Many people dread their annual performance reviews. The anxiety created by worrying about what will happen is an unnecessary distraction brought on by procrastination. If you have been working for more than a few years, you’ve probably had a few performance evaluations. Why wait to see what happens?
The following strategy can help you take the bite out of any unexpected news evolving out of a performance conversation or add a welcomed lift by highlighting accomplishments that may have been overlooked.
Establish clear goals before the beginning of each New Year or fiscal year. Know what you want to accomplish early on, so you can make the time to accomplish your personal and professional goals. If you aren’t sure what you want or where you are going, then you set yourself up for failure. It’s too easy to be buried by unfinished work requests and unable to reach your personal goals because you have no time left. Get focused and plan ahead.
Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare.
Prepare early. Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare. Be aware of your goals from the beginning of the review period. Know what is expected of you and stay aware of where you stand. Don’t know what is expected of you? Then ask!
Keep a journal or a log. Record what’s on your mind each day. Document your wins. Stay aware of your challenges. Be specific. Make sure this is not information stored on a company computer. It needs to stay within your possession. You just never know when a layoff occurs and you find yourself being escorted out.
Update your resume and Linked In profile. Don’t rely on your supervisor to record your successes. It’s considerably easier to document accomplishments as they happen then wait until you’ve been riffed, terminated or considered for a promotion. It’s much easier to have the data ready then try to think about what should be on your resume when you start job hunting. Take the time to track your accomplishments as you go. Updating your Linked In profile as things happen will make it a far less suspicious act than saving it and updating it only because you are ready to find a new job.
Be aware of your shortcomings. Know what behaviors/skills are is not up to snuff and be prepared to discuss your plan for addressing them. The fallout from mistakes can be considerably reduced if you take a proactive approach. Waiting until you’ve been caught to explain a mistake may take more time to fix it and could fuel a more adverse reaction from your supervisor than is warranted.
Confirm the date of the review as early as possible. There’s no need to wait until your supervisor brings it up. If you know annual reviews are required by the end of the year, bring up scheduling closer to Thanksgiving. Look ahead for reasonable times in December to accomplish your review so it isn’t a rushed affair. If your review is March every year, then start talking about it towards the end of January. It continues to amaze me when my clients tell me their supervisor scheduled their performance evaluation with less than a week’s notice, when it is has been an ongoing annual event for a number of years.
Be prepared to negotiate. If compensation is considered in conjunction with your performance review, make sure you are making a reasonable request. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. If the company is having challenges, then it might be easier to ask and receive extra time off in lieu of higher compensation. Stay focused on what the company needs so you can base your requests on things that are MOST likely to be agreed to.
The key is to assume ownership of this sometimes very painful event. Work it to your advantage. With clearly defined goals of your own, and front end planning, you will be much more able to accomplish the goals your supervisor sets for you. You can look forward to ending the performance period on a high note by taking the bull by the horns early on.
One of my challenges when working with someone in transition is to encourage them to move away from “titles” as a focus and help them to see the bigger picture. Titles don’t immediately translate to skills or value. They often are labels that far too many people take for granted as a reason to believe someone has done something reflected by their title, when under closer scrutiny, it is learned they have not.
The dot-com bust was indicative of how many people had lofty titles but in many cases were simply self-proclaimed “leaders” with little connection to the actual scope of work that a title might reflect. Without the context (budget, size of team, territory covered, business segment), a title doesn’t automatically translate to value to the next business. A person may ultimately call themselves anything they want, but if what they have done and what they can do don’t translate to what is needed by the new employer or the new customer, then it is likely that disappointment will follow.
It’s tough to make a transition when the focus is on titles. Examining the “work” someone does rather than what they are called can lead to far more opportunities to discover new or different directions. It exposes skills that may be easily transferred, and it presents new pictures of what can be fun and new, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater or spending a fortune on brand new skill building.
Too often people are swayed by Internet statistics connecting salary data to titles that may in fact represent work that is far different from what the candidate imagines. A “project manager” or “program manager” in one industry or in one sector may be completely different from what the same title reflects in a different industry or sector. The compensation details may also reflect unrealistic or unattainable circumstances for a specific person’s skill set, experience and actual capabilities. The qualifier here is that even “skills” may read the same on two people’s resumes, but how they are manifested can be entirely different.
So, what does this mean to a job seeker or an employer reading a resume, or even to a consumer seeking the assistance of a professional? It means that each person needs to be fully aware of the context of their needs or expectations. Research can be done to determine when a “title” actually reflects the work that is needed or if it is something entirely different from what is expected or needed. Beginning with a reporter’s five key questions (what, where, when, why and how) and combining the answers with insight into someone’s motivation can produce considerably more information than titles, current compensation or costs of services.
Where, what, when. Context and scope can (and most likely will) change the value of a person’s role and relevance of their experience: the industry, size of company, number of direct reports, budget, specific years and geographic location. The types of customers a businessperson has been involved with and the economic conditions they have worked in may also influence their expertise and competence.
What and how. If you are a job seeker, it’s important to find out exactly what the actual work will entail. If you are thinking of changing roles, ask someone in the role you are considering to describe their work and whom they interact with. Be prepared to provide an employer with concrete examples of relevant work to illustrate your skills. If you are seeking help from a business, you may want to ask the service provider to describe their typical clients and the services they have offered others to determine how successful their services will be for you.
Why. Asking an employer about their greatest challenges may help produce insight into information that is unpublished in a job description. Alternately, asking a candidate to describe their goals may also reveal information that contradicts information found on their resume. Service providers may have websites that define why they do what they do, but if not, it is a reasonable question to ask. The answer to any version of “why do you do what you do?” is a good indicator of someone’s investment in continuing in the same direction or why they might be driven to do good work. An incomplete or vague response can reflect apprehension or lack of commitment, which can also lead to less-than-satisfactory results.
Proof. Make sure that all that you think is true is true. Look for published information and listen for unpublished information. Ask for references. If you are a job seeker, talk to employees who are currently working for a company and employees who previously worked for the organization. Balance the answers you get with what you need and want, using your perspective about what is most important.
Overall, don’t be fooled by titles or by smoke and mirrors. You’re making an investment that is important to you, no matter which side of the fence you are on. Make it a good one.
A candidate’s ultimate goal from an interview is to receive an offer of employment. The employer’s goal is to select the right candidate. Contrary to how candidates have approached interviews in the past, waiting for the interview to learn what you need to know to determine if this is the right decision, is much too late. Many employers have figured that out, too, and that is why they research candidates’ backgrounds in advance of the interview, or prefer to work with candidates referred by a trusted source. The employer will typically know what they need (not always) and what they are willing to pay (a range) in advance of an interview. If they truly don’t have a range, then it could be red flag. It may mean they haven’t researched to know what is reasonable, or worse, don’t have a budget, which means they may not be fiscally prepared to add to staff.
Regardless of how prepared or ill-prepared either party might be, every interview potentially ends with an offer and subsequently a negotiation. To retain a position of power throughout the process, the candidate’s negotiating strategy begins with their advance preparation, the resume they send and the first conversation. Contrary to popular belief, a strategy cannot begin after the offer is made. Any attempt to negotiate without a strategy is only a reaction or response. The person without a strategy is in a less powerful position than the one with a strategy.
The following examples illustrate how easy it is to lose your power prior to or during an interview, when there has been little preparation and no strategy developed prior to the first conversation. Immediately following are recommended actions to help a person maintain a position of power and to reinforce the ability to get what they want.
Ways to Lose Your Power:
1. Reacting to an opportunity without goals and a strategy. If you are unclear about what it is you really want, why and how you are going to accomplish it, it is impossible to present a compelling case for why you are a fit for the role or the company.
2. Not preparing for the call before you speak with them. Without preparation, it is too easy to get side tracked with tough questions. People say things they shouldn’t say, and say things in ways that can be easily misinterpreted.
3. Talking about money before an interviewer knows anything about you (other than what’s in you your resume). Until you have presented a case for why you are worth anything, suggesting you should have more than what they might be offering will typically close the door on the opportunity. Yes, recruiters ask what you want. Just because they ask, doesn’t mean you need to tell them. (I’d like a home in Mexico. Anybody going to pony up?)
4. Disclosing current or previous compensation. Don’t compare apples and oranges. The employer wants to know they are not wasting their time. If you are changing roles or moving from an area with a different cost of living, this information is irrelevant. There are many ways to assure them you are fine with what they may offer.
5. Making demands or setting boundaries about what you will consider before a formal offer has been presented. If they haven’t decided they really want you and absolutely have to have you, then it is premature to discuss what you want. It can tip the cart and actually prevent an offer from coming forth.
6. Assuming who the decision maker is. Don’t take any conversations lightly. A receptionist or support person may not be listed as a participant, but they certainly may be in on the hiring decision. At the very least, information they pass on about you could make a difference in the outcome later.
7. Not knowing what the interviewer’s needs are. If you over speak when talking with any interviewer (trying to sell yourself by addressing issues that are not of interest to the person in front of you), you may completely miss the opportunity to move forward.
8. Making assumptions about the interviewer’s viewpoint or company’s position on key points without clarifying their needs. Expanding on your opinion about something without being absolutely certain it is in line with their thinking leaves too much to be wrongly interpreted.
9. Emailing communication that can be interpreted badly or will lose translation. Conversation about any conflict, money or a concern of any kind should not have a permanent trail.
10. Asking questions about “what they can do for you” before you have presented value to them. Don’t imply you will have special requests before they are clear about “what you can do for them”.
11. Talking beyond the business at hand before it is a done deal. If an offer hasn’t been presented for the role that is in front of you, then changing direction midstream without fulfilling their initial need can take you completely out of the game. Discussion about future options can be interpreted as if you are not interested in the original position or are overqualified. Even though the conversation seems pleasant enough, the reality of what is still left unfilled may resurface after you have left, and you could be dropped like a hot potato.
12. Assuming any discussion is a formal offer when none has been made. You can’t assume that because one person loves you, and says everything is a go, that it is a done deal. Talk is cheap.
How to Maintain or Build Your Power:
1. Be clear about your goals and how a particular role or company will contribute to your being able to achieve them.
2. Know what you need to know about an industry to be competitive before you begin any conversation.
3. Research a company and be as aware of important information about it before you have a conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager.
4. Set the stage that money is not your highest priority, but the fit and contribution to the company’s needs are.
5. Deflect questions about current earnings. Don’t be pushed into comparing apples and oranges. Research the current market range and suggest it. Certainly finding out from inside sources prior to an interview is optimal if the range isn’t posted.
6. Find out who the real decision maker is.
7. Make sure you know what is important to every person you interview with.
8. Don’t take a stand about anything. Rather than discussing your “opinion”, tell them what you have done in the past so they don’t need to guess what actions you might take when given a tough scenario to maneuver through.
9. Ask open-ended questions to learn more about the role, department and company. Let them talk! Ask open ended-questions to build your awareness of their motivation before coming to any conclusions.
10. Discuss complex issues in person (or by phone if that is the only option other than email).Create a positive impression with all communications.
11. Save discussions about “future advancement” until they have confirmed their immediate need has been met.
12. Ask for a formal offer. Get it in writing.
Negotiating what you want after you understand their position, you are clear of what you need and an offer has been presented is much more likely to end in a win-win.