It is almost time for annual performance reviews at many companies. I can already feel the anxiety building as we prepare to receive some “constructive feedback” about our job performance and decisions about promotions and raises. Annual performance reviews are especially stressful for many women. Whether this is due to cultural norms of female modesty or negative perceptions about women who speak their mind, it is well documented that women are more reluctant than men to promote themselves. Women can miss out on important career opportunities if they do not communicate their achievements effectively; in other words, being too humble can cost you.
There are ways women can “lean in” without pushing themselves too hard. Think of the annual performance review as your moment for one-on-one time with your manager. Getting the most out of the meeting starts with preparation. That includes mental preparation. Let go of the stigmas about strong women who tout their accomplishments or your unfounded fear of reprisal for “showing off.” The reality is that bragging an important way, if not a required way, to advance your career. Here’s another truth: your male coworkers are doing it and you should, too.
Get started by documenting your accomplishments. Writing a memo or talking points for the meeting can help you keep the discussion focused and on track. Spend some time thinking about everything you accomplished during the past year, no matter how large or small, and write it all down. I keep a running memo like this all year long so that I won’t forget about any important projects by year end. Make sure your talking points follow a logical flow: begin with your most important accomplishments and then explain how you helped solve business problems and how your achievements helped the company and you grow. If you are planning to ask for something, like a promotion, raise, new title, just ask for it. Articulate the difference you made to your employer this year and do it confidently. You may only have a few minutes with your manager during the performance review, so identify the two or three projects that impacted your company the most or where you played a lead role and talk about those during the meeting. Elaborate on the rest of them in the memo, which you can leave with your manager after the meeting ends.
Highlight your skill set. It can be hard for women to find the right words to describe their achievements. One way to overcome that challenge is to speak about your accomplishments in terms of skills you acquired or strengthened. If you created and launched a new product or service for your company, highlight your creativity, your ability to recognize customer needs, and your project management skills. Did you write any presentations? Highlight your writing or communication skills. Even smaller accomplishments qualify. If you helped plan meetings or charity events for your company, highlight your organizational and time management skills. You may also feel more comfortable using the word “we” instead of “I” but you should include both so that you position yourself as an accomplished employee and a team player. For example, you can say “The marketing plan I created was embraced by the team and helped us develop dozens of new sales leads.” If you’re still feeling uneasy, practice your presentation with friends or family before your review. A fresh set of eyes or ears can offer a new perspective and build your self-confidence.
Ask for an internal reference. You can also ask a co-worker, another manager, or trusted advisor to the company to write a recommendation about you or about a specific project you handled, just like you might do when preparing for a job interview. Some women find it easier to write about the accomplishments of other women than to write about themselves. You can leave that written statement with your manager after the performance review ends, too.
Find the right words and style that make you comfortable. Humor is also a great way to share your most important accomplishments without coming across as arrogant. If you’re not comfortable trying to be funny, be brief and grateful. A little gratitude and brevity can go a long way. You can say something like, “I am fortunate to have led a talented sales team this year. Our revenue grew 30% after my team took over the new product line.” Always begin and end your performance review on a high note, your manager will remember those sound bites.
Prepare to receive feedback – – it’s all good! If boasting about accomplishments is difficult, receiving constructive feedback can be even harder. I don’t know anyone who was born with the gift of graciously accepting criticism. In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to be defensive or angry. Try to think of feedback as a golden ticket to meet your manager’s expectations and improve your performance. Listen carefully, make eye contact, and allow your manager to share complete feedback without interruption. Instead of questioning (or, worse, retaliating), realize that your manager may be nervous giving the criticism. Repeat it back to make sure you understand the comments and perspective. You should strive for clarity during the meeting. Ask for detailed examples, whether the issue is isolated, and end the feedback portion of the review by offering specific solutions to address the feedback so that the meeting takes on a more productive tone. If larger issues come up, get an agreement on next steps and ask for a follow up performance review to be sure you’re meeting expectations along the way during the year.
Telling your manager that you are good at what you do is just as important as being good at what you do. Your boss may have no appreciation for (and, let’s face it, may have forgotten) the impact of your work or how much you have on your plate. Minimizing your accomplishments or failing to mention them altogether will only hurt you. Bragging isn’t a dirty word and there is a difference between talking about all of the great things you did and rubbing them in someone else’s face. Don’t hold yourself back.