November 2, 2021

6 Tips For Your Performance Reviews

With just a few months left from the year, performance review season is quickly approaching for many tech companies. This is often a stressful process for many working in tech, though it doesn't have to be. By following the tips in this article, you should get more out of the annual or semi-annual reviews, that will help your professional growth.

Performance Evaluations in a Nutshell

Before getting into the weeds of it, let's start with a quick overview of how performance evaluations look at most tech companies.

Most companies have two performance cycles per year, usually one for each half. Once the period under review wraps, employees are asked to write a few types of evaluation documents:

  1. An assessment of the work you've completed, which is usually referred to as a self-evaluation.
  2. Several peer evaluations that provide feedback about the people you've worked beside most frequently.
  3. A review of your direct manager.

These review documents are then shared with your manager, who will write their assessments about your work, called manager evaluations. Once the manager evaluations are complete, the managers either finalize the reviews and use their budget to reward people, or undergo a calibration process, where engineering managers from the broader organization attempt to apply the same expectations for everyone in the org. This is done to improve the fairness of the review process. After these steps are finalized, your manager should share the results of their review with you. The results might take a bit longer if they include compensation changes, since larger companies require engineering leadership and/or the finance department to approve before granting raises.

Now that we've covered the basics, let's get into how you can get the most out of these reviews!

1. Identify your goals with the performance review

While it may be a cliche, it's a helpful exercise to identify what you'd like to get out of your reviews. Most of us will fall into one of these categories:

  • To continue one's professional growth, either by learning new skills, earning a promotion, or both.
  • Continue your current role, assuming you're content in the position.
  • Earn a substantial pay raise.

Check out the article Your Professional Growth Questionnaire by Michael Lopp for help reflecting on goals and motivations.

Your company culture, compensation, and long-term career goals all influence which part you'd like to improve. Once you identify your goals, consider sharing them with your manager to help you achieve your goals.

At most tech companies, raises cap out at around 10%, even after promotions. So if you are looking for a raise higher than that, probably you'll need to start looking for a new job.

2. Understand the review process at your company

Work with your manager to gain an understanding of how the review process works at your company. Ask questions like:

  • What are the expectations for my job level?
  • When are the formal reviews?
  • How does my performance influence compensation changes?
  • How do promotions work?
  • What are the expectations for the next level?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but they will help you set timelines, and understand how performance is evaluated for your job.

3. Treat performance reviews as a continuous process

I have often seen co-workers rushing to get their self-reviews done in a few days before the deadline. The problem with that is they tend to leave out a lot of achievements from the period under review. Depending on the size of a team, their managers might be unaware of how substantial their contributions were.

Making this mistake means you might miss out on recognition for a job well done. Even if your company does organization-wide calibration sessions or your manager is directly responsible for your reviews, you might not be represented fairly without all the facts from your self-evaluation.

Instead, it's better to treat performance reviews as a continuous process. As Michael Lopp puts it, ** it's always performance season**.

4. Start documenting your achievements

One of the best ways to address the point above is to document your achievements. It won't just serve as a great starting point for your self-assessment document, but it will also help you identify skills you didn't have the opportunity to improve.

In more practical terms, this is my usual process for documenting achievements:

  • If your company has expectations for your current role, make a copy of that document, and use it to categorize your achievements.
    • Do the same if you are targeting a promotion, but for the next level or role.
  • If your company doesn't have a well-documented list of expectations, work with your manager to create one for yourself.
  • Alternatively, you can keep a document for yourself about the tasks you've worked on, and how you helped solve the challenges presented by those projects.

5. Reflect on your achievements

Once you have a list of achievements, there are a few ways you can use this document. First, create a list of skills you need to achieve your long-term career goals. Then, once you have this list, try identifying areas where you didn't have an opportunity to succeed.

Alternatively, if your company has a career ladder or expectation for your current role or the next one up, use that list to identify areas you didn't work on.

Once you have a list of skills or areas you'd like to work on, team up with your manager to find projects aligned with your growth goals.

6. Repeat

As we've already covered, performance reviews and self-improvement is a continuous process. I prefer to have a set cadence to reflect on where I am with my career and which areas need improvement. I recommend you spend around 30 minutes every two weeks making notes on what you've accomplished and reflect on how that helps you progress in your career.

I hope the tips above help you grow, get the promotion you want, or at least provide some insight about performance reviews and the best ways to prepare for them. If you have other tips and practices you like to follow; I'd love to hear from you, so drop me a message anytime on Twitter!

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