It's performance review season: 3 tips on approaching self assessments

It’s the time of year when most companies are conducting their annual performance reviews, and setting budgets for the next four quarters. Self assessments have become increasingly popular as a way to give employees a voice in the process. Almost everyone I know hates writing about themselves, and  writing a self assessment can feel especially daunting. Here are a few tips to remember when composing yours.

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Frame the conversation in terms of goals

Most tech companies now use OKR (objectives and key results), or similar methods of goal setting. These goals ensure that everyone is working towards the same company wide milestones, and they also help prioritize the day to day. They come in handy when writing a self assessment, because you can clearly list out the goals you set, and note each one that you met.

Of course, clearly setting out your original goals can get tricky in a performance review setting if you did not meet them.  In this situation, it’s important to focus on being transparent about your performance, and also present context for your results. There are two key ways to write about a missed goal.

First, present a clear understanding of why you didn’t meet your goal. In startups, a common reason is that the company changed priorities because management took into account some new data and that caused a shift in direction for individual teams. If the reason is a misjudgment of time or resources on your part, be clear and state that as well.

Second, it’s important to present how severely you missed your goal. If you missed it by a week due to a staffing issue, then be sure to point that out. This gives everyone a fuller picture of how effective a team is, and when they might need more resources.

I’ve included examples of this method in a Performance Review Self Assessment Guide. Sign up below to access it.


Always use metrics

Using metrics on resumes and performance reviews gives a very clear picture of what you have accomplished, and how impactful the accomplishment is. It’s a great habit to develop whenever you are writing about yourself in situations where you are being evaluated. Writing and speaking in metrics, especially in the tech world, displays a sense of professionalism and an inclination for highly analytical thought.

Sometimes using metrics in performance reviews can be a challenge. I recently advised a product manager at a  Los Angeles startup on writing her performance review. One of her OKRs was to set the product roadmap for the following year, and she met this goal on time. However, she had a difficult time describing the potential impact of the roadmap on the business. After talking about how to position her accomplishment, we determined that the key contribution in the roadmap were two product initiatives that were projected to add $20M to the company’s annual GMV the following year. Once she realized that market size was the key metric, it was easy to write a strong self assessment on her performance review.

Also read: Three things you need to know about negotiating equity compensation before joining a startup

When talking about weaknesses, be specific and explain how you are remediating

It’s always important to be honest in self assessments, and part of the process is identifying weaknesses. When talking about your own weaknesses, be very specific about the parts of your job where you could improve.

For each of these areas, always add some kind of remediation plan. If the issue was managerial, maybe your plan can be to work with a management coach. If your weakness is in a particular domain, take a course to improve on that skillset. Make sure to execute on your plan the following quarter so there is a clear record of how you consistently improve your performance and turn weaknesses into learning opportunities.

Also read: How to win friends and influence people, in the tech world