Sometimes life really does feel like high school. Maybe you were one of those teens who couldn’t wait for final grades to be posted, who begged for extra credit, and lived for class rankings. Perhaps you were more likely to be found skulking in after the bell rings, slipping into a chair in the back of the room, ready to dive under your desk at the first hint of a pop quiz.
Adolescence isn’t destiny. Lots of students considered subpar in tenth grade are class leaders in college. Still, fast forward a decade or three and most staffers feel the same way about performance reviews as they once did about grades. Lots of managers share those feelings –– whether they were teens hungry for feedback or the ones praying for fire alarms during midterms. Either way, I definitely believe being prepared is vital. So let me offer the six best performance review questions and answers.
1. What is a Performance Review?
Okay, I realize that for most people the answer to this is like the points you earn on an SAT for writing down your name. It’s just, I don’t want to ignore those facing their first performance review. It’s normal to be nervous about the unknown. As careers site Indeed explains, “A performance review is when an employee and their manager meet to discuss the employee’s performance at work. During this meeting, the manager will share what they think are the employee’s strengths, successes and areas for improvement.” This can be the time when you’ll be offered a promotion or a raise. However, I usually advise against soliciting a raise during a year-end review because company budgets are often set. You’ll also have a chance to ask questions about your job.
Simply put, a performance review’s questions and answers is a tool. Like any tool, it can accomplish incredible things in the proper hands but be damaging when misused. An artist could use a hammer to chisel an amazing sculpture while the same tool could accidentally put a large hole in your living room wall.
Properly wielded, the performance review identifies areas where an employee needs coaching while illuminating parts of the job where they excel. In many cases it’s more pass/ fail –– with the vast majority of staffers passing. A strong review at some companies can lead to above average raises, bonuses, and advancement. And no, most employers don’t grade on a curve.
2. What Have You Accomplished?
Of all the questions you’ll face, this one is the most likely. It’s also the question that demands preparation. Long before you sit down for your review, outline your successes. The timeline may be the last year or the last quarter but you should come prepared with a detailed summary of your recent achievements. It should include not just what you have done but how you did it. Ideally, coworkers who were involved should be named as well.
For managers, answers that are opaque or limited should be followed up. If an employer is already questioning a staffer’s achievements, a poorly thought out response to this question will raise some red flags. Then again, there are plenty of firms where individual achievements go unnoticed. If you work for one of those, you’re not alone. In one study, 69% of employees said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized. This is a golden opportunity to set the record straight.
3. How Do You Feel About Your Team?
Any version of this question where you are asked to assess your coworkers is not an invitation to throw shade. Instead, it is asked as a way for you to examine your collaborative talents. It’s also an opportunity to highlight colleagues’ merits. However, you should include areas that could use improvement but do so by addressing team issues rather than calling out individuals. There are likely parts of your job that you do alone. If those tasks are a significant part of your workload, your feelings about working individually rather than as part of a group are absolutely germane.
4. Talk About the Company Culture
This can be tricky. Listening to what coworkers say and do is an important part of being able to accurately discuss your company’s culture or its values. Although performance reviews are not the place to air myriad grievances, if you feel the actions of the company are falling short of its values or the culture isn’t what it could be, then it’s worth bringing up. However, the best strategy is to have a solution prepared or a few ideas to move the company in a better direction. Generally speaking, members of Gen Z are more likely to bring up these concerns but it can be hard getting higher level employees to listen if you are young, inexperienced, or both. So if you are using the performance review as a sounding board, make sure you did the work of developing solutions.
5. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
The answer is not “working for a better company more closely aligned with my values.” Even if you doubt you’ll be around in five months let alone five years, saying so isn’t a good idea. For one thing, your view of the job may change or you may get opportunities you’d never imagined. A performance review is a terrible forum for a resignation. So unless you’ve already accepted a job offer, limit your answers to how you’d develop in the aspects of the job that you like. As you do this, you may actually discover you are happier than you’d thought.
For those giving performance reviews, the answer is less about staffers’ overwhelming love for the company than the roles they envision for themselves. The reviewer’s task is to identify ways to help them on this journey. The similar question about what job they could see themselves doing in the future or what position they would like to be promoted into has similar pitfalls. Still, as a coaching tool it’s fantastic because it not only reveals the employee’s mental map toward the C-Suite but lets managers help them overcome obstacles while offering reassurance that they could achieve their goals.
6. What Can We Do Better?
Again, not an opening to relentlessly criticize. You also won’ t be doing yourself any favors if you reply that everything is going great. Being able to suss out the things that need improvement –– and having a detailed description of how to make the necessary repairs could go a long way toward putting yourself on upper-management’s radar. If anxiety or workload usually keeps you from communicating with your supervisor, this is a great time to bring up your concerns or ask any questions you’ve been meaning to ask. Doing this will demonstrate not only your commitment to the position but to the company as well.
Even most poor test takers developed ways to pass exams. Just remember to prepare and you’ll soon see how a performance review can be a real help rather than a hindrance.
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