Most of us get just one opportunity each year to highlight our contributions in the workplace — and hopefully, to justify a salary increase. Here are some things that you can do to ensure that your manager notices your worth and receives ample documentation to support a recommended bonus, merit pay raise, or both.
- Incorporate manager feedback. You should have begun to apply any suggestions made by your manager in your last review as soon as it was over. Even if you didn't necessarily agree with your review, you want your manager to see that you heard — and responded to — his or her feedback.
- Document your accomplishments. Also as soon as your last review was over, you should have begun collecting supporting information for your next review. Consider scheduling a regular time for yourself each month to quantify and record your accomplishments.
- Solicit testimonials. Whenever someone indicates that they're pleased with your work, ask them for an e-mail message stating their satisfaction so that you can add it to your review file. Ultimately, it'll be worth much more than any token of appreciation, and it's more professional.
- Keep your testimonials yourself. Rather than just passing along letters of praise or recommendation to your manager to place in your personnel file, maintain your own copies. You can save your manager the hassle of organizing the letters, and you can keep them for future reference.
- Organize your documentation. Use whatever format makes the most sense to display your evidence of accomplishments at review time, but keep it concise, with the accomplishments summarized and easy to read. Some people use a one-inch, three–ring binder with dividers for various sections. Use a highlighter to call attention to relevant paragraphs or phrases.
- Acknowledge your manager. Begin your notebook with a positive letter to your manager recognizing his or her efforts toward your accomplishments. List the things that you appreciate about your working relationship with the company and with your manager.
- Include an annual summary of achievements. This is not a list of routine tasks that you performed as part of your regular job function. Rather, focus on ways that you have gone above and beyond the call of duty, with numbers to verify your contributions. Demonstrate that you have saved the company money, increased sales or profits, or provided a unique contribution that would have cost more had it been outsourced.
- Negotiate your review date. If your review date falls at the end of a budgetary period, see whether you can change it to an earlier date — before all the money for the year has been spent. Likewise, steer clear of tense times when your manager may not be in the best mood, like before big meetings or the due dates of complex reports. Most employers will make raises retroactive to the anniversary date of hire, even if reviews are conducted later.
- Be prepared one month before your review. Have all of your supporting review documentation organized to give to your manager approximately one month before your scheduled review date (which is often the anniversary of your hire date). If you wait too long, your manager may have completed your review already, and your documentation cannot be used to influence the decision.
- Do your homework. Compile information on how your company is doing financially, and listen to the rumor mill about whether other associates are getting raises. If so, try to get a feel for the range of increases. Some companies will openly acknowledge the average percentage of increase that employees can expect each year. If you work with a departmental budget, you can get an idea of the total pool that's been set aside for staff.
- Start on a positive note. Ask your manager whether you may start your review discussion by telling him or her about your top achievements for the year and then asking for feedback. This sets a positive tone and spotlights your best work before any negative points are discussed.
- Accept criticism gracefully. Be prepared for your manager to mention problems or shortcomings with your performance. Respond by explaining how you plan to improve in the future (such as identifying training or mentorship offerings in areas where you need to improve your skills).
- Avoid disputes. Don't argue, especially about any perceived negative points being discussed. Whether they're true or not, they are your manager's perceptions. Respond thoughtfully: "I understand how you might have viewed it that way. Next time, I will handle it by doing such and such. I want to do whatever I can to strengthen our working relationship. I consider us a team."
- Show improvement initiative. Ask what you can do to better meet your manager's needs. Ask about upcoming changes, and what new skills your manager recommends to meet them. Show that you're forward-thinking and willing to expand your skill base.
- Ask for help and offer solutions. Tell your manager whether there are things that you require to be more effective on the job (like dedicated time without interruptions during rush projects, a new software program, or the support of a temporary worker for an especially busy period). Have reasonable, workable solutions to offer for your needs and concerns. This is far more effective than complaining or belittling others.
- Discuss your goals. Get your supervisor's buy-in for your professional goals, such as preparing for professional certification, enrolling in a technology course or seminar, subscribing to industry publications, or purchasing resource material that will benefit you and your colleagues.
- Be honest — with tact. It's all right to indicate that you're disappointed with your salary increase, if you feel that it's too low. Ask for another review in six months, or suggest a perk that would make you happier with the salary. Examples include renegotiating your duties, receiving help from outside the department during rush periods, receiving a membership to the IAAP, getting permission to attend a conference, or getting approval to purchase educational materials.
Remember to listen without interrupting, hold your temper, and remain professional. Your performance review is your opportunity to provide your manager with the supporting evidence that he or she needs to make you shine and to reflect positively on the past year. How you end this year will definitely influence how you begin the next.
About the author Susan Fenner, Ph.D., is the Manager of Education and Professional Development at the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), the world's largest association for administrative support staff.