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Recently, everyone in my company has been required to do their annual self-appraisals for the upcoming performance reviews. And as I struggled to write my own, this got me to wondering...

How can an employee possibly complete this task well? It seems like a horrible Catch-22. I think the natural inclination is to say what a great, valuable employee you've been. But if you actually do this, here are a couple things which I imagine are the thought-responses from the boss's perspective:

  • "Man, this guy is pretentious."
  • "Oh, look, another employee saying how great he is and trying to get a raise this year."

The alternative to this seems to be something along the lines of "be humble." But the last thing an employee actually wants to put in the self-appraisal is "Well, I've done okay this year, but, you know, I've made some mistakes, too, so..." Of course you don't want to make yourself look bad or hurt your chances of a raise/promotion/good standing with the higher-ups.

So in short, if the employee says he's great, he comes off as arrogant and pretentious, while if he says he's "okay" or "average" in an attempt at humility, he comes off as... well... average. So how can an employee possibly go through this process "correctly"?

(Addendum: All this assumes the employee actually is a good employee. If he's a bad employee, then this is an entirely different discussion.)

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Literally, we all go to a website, where the's a text box with a 3500 character limit. The prompt is "How would you evaluate your performance over the last year?" There's no context, it's just... free-form essay. Haha –  asteri Feb 22 '13 at 16:30
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And remember, the bad employees will rate themselves better than you rate yourself, because they don't even recognize their incompetance. So you won't look at good as them. –  thursdaysgeek Feb 22 '13 at 17:46
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There's even a study on the subject of @thursdaysgeek's comment –  kojiro Feb 22 '13 at 18:55
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If you work in sales or management, being arrogant is part of the rules of the game... Seriously, remember that chances are the manager is as bored and clueless on what criteria to apply to your self-appraisal as you are, if it's been shoved on him from above. The truth is this is just another management fad... –  Deer Hunter Feb 22 '13 at 19:06
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This is like the famous job interview question, "Do you have any weaknesses?" (The only acceptable response is, "Kryptonite".) –  David Schwartz Feb 22 '13 at 22:29

11 Answers 11

up vote 64 down vote accepted

Use fact. Objectively discussed what you've accomplished, and what you've done. "I'm really super valuable and an excellent employee!" is subjective and not very useful. "I designed ProductABC" or "I performed an audit of ProgramXYZ" is more concrete; it shows what you have done, which is why you are valuable (or at least why you were valuable this past year). If you can clearly explain the value to your employer of these actions, even bettter!

If you had goals for the year, list them. For each goal, indicate whether you met it, and explain how (or why you didn't).

Set goals for the next year based on your performance this year (This may be a bit out of scope for such a review, but what you describe sounds open-ended enough for this to have a positive effect). Make sure these are measurable, so that you (or your boss) can objectively determine next year whether you've met them.

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+1 for just laying out the facts! –  ryan Feb 22 '13 at 19:51
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@Jim has the right idea. The only thing I'd add is: comments from others can be included, even if objective, since what they said is fact. So, if someone (especially a boss) told you you did a great job, just say "I received positive feedback from Jim on my attention to detail on the ProgramXYZ project. In his feedback, he specifically congratulated me for my ability to manage conflicting priorities, my time management, and my ability to quickly inform others who were working on this project of changes that affected them." –  Aaron Brager Feb 23 '13 at 3:30

There's nothing wrong with highlighting what you did well and how it helped the company.

You don't need to say "I'm amazing" but emphasising the projects that went well while minimising the ones that didn't will get the reader thinking - yeah, that was a good job.

For this, you don't even need to be the key to the project being seen in a positive light (but obviously that helps), just being associated with a successful project is helpful.

Finally, mention some things that you learned lesssons from and how (ideally) you've already incorporated changes to improve / stop the same issues happening again.

Don't try to be average, be good and be willing to talk about what you do well but don't feel the need to outright say you're good - This made me think of a Margaret Thatcher quote (ex UK Prime Minister):

Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.

Being amazing is much the same.

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+1 for the very true Power quote –  tim.baker Feb 23 '13 at 18:17

It's all in how you phrase it. Try to be as objective as possible. You might even want to think of it as a short-term resume that only covers the past year.

Do not say:

Well, I've done okay this year, but, you know, I've made some mistakes, too, so..

Say:

I have achieved key goals over this past year. I have identified areas for personal growth and improvement and plan to work on them in the coming year.

Do not say:

I'm awesome!

Say:

I feel that my contributions on the following tasks/projects/assignments/etc... show that I am I high-performing member of the team.

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+1 for "think of it as a short-term resume" –  yms Feb 22 '13 at 19:36
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Your revised version still does not seem to be a good self-appraisal, while it's written in a more formal and proper language, it tells nothing much about why I should keep you. Granted, it's impossible to sum up a whole year's worth of work to just one or two sentences. –  Lie Ryan Feb 25 '13 at 8:31

Since you are going to asked this question every year at pretty much most companies, get in the habit of keeping notes for it during the year. Then write out the facts. I did XYZ and DEF which helped customer JKL with RST. Or I fixed 112 bugs this year.

If you can quantify it is even better, so you can add something like which resulted in a $2,000,000 cost saving for the company or generated $10,000,00 million in sales.

Because I have a lot of client contact and contact with our sales team people, I also keep track of any specific attaboys I get. Then I will put something like received 12 letters of commendation for my work on... I also mention my awards that year.

If I get something through QA with no issues, I mention that. If I met all my deadlines I mention that.

By keeping notes through the year it is easy to quantify and let my record speak for itself without having to do more than present facts.

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I fixed 112 bugs this year Great, let's put in the number of lines of code you changed as well. –  Lie Ryan Feb 25 '13 at 8:34

Here's the key, and the elephant in the room that always gets dodged, which is why you never get good guidance on how to do an evaluation: your workplace evaluation is evidence that your manager uses to adjust your compensation and career path. Understanding his or her reasons for having your evaluation is critical to understanding the right approach. Let's break down the italicized sentence:

  1. Evidence - you need to use concrete, clear examples of what you did well, no-bs examples and a plan for improvement where you didn't do well (if your self-assessment, like most, include areas for improvement). Make it factual, like "I did this thing", rather than amorphous and bloated, like "Utilized synergy in making my co-workers actualize their skills to blah blah blah..."

  2. Your manager uses - you want to empower your manager to defend their decisions about giving you a raise - or, sadly, firing you if that's what needs to happen. They aren't really looking for your personality here (your interactions the rest of the year dictate how they feel about you, not this paperwork) but whether they can use your input to do their job. Just like cold, hard numbers are what a good economist uses to do their job, despite any hunches they may have. This is a hard-science document. Make your manager's job of collecting evidence easy.

  3. To adjust your compensation and career path - you may want that raise. Your manager may want you to have that raise. Unless you can provide the data that says you should get that raise, though, it's harder for them to put you on that path. At some point they have to justify their choice about why the company should spend more on you - that's their job. Have a clear goal about where you want to go, and give your manager the tools to put you there.

After all of this, if you come across as arrogant, so what? Your personality traits are not the point of the self-evaluation - at least, not a part that you can influence much by your self-evaluation.

If your statements are based on fact, and concisely stated, you shouldn't care as much about how you come across. If you actually are arrogant, or use arrogant inflations of nonexistent successes, then your manager has evidence that you have no justification for your job. If, on the other hand, you simply state what you can prove to be true, then your boss has evidence that you are a star employee that adds value to the company. Plus, quite to the contrary of being turned off, they'll like you more for making their job easier :)

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This process begins way before you start writing your year-end evaluation. The words you write should be a mere formality in terms of your manager evaluating your performance.

  1. Make goals you discuss with your manager for the year (or until the evaluation time period). Make these meaningful. Smart if you like. "I will make more money" is bad. "I will implement the following changes to increase sales by 10% by Jan 1, 1970" is good.
  2. Actually have goals (seriously this is important).
  3. Consistently accomplish and deliver on your goals.
  4. Consistently keep your manager informed as to progress via quick updates. "Hey boss, just wanted to let you know, accomplished XXXX and am working towards YYYY"
  5. Perform at a high level consistently and keep track of it. Note for most people this means being better at communication but doing the same work (part of performing is communication skills, whether you're an engineer or a HR specialist)
  6. Optional: achieve more than your goals
  7. When it comes time to the "how awesome am I time," you now can objectively state:
    • Here were the goals I was attempting to meet last year
    • Here's the actions I took to meet (or exceed them)
    • Here's the work I did in addition to my goals
  8. Optional: include "here were difficulties I encountered, but here were the steps I took to overcome them and meet my goals"

Your manager should know everything in #7 (and 6, really) already because of #4 and so reading this should be a reminder - NOT a "oh, didn't realize Jeff was doing that!" type situation.

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You can learn a lot from what people do in these exercises. Not just that you say you're great, but what do you consider great?

  • I got my timesheets completed on time for 52 consecutive weeks
  • I fixed all bugs assigned to me on the day they were assigned
  • I released three major versions of our flagship product and none of the releases had to be rolled back
  • I helped to train the summer students
  • I rewrote our source control policy and guidance
  • I rewrote our coding guidelines
  • I learned Ruby
  • I went on two courses and got a certificate

I can easily see two employees who each did all of this, but one chose to highlight say 4 of these bullets and one the other four. They would end up with different reviews. Try to understand what the people reading your report think is important. Timesheets? Process? Learning? Producing? Not screwing up? Helping others? Being visible? Unless you know what they value, you can't write a good review. But once you do, you're all set!

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It's only arrogant if it's not true. There are two reasons for a self-appraisal. One is that it allows the employee to highlight their strengths to a manager who may not have had the opportunity to personally witness those strengths in action. What does your manager not know about you that you would like him/her to know? The second is that a good employee will have an accurate assessment of themselves. If an employee claims to be amazing but the manager knows of concerning weaknesses, then the manager can assume that the employee is not working on correcting those weaknesses. Being able to make an honest assessment of one's self is vital to the self improvement necessary for career development.

Completing a self-assessment in a balanced way does not mean you have to be average in every category. It just means that you shouldn't say you excel in every way (unless you do, in which case, own it and ask for promotion).

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The point of the exercise is your career development. Your manager/employer already knows what they expect from you and how valuable you are to the team. They might even know it better than you do.

That being said, self-appraisals sound a lot like the 'What's your biggest weakness' question.

Actively admitting yourself to being inferior in anything runs the risk of the manager saying "Oh yeah, I guess XYZ is bad at that" even though they may not have thought that before - not a good idea.

You should have a positive review of yourself but find some things that you can improve on and mention those to dissipate the pretenciousness. All employers would like to see their employees grow and improve, and that is probably what they are trying to get at anyway.

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I'll briefly repeat main points I agree with from other answers: refer to the evidence; focus on the things that are important to the person reading the appraisal; and it's not arrogant to say good things about yourself when you've been instructed to do so by your boss.

I will add that part of a review is to assess whether you have a realistic view of yourself, and if not to correct it.

If you've made mistakes, your boss knows about them, and you don't mention them, then you might not come across as arrogant so much as deluded or dishonest. Neither one is a desirable characteristic.

You could present them as a "trial by adversity" and go into how you grew as a person from each one and therefore deserve a massive payrise. Or you could just say, "This is something I would like to focus on in my goals for the next review period". It really depends to what extent this process is a nonsense-spewing exercise and to what extent it's a genuine assessment. The better the employer the more it's the latter but, you know, some people work for awful employers and I guess they need to game their appraisal.

Speaking of goals for the next appraisal period, your self-appraisal should refer back to your goals for the last period. HR likes it when you take that stuff seriously. It's a good exercise to compare your problems now with your problems them.

Also, even if it's a genuine appraisal in some places the main point of the review process is for the manager to formalize the evidence to give payrises and promotions. In other places the main point of the review process is for the manager to document how they are working with each employee to improve that employee, and payrises and promotions aren't done directly on the output of reviews. It's worth knowing which one you're doing but it might be tactless to ask.

If your payrise notification is given to you at your review meeting then that's the proof that the review doesn't determine the payrise! Ofc the self-appraisal you do ahead of that still might contribute.

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Absolutely ask your manager for the level of detail they want. They might want no detail at all.

At our organization self appraisals were required, but were less important than literally anything else we were doing, so our primary requirement from our manager was to spend less than 30 minutes on them.

Our secondary requirement was to mention some high-level company initiatives and explain how a few things we did were helping to achieve those objectives in the past year. No real value-add, no in-depth analysis, just an acknowledgement that you're doing your part.

If your manager likes and encourages self-reflection, you can use this format for your self appraisal (which you may have seen used in Sprint Retrospectives). It's concise, and it can help you and your manager talk about any problems in the workplace.

Things That Went Well:
1.
2.
3.
...

Things That Didn't Go Well:
1.
2.
3.
...

(Optionally) Things I'll Try To Do Next Time:
1.
2.
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protected by jmort253 Feb 23 '13 at 21:04

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