How to Ace Your Annual Review

Though they’re considered a routine task by most employees and managers, annual reviews can often be viewed with anxiety. As a new professional, I remember feeling nervous at my first couple of annual reviews. I wondered, should I give myself the best rating so that my supervisor will think highly of my work? Or should I rate myself lower so as not to appear arrogant?  

Although I felt confident in my work and the things I had accomplished during the year, I was also confused by the review process. I came to learn that my biggest mistake was not taking time to reflect on the positive or prepare questions to ask my supervisor. Now, having given an annual review as a manager, I see the value and purpose in these tasks.

By taking the following steps to truly evaluate your own strengths, weaknesses, and a vision for your future, you can ensure that you’re going into the process as your most confident and authentic self.  

Reflect on Accomplishments

Because your review only happens once a year, it’s easy to forget all that you have accomplished and how you have grown during this time. You don’t want to go into the review with only current projects (and challenges) at the top of your mind. Instead, take the time to think about the year as a whole before your review. To jog your memory, glance back at your calendar or planner to view big milestones like deadlines, meetings, and presentations. If you have a copy of a file or form from your previous annual review, read over it to see what you noted as future goals or ambitions for your role. Spend time asking yourself some reflective questions and perhaps even write out your answers to really ensure that you’ve collected your thoughts. Chances are that you may even have to complete a form with your answers to similar questions or ratings ahead of time, so don’t put it off until the last minute.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • How have your responsibilities changed as you’ve grown as an employee? What are you doing differently on a day-to-day basis that you were not doing a year ago?

  • What major accomplishments have you led or been a part of this year?

  • What achievement are you most proud of?

  • What new skills have you developed?

There’s a good chance that your supervisor doesn’t realize or remember all that you’ve done during the year either, so your annual review is a great time to share this information. To best do so, quantify your successes wherever possible. For example, show how much money you’ve earned or saved the organization, how many new clients you’ve acquired, or the increase in social media metrics.

Find Lessons

While these questions may leave you feeling like a rockstar, we all know that there are ups and downs that occur during the course of a year. The point here is to know that you’ve made it through another series of challenges, now with more wisdom and armor to better prepare for the next obstacle. Use your annual review as an opportunity to seek feedback about how you can better prepare and handle such challenges in the future.  

A few questions to ask your supervisor:

  • What should I start doing? Stop doing?

  • What skills do I need to gain to get to the next level of responsibility?

  • What are your (or the team’s) goals for the year and how can I help achieve them?

  • What trainings or professional development opportunities should I take advantage of this year?

By seeking this feedback rather than hiding from it, you’ll show your supervisor that you are serious about improving and moving forward within the organization. Use the constructive criticism in a positive way by writing down your supervisor’s answers and making steps to implement his or her suggestions.

Look Forward

The annual review is a time for both you and your supervisor to create a shared vision of your year ahead. For many, it’s also an opportunity to discuss a promotion and/or a raise. The key here is to take initiative and brainstorm about your personal and professional growth. Demonstrate your drive by coming prepared with clear goals in mind.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Where do you see yourself professionally in the next year? What about in 3 years?

  • What major projects or initiatives would you like to lead or accomplish at work?

  • What skills do you hope to gain over the next year?

When it comes to asking or negotiating for the promotion or salary you want, it’s time to put all of this information together to make your case. If you can show your supervisor that you are taking on more responsibility, achieving your goals, and looking to grow, you can then form a pitch about why you deserve the promotion and/or raise you desire. Have some background knowledge going into this about your company policy on promotions and raises, as some organizations will only offer an annual raise of a certain percentage or during a certain time of year. Use salary calculators and data from professional organizations to know what salary range you should fall into.  


Annual reviews can be daunting, but by following these steps you will be calm, confident, and well prepared for an otherwise unnerving experience. And don’t let your opportunity for productive reflection and constructive criticism end here. Ask for a follow-up meeting with your supervisor to check in on your progress. You’ll be acing every annual review in no time!

This post originally appeared on Career Contessa.