Performance Reviews: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Very few people, if any, would say they love performance reviews–either receiving or giving them. After all, they’re a pain to prepare for, regardless of whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end, right?

For this post, I’m going to focus on receiving a performance review, including tips for making the experience as positive as possible and enhancing your prospects for long-term career success.

5 Reasons People Hate Performance Reviews

  1. Unless you have amassed such a stellar record that practically everyone in the company is in awe of your performance, a performance review can present you with surprises that range from disturbing to terrible. That includes everything from comments about improvements needed (in areas where you thought you were doing okay) to a “guess what, you’re being terminated” shocker.
  2. If your previous performance review had some “needs improvement” comments and you’ve been working hard on those, you might be hopeful that you’ll receive a positive reaction, but that’s not always the case. Maybe you have progressed somewhat but need a little more improvement in the boss’ eyes or maybe there’s still a big gap between his/her expectation and your performance.
  3. Your future salary increases are predicated at least partly on performance, and if the boss isn’t pleased with it, you’ll take a financial hit. That means you could have a lot riding on getting a positive performance review and much less than total control over the outcome.
  4. Your boss might be one of those people who says you’re not meeting expectations but can’t seem to articulate how you’re falling short or what he/she thinks you should do to correct the situation. This leaves you with a “darned if you do/darned if you don’t” situation. Do nothing, and you’re dead in the water at best. Do the wrong thing, and you’re dead in the water–or out the door in a hurry.
  5. You could discover that your boss has no real clue about what you’ve been doing that has produced good results for the company and thinks you’ve been basically warming a chair and doing the minimum to get by for the past 6 months or more.

Develop a Positive Relationship with Your Performance Reviews

If loving performance reviews is out of the question for you, focus your efforts on developing a positive relationship with them. Learning to ask for feedback effectively can help you elevate your performance and make reviews less daunting.

An article by Eric Barker titled “How You Can Turn A Performance Review Into A Great Learning Experience” has some useful suggestions with regard to making your performance review work for you instead of against you. He makes the following comment: “Merely being the kind of person who seeks out feedback is linked to many good things like higher job satisfaction and creativity. And people who specifically seek out negative feedback do better on performance reviews at work.”

Prepare for your next review well ahead of time–in fact, start as soon as your previous review ends! You can take a number of productive steps, including these :

  • Review your boss’ comments on areas where you were weakest/needed improvement and see what ideas you can come up with for making the necessary improvement. Then implement those ideas ASAP.
  • Document your achievements on a regular basis–not every detail, of course, but any key actions and results that will testify to your effectiveness on the job. It will give you a head-start for the next review.
  • Pay attention to what’s going on around you, including the support you get or don’t get from colleagues, the reactions to things you’ve accomplished that you’re pleased about, etc. You might see clues to pitfalls in your path and gain insights into how to avoid them going forward.

In short, moaning and groaning every time performance reviews loom on your horizon is unproductive. Regrouping and tackling them appropriately is the way to go.

Avoid LinkedIn Goofs

As you probably know, LinkedIn keeps changing–sometimes it seems as if that happens every time you turn around. However, that’s no excuse for letting yourself get so far behind the curve that your profile brands you as hopelessly out of touch.

10 Amateurish LinkedIn Blunders

According to a article by personal branding guru William Arruda, there are “10 LinkedIn Blunders That Make You Look Like an Amateur.” The first 5 have to do with content, and the remaining 5 concern your contacts.

1. No photo. Bad photo. Wrong photo.
2. Me-Too headline (using your current job title as your headline).
3. Using LinkedIn as a resume. (Create a summary that’s compelling and rich with relevant keywords.)
4. Only using words. (Embed appropriate images and videos into your profile).
5. Making it hard for people to learn more. (Make sure your Contact Info section is complete.)
6. Using the default “I’d like to add you to…” connection request. (Customize the message at least a bit.)
7. Having 499 or fewer contacts.
8. Sending mass LinkedIn mail that starts with “Hello… ”
9. Not using tags. (Organize your contacts by adding tags.)
10. Leaving fingerprints. (If doing confidential research, change your privacy setting to anonymous and then revert to your previous setting once you’re finished.)

The whole article is worth reading–and it’s not all that long.

What LinkedIn Blunders Are You Committing?

Take a good look at yourself and your involvement with LinkedIn. If you’re honest, you’ll probably find at least one of Arruda’s 10 on your list and maybe more.

As a resume writing/career coaching business owner, I know I’m guilty of #4 (very few graphics and no videos). The same with #7, although I’m getting close at this point. My challenge with increasing the number of contacts is that I prefer to balance quantity with quality–I don’t want to say that I’ll invite or accept invitations from anyone who’s breathing! I also haven’t tackled #9 yet, so that’s on my to-do list.

One goof that Arruda doesn’t mention but that occurred to me is this: If you open a LinkedIn account and settle for the default in everything or basically stop with the “bare bones skeleton” information, you’ve really done next-to-nothing. You certainly haven’t enhanced your online presence. In fact, leaving your profile in that shape is almost worse than not being there at all, because it indicates that you don’t take your professional visibility or online presence seriously.

Another point to mention is that if you build and maintain a robust LinkedIn profile over time–rather than just when you’re actively job searching–your current or future employers are less likely to think that you’re in a job search at any given moment. In other words, if they hire you when you have a strong profile, they shouldn’t suspect that you’re looking again if you keep it that way afterward. That’s much better than feeling on edge every time you update your profile.

Of course, you can and should turn off your activity notification feature when you update, whether or not you’re actively searching, especially if you do tweaks fairly often. That way you don’t annoy your network by blasting them with update notices every few days.

Like any other good career-building tool, your LinkedIn profile should be working for you 24×7, and it’s up to you to make sure that happens.

Career Advancement: How Are You Doing?

Unless you’re one of those rare individuals who’s perfectly happy chugging along in his or her comfortable groove indefinitely, the thought of career advancement has probably crossed your mind a time or two. In fact, I encourage clients to keep career advancement in play as an ongoing situation, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be top-of-mind every moment.

What Career Advancement Means to You

Just as “success” can mean different things to each of us, you might define career advancement somewhat differently than your friends, relatives or colleagues. That’s OK. You’re not them, and you don’t need to view your career the same way they might view theirs.

From my perspective in working with clients, career advancement includes the concept of career growth–that is, not simply treading water in a familiar pond for the rest of your work life. You should be looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge and abilities, even if you stay within your current niche. Otherwise, to carry the pond analogy a bit further, you risk becoming stagnant, which could be highly detrimental to having a healthy career in the long term.

Assuming you know you don’t want to or can’t stay in your current situation for an indefinite number of years, you’ll want to investigate–and keep investigating–potential job opportunities that could enable you to branch out and possibly move up, either within your current organization or in another company. The reality is that sometimes you do have to move out to move up.

Career Advancement through Mentoring

I recently read a post by John Beeson on the HBR Blog Network, “Three Questions to Advance Your Career,” that makes an interesting point about career advancement. (Note: The post is the start of a series he will be doing on mentoring.) However, Beeson’s most important point, in my view, is that some of the standard methods for getting feedback (360-degree feedback, annual performance reviews, etc.) are not very useful for career advancement purposes because they’re focused on how you’re doing in your present job, at the present level.

Beeson believes that answers to the following questions are key to your ability to advance (which he calls upward mobility) and, at the same time, hard to determine in most companies:

  1. “What are the factors that govern who does–and doesn’t–advance to the senior level?”
  2. “How am I currently viewed in terms of those promotional criteria, and what skills and abilities do I need to demonstrate to move ahead?”
  3. “How does one navigate the ‘political thicket’ in the company to get things done at the senior level?”

To help you obtain answers to these questions, Beeson recommends identifying as many mentors and senior people familiar with your work as possible to learn what you need to know–and sharing your plans with your boss (possibly to avoid the impression that you’re going behind his or her back but also to tap into him or her as an advisor in this effort). He also emphasizes that it’s important to let people know you’re taking a long-range career advancement view and aren’t just targeting a near-term promotion.

Your Career Advancement Goal

Take a look at where you are now and consider where you might like to be a few years or so down the road. If there’s a distinct difference between the two situations, you’ll want to focus on your career advancement goal and what you might need to do to achieve it. That way, you won’t wake up a few years from now, still in the same spot, and wonder why nothing has really changed. The key is to start now!

Salary Negotiation Trends

It used to be that we said, “The first person who mentions a number [for salary] loses.” Is that still true today?

Not according to Liz Ryan, whose article on Forbes titled “How to Negotiate A Job Offer” labels that advice as old-school thinking–true maybe as recently as 1995 but not anymore. As Ryan says, “For the most part, job offers today are surprising on the low side, if they’re surprising at all. Once a lowball offer is lobbed at you, you’ll have a tough time getting the hiring manager to budge more than a few thousand dollars. You’re better off communicating your target range early and letting the hiring manager deal with it then. If it’s not a fit, better to know that early, right?”

Why Bring Up Salary–and When?

Ryan suggests strongly that you should introduce the subject of compensation reasonably early in the process. “When somebody calls or writes to invite you for a second interview, that’s the moment to share your target range.”

I can think of one potential drawback that Ryan’s article doesn’t even mention. What happens if the prospective employer brings up the salary question very early in the process–such as in a telephone prescreening interview. It happens…and all too often, based on the stories I hear from clients and others. (More on that in a moment or two.)

One aspect of Ryan’s suggestion that at least merits careful thought is the idea that you want to avoid wasting your time and the company’s time by going through one or more additional interviews for a position that turns out to be too far out of your financial ballpark–the range you have determined you want or need to target.

Assuming you’ve been able to get to the end of the first interview without encountering the subject of salary expectations or salary history (not necessarily one and the same thing), you might want to look carefully at the situation before moving ahead. As indicated in the quote from her article near the beginning of this post, Ryan believes you’re better off knowing where things stand financially before you try to take the next step.

Bring Up Salary or Don’t Bring It Up

I mentioned above that you might not be the one who brings up the subject of salary. This is something I’ve touched on in the past as well. Employers do prescreening phone interviews that determine, to a large extent, whether you get invited for an in-person interview, and it’s not uncommon for them to raise the subject then. This is generally done in one of two ways: “What salary are you looking for in your next position?” OR “What salary are you receiving in your current position (or have you earned in past positions)?”

I agree with Ryan that you should have a realistic range in mind, before you begin interviewing, which of course means you should have done your due diligence on what your market value is likely to be (as well as what your income needs are). However, I tend to believe that salary negotiation trends don’t necessarily mean you have the option of being the first to bring up the subject of salary. I still suspect that many employers will preempt your choice of the timing. If it turns out that you do get to choose, Ryan’s warning about not going too deeply into the interview process before you discuss salary might be a point well taken.