How to Prepare for a Performance Review 

Updated Dec 21, 20225 min

How to Prepare for a Performance Review 

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20225 min

We get it. The performance review is not everyone’s highlight of the year. They are a stressful experience for managers and employees alike; but the process can be a highly constructive one for your career if you do one thing—prepare.

Preparation does not begin the week before your review meeting. Keeping a record of your accomplishments over the course of a review period will mean that you are already well-equipped for feedback. And seizing opportunities over time that will give you more visibility and responsibility can build a case for a promotion.

This article tells you what to expect and what you should be thinking about before heading into a performance meeting with your manager. We also suggest ways to relax, what questions to prepare, and, most importantly, how to ask for a promotion.

What Is a Performance Review and Why Have One?

Performance management should be an ongoing dialogue between managers and reports. They are a formal way to record past performance, set career goals, and pursue career development. They are an opportunity for an organization to recognize an employee’s contribution and help them along the path to professional advancement. The company benefits because the goals of individual employees should align with the overall organizational goals so that the individual is contributing constructively to the company’s mission.

Without a performance review, an employee has no way of knowing whether their work is on track. Without any feedback or validation, it’s easy to feel demoralized and taken for granted. In fact, a Gallup poll found that employees who tend to receive negative feedback would like to receive more feedback, and employees who receive negative feedback still tend to be more engaged than when they don't receive feedback at all.

Typical Steps in the Performance Review Process

The frequency and structure of your performance review will depend on your organization. Some only conduct annual reviews, but more companies are choosing to schedule more frequent feedback among managers and teams. Rather than letting an issue go and addressing it later, problems are resolved as they occur and result in more rapid incremental improvements. Also, real-time evaluations build stronger relationships and trust between managers, reports, and teams because the culture changes. Feedback is no longer a scary prospect looming at the end of the appraisal period but an opportunity to check-in and for open communication.

PricewaterhouseCoopers uses a real-time feedback model. The model involves collecting and tracking data over time from reports, surveys, and collaboration tools. Also, input is sought from peers, managers, and subordinates. With more timely feedback, employees benefit from ongoing guidance and mentoring.

The following are the typical steps involved in a traditional annual performance review, but they might differ for more frequent review frameworks.

  • Employees submit a written self-evaluation to their manager.

  • The manager solicits multi-rater feedback from colleagues, customers, and direct reports.

  • The manager documents performance in a written performance review.

  • Annual and mid-year meetings adjust expectations, goals, progress toward goals, and performance.

This model represents a 360 performance review where direct reports, managers, team members, and customers offer feedback. 180-degree feedback is when only the manager and the report are involved.

Most performance review tools use performance ratings to gauge an employee’s progress. Companies develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and a rating system and incorporate other criteria such as a more subjective management appraisal and 180 or 360 reviews. A KPI could be a customer satisfaction rating, a productivity-based or project success rating, or a rating based on acquiring new leads.

How to Prepare for the Performance Review

Even if your next performance review meeting is not for another year, you should be preparing for it anyway. For example, look out for opportunities to work on projects that would improve your visibility. Then, highlight that project in your self-assessment. Keep a record of your accomplishments as the year progresses to build a strong case, particularly if you are angling for a promotion.

Be sure to check the documents and decisions produced from your last review. Read your job description to see if your work still fits that description. You might have taken on more responsibility, which would be a conversation to have with your manager.

Before you have your meeting, you should have a written assessment of the following:

  • Your accomplishments, areas of improvement, and additional assumed responsibilities

  • Your progress with previously identified goals

  • Any exceptional performance

  • Challenges you have encountered

  • Areas for development or training

When you write your portion of the performance appraisal, use real examples to make your points. For example, when describing your areas of growth, use real accomplishments to support what you are saying. Try to use measurable examples and focus on metrics. For example, can you substantiate improvements—a 20% increase in positive feedback or 30% better sales results? Don’t use vague statements, exaggerate, or use superlatives.

Preparing for the Performance Review Meeting

If you have written your self-assessment and considered all the points mentioned, you will already be well prepared for your meeting. However, it’s a good idea to think of one or two critical conversations that you want to have with your manager. Any more, and you just won’t see progress. You have limited time to discuss your performance, so make the most of it.

For example, if you plan to discuss a promotion, focus on one or two key accomplishments or arguments to make your case. If you plan to list off a litany of achievements, you will lose the focus of your manager.

Be prepared to receive constructive criticism with an open mind. Don't be defensive. You do not have to respond in the moment to anything that is said. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for some time to process what you have been told and to request a follow-up meeting.

During the meeting, you can expect to review any agreed-upon “next steps” or commitments from the most recent performance conversation. Explain any successes since the last meeting using specific examples and results. Discuss challenges with your manager if they are one of your critical points of discussion.

Lastly, you might set goals that are measurable and attainable for the next year.

At the conclusion of the meeting, unless a follow-up meeting is requested, the manager and the employee should record notes and plan for the next review meeting.

Questions to Prepare

Your manager will lead the performance review meeting, but you should also think about what questions you would like answered. For example, you might want to know how you can advance in the organization. You might be wondering what you need to do to earn a promotion. You might want to see whether you can enroll in a training program or if the company would help you pay for graduate school classes that you would like to attend in your own time.  

How to Relax Before Your Performance Review Meeting

What is the secret to being confident and relaxed for your performance review meeting? Preparation. If you are prepared, you will know what you are going to say and what questions you need to be answered.

If you are nervous about feedback, remember that you do not have to respond immediately. Keep your emotions in check. If you start to feel stressed or uncomfortable during the meeting, take a deep breath and ask for some time to process the feedback. Ask for a follow-up meeting to give you time to develop an appropriate response.

How to Ask for a Promotion

Set the stage way ahead of time for a promotion. A convincing case takes years of high-level performance and outstanding accomplishments. Be honest with yourself. Have you been taking advantage of opportunities thrown your way? Have you been volunteering to take on additional responsibilities? Have you consistently set and met new goals?

Your previous performance meetings with your manager should have discussed what you need to do to earn a promotion and documented your relevant accomplishments. Over time, you and your manager create a strong argument for your advancement.

When you have a conversation about a promotion with your manager, select one or two key reasons why you deserve a promotion and highlight why they prove your value to the organization. Don’t just list off a litany of things because your manager will lose focus.

If your manager appears resistant to offering you a promotion, request frequent, substantial performance feedback so that you can reinforce your case for a promotion. This engages your manager on an ongoing basis so that you are top of mind when it comes to promotion decisions.

According to, the current labor climate is such that employers are nervous about employee retention, so the ball may be in your court when it comes to negotiating possible career advancement. When making your case, use metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to show how you have contributed to your company’s bottom line.

That’s a lot of information on employee performance reviews, but if you follow this guide, you will be well prepared for a discussion that will build a stronger relationship between you and your manager. Here are summary tips to help you make the most of your performance evaluation.

Summary Tips for Performance Review Preparation

  • Keep track of your accomplishments over the past year, don’t leave it until the last minute.

  • Keep an eye out for opportunities that will increase your visibility.

  • Seek frequent feedback from your manager if your review is annual, but use your judgment. You don't want to become a burden.

  • Prepare one or two critical points for discussion that you want to have with your manager.

  • Be open to feedback, and keep your emotions in check. Don’t be defensive.

  • Request a follow-up meeting if you need time to process what has been said.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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