6 Key Appraisal Questions and How to Prepare for Them
Just as the four seasons of fall, winter, spring and summer come and go each year without fail, so too does appraisal season—that time of year when employees the world over are sitting down with managers for an annual performance review, whether they like it or not.
Admittedly, the potential benefits of these meetings are the subject of heated debate. On the one hand, you know performance appraisals are a contentious issue when someone publishes a book titled “Abolishing Performance Appraisals.” On the other hand, plenty of experts still argue for the benefits of performance appraisals—when done right. And statistics show effective performance appraisals can lead to improved productivity and lower turnover.
Still, many employees (and employers) anticipate the performance appraisal with dread, even though it is meant to be a time of dialogue between an employer and an employee, not a time of confrontation or criticism. It’s a chance for the employee to highlight their achievements during the past year and for the employer to give honest feedback to help that employee improve. Not every manager is capable of giving constructive feedback or motivating employees during a review, but every employee has it within his or her power to prepare ahead of time in order to make the most of this unavoidable process.
To make the best use of this annual event, you should go into your performance review ready to answer questions as well as highlight your accomplishments. This means studying probable questions ahead of time, as well as considering ways to position yourself as an employee who is striving to constantly learn and grow for the sake of the organization, and in order to be ready to take on additional responsibilities or even a new role or a promotion. To that end, study the possible questions below and work on your answers well ahead of time, so your performance appraisal can be an experience that helps you move forward, not feel annoyed.
6 Key Appraisal Questions to Prepare For
It’s impossible to know the exact questions you’ll be asked during your performance appraisal because the questions will depend on the company, your particular job, the industry, whether it’s a small business or a large one, the size of the IT department, how long you’ve been with the organization and so on. That shouldn’t prevent you from preparing ahead of time, however, because you can at least review a list of general appraisal questions. Start with this list of six critical performance appraisal questions to get you thinking about the specific questions you might get asked—and how you’ll answer them.
Q: How did you do on the goals set for you during your last performance appraisal?
You might hope that your manager has been paying attention to your efforts throughout the previous year, but that probably hasn’t been the case. When 53 percent of employers admit they don’t track improved productivity, the onus is on you as the employee to document your achievements and progress. As you prepare for your performance appraisal, think back to the goals that were set, those you accomplished and your progress on those you didn’t. Be ready to explain if there are goals you didn’t accomplish but you made good progress on. Also consider progress made on goals that were set for your team. For those goals that were not reached, were they possibly unrealistic? If so, why?
Q: What was your biggest achievement this year?
A: Your performance appraisal is your opportunity to draw attention to your track record over the past year, both regarding your goals and regarding other achievements. Don’t assume your manager will know (or remember) your accomplishments. Instead, be ready to point them out.
Prior to your performance appraisal, pull together any documentation you might need to show your recent achievements. Include accomplishments related to your specific role within the company, but also any that happened outside of work. Maybe you joined the board of an industry organization, for example, or contributed a guest post to a blog. Perhaps you earned an online certification during the previous year that makes you more knowledgeable at your current job, or positions you to do more.
Note: If you don’t already do so, get into the habit of documenting your accomplishments large and small throughout the year. You’ll find it’s much easier to be ready for your next performance appraisal when you don’t have to dig through old files or emails to try and remember just what you did accomplish during the previous 12 months!
Q: What are your short- and long-term goals with the company, and for your career?
Beyond the specific goals you and your manager will lay out for the year ahead, you might also be asked about your own goals. If so, be ready to answer questions like these in a way that demonstrates your desire to learn and grow, both in your career and also in the company.
Consider new skills you want to learn and why. Do your homework and have a list of technologies or content you want to master through online certifications during the year ahead. Discuss your plans with your manager, emphasizing that you’re pursuing this additional education in part so you can take on new roles and responsibilities at work, add more value to the organization, and to help you achieve short- and long-term goals.
As part of your performance appraisal preparations, make a list your short- and long-term goals, and make use of that time to check in on your career progress while doing so. Include both professional and personal goals, as well as timelines for achieving them.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your work this past year and why?
A question like this can be a nice segue into discussing any courses you’d like to take to benefit your career. Perhaps you were challenged by changing dynamics within the IT department that shifted job roles around and now you’re at a disadvantage because you don’t know enough about a certain coding language or best practice—meaning now is the time to learn it. Maybe you were challenged by the lack of teamwork and communication issues—meaning a team-building program might be in order.
Q: Which parts of your job do you most / least enjoy?
When you’re answering a question like this, position yourself in the best possible light. Saying you most enjoy your coffee breaks will fail to impress your manager, while saying you most enjoy the challenge of learning new skills and taking on new duties will make your manager’s day. Conversely, if you have concerns about your role or the organization in light of recent or impending changes, or you’re struggling to get along with a co-worker, be prepared to discuss these types of difficult topics in an objective way, possibly by writing down questions or talking points ahead of time.
Q: In what ways might you contribute more to the company?
If you would like to take on more responsibilities, play a lead role on a team, or get a promotion, use a question like this to segue into demonstrating your enthusiasm for doing more. Do your research ahead of time to determine what the needs might be and how they dovetail with your career goals. Is there an opportunity to learn Machine Learning in advance of changes in your organization? Is your company changing over to cloud computing and someone needs to master Microsoft Azure? Is cyber security a concern and no one has the skillset to tackle the issue head on? Don’t wait for your manager to assume you want to take on or do more. Be open about your willingness to do so, and point out that you can master the skills needed and save the organization the time and money required to hire someone for that new role.
Even if the questions above are not the exact same questions you’ll be asked, they hit on major issues your manager will probably want to address during your performance appraisal. You will be much better prepared for the specific questions that come up if you review and prepare for the general questions above, and honestly evaluate your own performance prior to the meeting.
How Certifications Keep You Current
If you’re doing a self-evaluation and find you’re falling short of either your expectations of yourself or those set for you, consider pursuing a certification either prior to the review or after. Online certifications are an effective way to demonstrate to your employer that you’re staying up-to-date with your industry and the inevitable changes to technologies and best practices. It’s also a way to show your willingness to learn new technologies, increase your skill set, and contribute more to the company.
If you didn’t earn any online certifications during the previous year, by all means, make a list of certifications you plan to earn in the year ahead and share that list with your manager during your performance appraisal. Doing so will show him or her that you are staying current with the industry as well as investing in your career. It will also help him or her to keep you top of mind when opportunities for promotions arise, or to suggest specific certifications that might give your career a boost. In addition, it might spark a conversation about upcoming changes you could prepare for, such as technology initiatives that will require a new skillset—or new employee.
Your own opinions on the performance appraisal process might be positive or negative, but the review is inevitable, just as the seasons come and go each year and technology continues its unavoidable evolution. An online certification can help you keep up with technology changes and ensure you’re ready for the appraisal season, by equipping you with new skill sets to keep you current and by demonstrating to your manager that you strive to learn and grow, both in your career and within your organization.
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