10 tips for making self-evaluations meaningful

Whether you're a manager or employee, reviews aren't a particularly popular subject and with them comes the often-despised self-evaluation. You may ask yourself: "How can I shine the best spotlight on my performance without coming off like a braggart?" And you also may justifiably wonder, "What is it used for." Never fear: We've talked with experts and done the research to take the mystery out of this oft-misused piece of HR paperwork.

"The thing managers like doing least is performance reviews. They look at is as a pain in the neck and something they are forced to do. That's how most bosses, department heads and employers are," says Ford Myers, author of the book, "Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring."

Many companies don't pay much attention to self-evaluations. "Some companies take them very seriously and they take action accordingly, but most companies do it as a formality because they think they should, but they don't really pay attention to the self-evaluations," says Myers.

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According to John Reed, from Robert Half Technology, the companies that are doing it right are using the self-evaluation portion of the review for two reasons:

It forces employees to evaluate themselves and their performance.

It helps managers get their arms around whether or not an employee has an accurate understanding of their job performance.

"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," says Michelle Roccia, executive vice president of Employee Engagement at WinterWyman.

Talk About your Career Map

The self-evaluation should not be focused just on your job, according to Myers. It should also be focused on your long-term career plan. "It's an opportunity for you to reflect on how you're doing in your career, not just your job," says Myers. Use it to think about where you are going long-term and where you are in your career.

From an employee perspective, if there is not a career plan in place or not one consistently followed, then use this as an opportunity to sit down with your manager and say, "Hey, this is what's really important in my career. I want to build these additional skills, I want to be certified, I want to be a manager, I want a raise... ." Then you need to map out a plan together and be in agreement. "Doing this makes expectations very real and tangible," says Reed.

Keep an Open Dialogue

If companies are going to use the self-assessment then they should educate their employees on the value and reasons for doing so as well as explain clearly how they are or are not related to wage increases or bonuses. "We train our employees on the importance of the self-assessment and the whole performance appraisal process," says Roccia.

"Use it as an opportunity to build your perceived value, distinguish yourself and show how strong your contributions are. This is a time to really leverage your accomplishments," says Myers. In a perfect world, the self-evaluation will open a dialogue where you can discuss with your supervisor things like the following:

What are our biggest priorities right now?

Am I on track?

Is there anything you'd like me to focus on?

Where do you think I need to devote more time and energy?

How can I help make your job easier?

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Having a dialogue like this makes the annual review and self-evaluation a mere formality. This is how it should be, according to Myers. "It's ideal to have ongoing conversations with your boss throughout the year. Keep the dialogue open otherwise you can get lost in the dust," says Myers.

Ask How the Self-Evaluations Are Used

Approach your supervisor and ask how these self-evaluations are used. Are they tied to bonuses, promotions or rewards? Who will they be shared with? Knowing the answers will give you much keener insight into the tone and how much effort is required.

Ask Yourself the Hard Questions

Experts agree that you should use this as an opportunity to do an impartial self-appraisal of your skillset. Start by honestly answering these questions:

What could I have done better this year?

What are my strengths?

What are my weaknesses and how can I improve on them?

Where can I take personal initiative and become a stronger employee who contributes more next year?

Stay Positive

Employees remarks should be 90% positive comments and 10% what Myers refers to as "areas for development" comments. Use this 10% of the self-evaluation to explain your own plan to grow and develop in specific areas over the next year.

Don't bash bosses, coworkers or vendors, instead focus on you, your accomplishments and your professional development.

How to Handle Your Shortcomings

"Try to do a balanced self-assessment," says Reed. We all have areas for improvement and he recommends beating your boss to the punch. "If you give yourself great marks in all areas that tells me that you're not really thinking about how you can improve," says Reed.

Instead, says to call out the areas where you think you fall short and using "developmental language" explain that these are the areas that you really want to improve upon and this is what you are going to do to achieve that.

For example, you could explain that over the past year you noticed your software skills needed some work in a particular environment, let's say HTML5. Then, according to Myers, you could say something like, "My goal for this year is to take some advanced courses in HTML5 because we are using it more and more as our site evolves."

Myers advice is to frame any shortcomings not as problems or things you did wrong but instead as areas for development. "They should always be approached as how you can make a stronger contribution to the company," says Myers. It should appear more like an area where you want to learn more, do better and contribute at a higher level than a negative mark on your report card.

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Ask for Training

Once you've outlined the areas where you'd like to grow, it's always a good idea to have a plan on how to get there. Use this as an opportunity to ask for whatever type of training could help you contribute more, whether it's attending an SEO conference or taking a course on the newest version of SQL server. Now is a good time to put in the request.

Document Your Achievements

Be specific. Cover the achievements you completed and be sure to include how and who it helped. Whether it's adding numbers to the bottom-line or streamlining processes to create a better tech support workflow, using specifics makes sure everyone is on the same page and that you concisely tell the full story including the problem, the fix and the end results, instead of simply describing a deployment. "As long as you can tie it to tangible data points and facts, you can use it to your advantage," says Reed.

"This is really your chance to let your boss know all the good things that you've achieved. You can do that without being braggadocios or tooting your own horn too loudly about the things you've done. As long as its fact-based there is nothing wrong with it," says Reed.

Myers agrees: "Be very, very, specific." He recommends throughout the year keeping what he calls a "success file" where you write down all your contributions as bullet points throughout the month. At the end of the year, you'll have 12 documents to reference for their self-evaluation.

He goes on to note that you may also consider sending that to your boss at the end of each month as a round-up of all your contributions and achievements.

"I personally like the idea of sending this to your boss at the end of each month," says Myers. He says he has seen people get raises and promotions based on this type of documentation. This way, says Myers, "they are ready to give you a raise or promotion, instead of wondering whether to give you a raise and/or promotion."

Differing Points of View

If the performance review and the self-assessment are wildly different, according to Reed, this likely indicates that you and manager aren't meeting enough and that a discussion needs to be had in order to sort out expectations from the employee and management positions.

"If I'm doing an annual review and we're off this much that tells me that we're not talking and putting in place corrective actions and adjustments throughout the course of the year," says Reed.

Ask for Guidance, Direction and Mentoring

There are businesses and managers out there who never offer feedback or performance reviews. If your employer refuses to give any kind of feedback, Roccia says, you may want to question if you are in the right environment.

"Employees need feedback and need to know how they are doing. I've heard managers whose style is 'if you're not hearing anything from me you're doing a good job' but I don't subscribe to that management style. In fact, I would send that manager to management training," says Roccia.

That said, you should try opening a dialogue with your boss to set up a schedule for review and assessment. Myers advises that you get your boss on board. "Try talking your boss into having meetings every month or so. Ask for guidance, direction and mentoring," says Myers. However, if he/she refuses to budge, the experts agree, it may be time to look for greener pastures.

The same goes when applying for jobs. "If you're applying for a job where the boss says 'forget it, that's a waste of time,' I suggest you go find another job. Who wants a boss who refuses to give feedback and guidance throughout the year," says Myers.

This story, "10 tips for making self-evaluations meaningful" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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