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I am asked to do a self evaluation annually at my current employer. This is similar to one that would be given by management, where there is a list and description of competencies, and I have to give myself a score and an explanation for each item. Is it bad to be overconfident and give myself 5 out of 5 for each item? I don't want to hurt myself come raise time by being to hard on myself in my own evaluation.

Edit: This is not my first review. The last couple years there were only a few "competencies" that were clearly defined. This year they redid the process adding a bunch of generic ones. The original ones still have the higher weight as far as my overall "score", but I just was looking for pointers on how I should handle the rest.

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What does 5 out of 5 indicate on this evaluation? Most of the 1-5 evaluation systems I have seen are designed to make high scores basically impossible. For example, a 5 might read "Is recognized as as an exemplar and educator both within and without the company for the employee's ability to add clear value to the company's bottom line and mission statement for this trait" where the trait might be, say, punctuality. –  psr Jul 11 '12 at 16:51
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What's expected is very culture dependent. I'm not sure a general answer is possible. At the far end of @jumpdart's prior employer in the US Military anything less than hyperbolic praise will damage the evaluatee's career prospects. –  Dan Neely Jul 11 '12 at 17:26

6 Answers 6

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Unfortunately, a lot of this process is outside of the control of your manager. The "1-5" scoring is a well-intentioned but ridiculous attempt at quantifying hard-to-measure traits that do not fit on any kind of simple scale. This stuff is pushed by HR departments in big companies and often snowballs into a ton of extra work for managers and their reports who are busy actually making revenue for the company.

The bottom line is that there is "x" amount of money available for bonuses and that somehow has to be partitioned "fairly" into individual bonuses. It is the everyday job of the manager to recognize who the key players are and who are the people that aren't pulling their weight. But when HR gets involved it turns into a huge unnecessary and stressful paper-shuffle where good employees then feel that they have to justify their existence AGAIN on an annual basis even when they've been proving themselves on a daily basis by doing their jobs well.

The best way to survive these things is to just make it easy for your manager by jumping through the hoops:

  • Score yourself with a combination of numbers even if you're really "all 5".
  • Keep track of your major accomplishments throughout the year. I keep documentation (evidence) in a dropbox folder so that my claims can be backed up when that time of year comes around.
  • Don't get hung up on the scores you get, they might not be under your boss' control anyway. Instead, use the 1-on-1 meeting as an opportunity to have an authentic discussion with your boss reviewing the past and coming up with pragmatic ideas for future improvement.
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One of the important things to realize here is these are limiting answers. Your manager is not likely to grade you higher than you grade yourself. For this reason I try to step back and answer them from the perspective I would want my manager to view them.

Any time I choose a score above meets expectations I try to write up a paragraph or two about why I deserve that score. Make sure to use objective terms and data points to back it up when ever possible. Data is crucial for any evaluation that involved budgets, time, or savings. Provide that write up to your manager with plenty of time for their review.

Under no circumstances should you ever choose an option below meets expectations, acceptable, or something comparable. If you think there is a good chance that your manager might rate you below this then you should write up a support for your meets expectations as you did your exceeds ratings.

When it comes time for your evaluation bring a copy of your self assessment with you. Reread your self assessment prior to your review so that you are familiar with it. Since this is your first review it may be difficult to gauge what your manager will focus on. Take notes and ask lots of questions where your rating differs from your managers. Try to get your manager to commit to what they want to see from you to score higher.

There may be some questions where you can not score a 5. For instance if you show up every day on time or early, work your full day, leave on time or late every day, and come in during off hours as needed you met attendance expectations. Do not tilt at this windmill it is intended to keep you from getting a perfect score, accept it and move on.

Many times these evaluations are tied to the percentage of raise you get. You may find your manager scored you 1 point short of your next increase. This is why it is important to get them to define what they are looking for in a 5. It is also why it is important for you to be able to talk to your scores and back them up.

In answer to your question of is it acceptable to give my self a 5 out of 5 on every category, so long as you can back it up with data then yes.

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I have often had a manager score me higher tha I score myself. But I tend to be conservative in my scoring. Totally agree about the backing up a five rating with data. The manager has to fight with other managers to give that rating (there are only so many the company will give), he needs ammunition. –  HLGEM Jul 11 '12 at 14:44

That would depend on your boss and your actual performance. You look like a clueless idiot if you rate yourself as all 5s and your boss thinks you are all 2 and 3's. On the other hand, I suspect that the people who rate all 5s tend to overall get higher ratings if they genuinely are in the 4-5 range anyway. I can't prove that, but....

Personally, my take is I rate myself where I really think I fall. The spots where what you think and what your boss thinks are different are critical to improving your performance.

What I think is ultimately more important than the numeric rating is the discussions. This is your chance to remind your boss of the things you have accomplished. The more numbers you can put in here the better (Managers love numbers). One of the things I do is keep track of all the "Attaboy" emails I get telling me what a wonderful job I did on the xyz project. I had 20 of them last year and you can bet that went into my performance appraisal. I note any awards I received through the year (we have a very active employee awards program here). I note the projects that I completed on time and on budget. I note especially anything related to client satisfaction (we moved one of the main clients I deal with from the lowest satisfaction rating to the highest one). I note how my performance aligns with the published company values. I note anything I did that was above and beyond my job description.

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From my perspective as a manager, if an employee does a self-evaluation and close to what I see (either above or below), then I see it as a slight disagreement about their performance and find it to be a place where we can discuss their work and they can fill me in on what they're doing so well that I'm not seeing, or I can fill them in on what I think they're doing well that they don't.

On the other hand, if they rate themselves at "5" in an area I think they're average or worse, then I actually see that as a pretty big issue. We're now in a position where somebody is either just meeting expectations, or not meeting them at all, but thinks they're outstanding. Of all the flaws for an employee to have, I think one of the biggest is a lack of honest awareness of where they need improvement.

In summary: be humble. And if your boss uses your humble responses as a way to screw you out of a raise or bonus, then he's a dick and you need to find a new job.

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It is very important to understand the culture of the place you work.

  • Some places are "If you don't stick up for yourself, nobody will" and look for any reason to downgrade folks as they fit to a forced curve. ("10% Excellent employees, 20% Very Good, 50% Good, 20% Weak, 10% Don't Let The Door Hit You on the Way Out") In these places, just toot your own horn.

  • Some places see a strong self-assessment as a sign of maturity, and personal growth. Managers there look at an inability to be self-critical as a sign of an unhealthy ego, and an inability to work with others and grow as a leader.

Job 1 is figuring out which of these places you work at. If you are in the first batch, find the keywords they're looking for and start to brag. If you're in the second kind of place, and have a good mentor, be blatantly self-critical. You will get good feedback and grow as a result.

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1 - Talk to your boss about the process of raises.

It's fair to ask to what extent the review influences this. In my experience, the review process is a part of the raise determination system but not the only factor. In most cases, the bosses signing off on self-assessments are the closest bosses to the employees, while the final decision maker on raises is the person who controls the overall budget for a large group of people. So there's always some sort of process between these two forms of management, because raises are as much about throwing the money in the highest value areas for the business as much as for rewarding each employee. To say nothing about the fact that each manager may have their own take on the 1-5 ratings values, so the bigger bosses have to find some way of evening the playing field across teams.

It's usually a messy process and you manager is not likely to want to discuss in detail (it's like making sausage... no one who eats sausage really wants to know how its made). But you should be able to focus the discussion about you and how much this assessment factors in.

2 - Seek generalized feedback on your work

Not just from your boss. And probably not by asking the questions that are giving you trouble -- for example if the assessment says "rate your ability to do foo", you probably don't want to ask a bunch of people in your office "how do you think I do at foo?"... but you might target cases where "foo work" is involved and check in with other folks who have had key responsibilities in these areas and check in with them on how they think these projects and your participation as been in them.

3 - Prepare for the signoff process

Every self-assessment I've ever seen has resulted in a conversation between manager and employee prior to submission. I'm assuming yours is the same.

There have been times when I was certain that it was time for me to get a raise or a promotion... at these times, I've used self-assessments to begin the conversation. When I really think I'm out performing others at my rank, I rate myself noticeably high, and prepare to take the flak from management about whether my high ratings were too high.

It's led to some really useful conversations - about what it would take for promotion or why I wasn't as high as I thought I was. Since I knew I had erred on the side of overconfident, I really didn't mind getting corrected, as long as the correction came with helpful feedback.

Summary

It's my personal belief about most assessments that they are there to force employees and managers to really consider work quality and areas of improvement. The result is less important than the effort. Raises & promotions are 1 part the result of good work, but also 1 part the impact of the surrounding enviroment... so they aren't totally under anyone's control.

But assessment and improvement is something you and a manager can work on regardless.

I know some of this stuff is probably old hat if you've been doing it for years already... but when it somes to new questions on an old form, I'd treat them the same way and try to figure out why the company added these questions. Is there some reason they want people to spend time thinking about this stuff? What does it mean for you and why should you care about it? If you can't answer those questions, it's probably time to ask around.

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