Make the most out of your annual appraisal

Many people dread having an appraisal, but rather than seeing it as an annual kick up the pants, you should turn it to your...

Editor's note: You can find an updated 2014 version of this article here.

Many people dread having an appraisal, but rather than seeing it as an annual kick up the pants, you should turn it to your advantage, writes Nathalie Towner.

"Lots of people feel nervous when it comes to appraisals," says Imogen Daniels, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "People feel they are being judged and marked on performance, but it is easy to turn it around and make it an opportunity to discuss what is working and what isn't."

Appraisals offer a chance to judge how your career is advancing. If your manager gives good quality feedback, you should leave the meeting feeling positive and motivated. However, if the appraisal is not treated with the importance it deserves everyone loses out.

According to a survey by recruitment consultancy Office Angels, 50% of employees believe their appraisal is pivotal in determining whether they stay in their job. Of the 500 workers questioned, 25% said they would start looking for a new job within a fortnight of a bad appraisal and 40% would start job hunting within a month.

To ensure your appraisal doesn't end in tears, it is worth taking time to prepare beforehand. Most people will only have one meeting a year to discuss their career, so this opportunity should not be neglected.

"Do your homework," says Daniels. "In the two weeks before the appraisal keep a work diary of how you spend your time, what you enjoy doing and where you have difficulties. This helps to provide a basis for discussion." If you do nothing, it is too easy to forget about it until the day before - by which time it is too late.

To ensure that staff think carefully about their performance and aspirations, many firms give workers questionnaires to fill out in advance. How this works varies from company to company. Some opt for 360-degree appraisals, which means they you get feedback from colleagues and clients as well as your line manager.

When the appraisee does not work alongside their manager it often works out better if they write down their own objectives. However, the most common form of appraisal is where the manager writes down the objectives and then gets the employee to agree to them.

Regardless of the format, an appraisal should always be a two-way discussion and the objectives given should be achievable within a variety of timeframes, ranging from three to 12 months. These goals should then be revisited throughout the year.

"Ask for regular meetings with your boss to see if you are achieving your goals - it need only take five minutes," says Daniels. "The appraisal should not be the only time you speak to your boss about your progress."

The official appraisal should be viewed as the ideal time to ask whatever you want, whether it is for more training, extra money or a promotion.

Lots of people go into the appraisal assuming that the manager will criticise their performance and come up with a list of reasons as to why they are not yet ready to take on a more challenging role. But if you are positive and realistic your manager will become more relaxed and be more likely to consider your requests.

"If you are making a point about something you are doing well or not so well, put it in context," says Daniels. If you are asking for more training, give an example of when you could not cope with a situation because you did not have the right skills.

Nowadays the appraisal system is well established in most companies but there are always a few die-hards who refuse to recognise its benefits. If you are not given the chance to review your progress with your manager, start lobbying.

"Sell it to your manager as a way for him to get the best out of you," says Daniels. If a manager remains reluctant, it could be that they do not have the necessary training and it could be worth getting the human resources department involved.

"A good appraisal should leave you with a good idea of what you have done well, where you need training and what mistakes you have made, as well as making it clear what is expected of you in the future," says Daniels.

How to get the most out of your appraisal

  • Plan in advance. When highlighting good and bad points of your job, give examples

  • Don't get into an argument with your manager

  • If you don't agree with what your manager is saying, keep calm and don't get personal

  • If criticisms are made, ask for specific examples

  • Use the appraisal as an opportunity to ask for what you really want out of your job.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment