As uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing they may be, performance reviews are a necessary part of every job. And while you want to hear positive and glowing remarks from your manager about your work performance, a bad review doesn’t signal the end of your career.
Having a less-than-stellar review is an opportunity to make productive changes to help propel you forward and improve your work. And your strategy before, during and after a poor review will help you make the most of a bad situation.
Before the review. “The most common reason for a bad performance review is a lack of communication and understanding on what is your job,” says Marc Cenedella, CEO and founder of career website TheLadders.
If the goals and expectations of a position haven’t been outlined, it can lead to misunderstandings and unfilled needs. “At the very beginning of a job, you should set clear goals with your supervisor,” says Heather Huhman, career and workplace expert at jobs website Glassdoor. “If you don’t set clear goals immediately, there’s no real way to evaluate you because there’s nothing to evaluate you against.”
Having an open dialog with your boss will help to avoid any surprises during your review, says Julie Jansen, career coach and author of I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This. “It’s a surprise if you never get feedback. Throughout the year and as an employee, it’s your responsibility to ask for feedback [on your performance].”
During the review. Experts recommend being prepared walking into a review. “Always keep a personal journal for what you’ve accomplished for the organization,” suggests Huhman, so you have something to reference to highlight your accomplishments.
How you react to your review depends on your personality. “You don’t want to get defensive,” says Nicole Williams, connection director at LinkedIn. “There’s a level of separation—‘what can I take from this experience that can be constructive.’” A negative review can only affect your confidence and motivation as you move forward with your career if you let it.
Negative feedback is always difficult to hear, but view it as a learning and growing opportunity, so you can be more objective during the meeting and productive in your future work.
If you feel like you’re being picked on or criticized unnecessarily, experts suggest bringing the conversation back to business. “The bottom line is you’re given a paycheck to produce results,” says Jansen. “Always bring it back to business results which hopefully you have.”
In the ideal situation, you knew the review was going to be bad before walking into it, and you can prepare yourself mentally with how to respond. “If it’s a surprise, the best thing to do is calm down and set up a time to talk in the next week,” says Cenedella. As you prepare for a follow-up meeting, think about your plan of action for how you’re going to improve.
After your review. When you schedule your follow-up meeting, experts suggest discussing your accomplishments, as well as your boss’s expectations and vision of success in this role.
Don’t try and argue with your boss, warns Cenedella. Approach the meeting with 12 things that you’ve done really well. If it becomes apparent that you and your boss have different expectations of what it means to be successful in your job, then ask your boss to detail their idea of success in this role.
Don’t be scared to tell your boss that you didn’t realize you were performing poorly. “Ask for an explanation and examples because that’s what you’re going to look for in your next review,” says Williams.
Sometimes bad reviews are the result of relationship issues with your boss. “If you have a problem with your boss, talk to your boss first on neutral ground—like out at lunch,” recommends Huhman. “Always come with suggests as well. It’s not enough to complain.”
If you can’t come up with a way to resolve performance issues, she recommends talking to your boss’s boss on neutral ground with details of your last meeting. “If you met with your boss’s boss and that didn’t go well, it’s absolutely time to get out,” says Huhman. “If you’re unhappy, you’re probably unhealthy too.”
It’s hard to shake a bad review, but take the criticism and work on fixing the problem areas. “Be accountable and demonstrate that you’re trying to fix the problem,” says Jansen. You can always ask your manager to change your review if you have proof, but your manager may not comply with your request.
“Find champions in your company to help you,” says Jansen. “You need as many people in your company to be a supporter. It helps to have people to watch over you.” Performance reviews can be tied to being politically savvy and having meaningful relationships in your organization.
Experts recommend meeting regularly with your boss to discuss your progress—monthly if you’re more experienced and weekly if you’re junior. “Your performance day in and day out is your preparation,” Cenedella says. Consider how you’re managing up and making your boss look good. One way is to ask six months before your next review, the three things your boss wants from you.
It’s also important to recognize whether your job is a good fit for you. “If it’s two or three years in a row that you’re not on the same page [as your boss], it won’t work out,” says Cenedella. “Your path to advancement is your boss. It’s time to find another home.”