Your first performance review is a great time to evaluate how you feel about your job, whether your performance is up to par (and being noticed), and what changes you or your employer make to best optimize your employment. When these reviews happen vary dramatically by industry and type of job, so be sure to ask about when and how often performance reviews occur when you first start.
You can engage your manager on new projects, questions you’ve had but haven’t found the time to ask, whether they’re happy with what you’ve been doing, and whether you’re happy with them. You should also try to recap your accomplishments and talk about what you want to learn next.
As you’re preparing to talk about your accomplishments in your last work period, remember that performance reviews are an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself as a thoughtful, growing, and productive individual. Here are eight questions you should ask your manager to be engaged in the review process and set ambitious goals for the months until your next review.
I’m looking to diversify my skillset. What should I learn next?
A performance review isn’t just about getting a stellar grade. It’s also an opportunity to learn how you can grow professionally and try new things. You might get to join a more interesting project, diversifying your exposure, or get to take on a new role or new responsibilities that will prove valuable for your resume and career.
Ask your manager and talk about how expanding your skills into a new field will enable a higher quality of work. Then, take their advice and act on it by using your company’s employee development program, if they have one, taking relevant online courses, or learning on-the-job with a new project. You’ll show your ambition as an always-learning professional.
I feel like I haven’t been able to take advantage of my skillset. What can we change?
Whether it’s new skills you invested in prior to your current job or the core skillset you carry with you through your career, you might find yourself being unable to take advantage of what you do best when an employer is trying to figure out how you fit into their organization.
If, for example, you’re a sales person and wind up doing more marketing, no one is going to help you fix that unintended mismatch unless you speak up. People are generally busy -- including your managers -- so don’t be afraid to let someone know you aren’t happy or remind them about a responsibility or opportunity you thought you’d have but haven’t yet received.
What are our most important goals for the next three to six months?
Understanding what will drive your manager, your team, and you for the next few months will enable you to better work together and better understand success. This is a great way to understand the important metrics that your direct manager and others in the company will be looking to you to improve. Take the initiative to learn these goals and drive toward them -- it’ll dramatically improve your ability not only to contribute but to be recognized.
Should we have more informal check-ins between formal reviews?
For this question, context is highly important. During your performance review, listen for signals from your manager that they simply have little to no idea what you are doing on a day to day basis. If those signals are present, there’s a danger that even if you’re doing a stellar job, their perception of what you do may reflect negatively. Often, a great way to remedy this is to have more informal meetings to give your manager progress reports. It’s important to ask this question and see if they actually want more regular updates - sometimes, managers want you to do your own thing without the need for micromanagement. This one depends!
Are there things we should consider revamping about how we work?
It doesn’t matter if it’s how emails are sent, who closes the door at the end of the night, who handles sales phone calls, or a more complex issue about team cooperation or roles -- sometimes, things deserve a deeper investigation and perhaps a revamp. However, actual changes are hard to come by, because most people’s jobs are to do their job. Doing it more efficiently or effectively would require time outside hours spent doing it. Performance reviews, however, allow you to make sure other people are thinking about the same problems and perhaps cooperatively driving toward a solution.
What is the biggest problem you’ve faced over the last few months?
Some managers are great about communicating their needs and asking for help. Others keep their struggles private out of a misguided sense that they are able to handle any problem themselves. Take the initiative to ask your manager how their last few months have been and what they’ve struggled with. You’ll find that they might be very willing to talk about it when prompted, and be prepared to provide suggestions, brainstorm solutions, and offer your help. It’s an opportunity to make your manager’s life easier and make your team more efficient.
Who else should I be working with?
People forget about everyone else working around them once they’re settled into a work routine. You might have joined the company because you enjoyed interviewing with and meeting a really great executive and then never see them again other than for a hallway hello. It doesn’t have to be that way! A performance review is a great way to ask for or suggest projects or mentorship that lets you connect with others in the company you can learn from.
Is now an appropriate time (or when is) to discuss compensation changes?
Performance reviews are the perfect place to have or at least start conversations about promotions, raises, benefits, and other compensation-related items. You’re talking about your contributions, what you’ve been up to at the organization, and how you plan to move forward and evolve. That’s the perfect setting to get the chat going about what you need to achieve and in what timespan to get to the next level on the organizational flowchart. If the timeline and the objectives seem unclear or you aren’t getting a straight answer, you’ll know it’s time to start looking for a job.
Performance reviews will be a mainstay in your professional life. Your first will likely be the most stressful as you probably don’t know what to expect. Remember this: it’s a conversation about your future wrapped in the context of your past. Be future-focused, use evidence when necessary to advance your position, and ask questions. Asking the right questions will enable you to go above and beyond in your career and in your review.