do a self assessment for noble reasons. He or she may simply want to be thorough. It’s a way to remember all the good things you’ve done throughout the year. It also helps the manager prepare for any differences in perception you and she have about your performance. And with employees increasingly living and working globally, the manager may not see you on a regular basis, to even know everything you’ve done.
“So, shouldn’t I go in high, to try to get the most I can?” This isn’t a job interview or a negotiation. Your manager has the final say. If you try to pump up your accomplishments to an artificial level, your manager will be forced to come in prepared to justify a lower rating. You will look uncoachable and arrogant.
“Well then, should I rate myself lower, so my boss will tell me all the good things I’ve done?” Not exactly. If you are too modest, you might set yourself up for a lower rating. You will also look meek and nonassertive. And when salary dollars are passed around, you could be the one with the smaller check.
So the obvious answer is to use the unvarnished truth.
  • Be specific about your accomplishments. Use as many measures as you can. Where concrete measures aren’t feasible, use softer measures, such as, comments from internal customers, buy-in from users, and satisfied employees. Avoid grand and vague words such as “excellent” or “outstanding.” Instead, use factual descriptions such as, “The outcome was very satisfying to me, because it came in on time, under budget and the client immediately signed up for another project.”
  • If you don’t want to sound boastful, a good way to blow your own horn is to let others blow it for you. You could quote a customer, “I trust your team’s expertise.” “I really felt like you took the time to work with us and get our buy-in.”
  • If you didn’t do well on something, don’t dodge it. Take responsibility for what you didn’t do well, or a goal you missed. It shows you are self-aware. It also makes the discussion go much smoother with your manager, if you admit things aren’t perfect. In recent hearings in Washington about the financial meltdown, some performance reviews and self assessments were called into question. One laughable example was an employee’s comments about his “weakness.” He said, “I tend to check the work of my coworkers too much.” Not only were his comments transparent, he looked like an idiot in front of millions. (Note to self: it may say “confidential” on the top of your performance review document but it could be subpoenaed.)
  • Don’t just check the box. Use the narrative section to illustrate the details of your performance.  But don’t write a book. A few paragraphs under each section are enough.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. This isn’t a time to write about how you work harder or do more than your coworkers. Your focus should be on you—no one else. If someone else was partly responsible for missing one of your goals, emphasize what you learned from that and talk about what you did on your end, as well as what you will do differently next time.
  • Ask for what you want regarding career development in the coming year. Don’t ask for a particular job—that will sound na├»ve. Look for ways to expand your skills and leverage your strengths. Taking classes and seminars is fine but the deep learning comes from new responsibilities and work experiences.
Rather than avoiding the self-assessment experience, why not use it to reflect about what you have accomplished and learned in the past year? It will help your manager to help you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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