Performance Reviews: A Smart Guide to Self-Evaluating

11 min read
Jun 8, 2020

A woman seated on a couch using a laptop writes on a notepad with her free hand.

No element of a performance review is as intimidating for employees as the self-evaluation section they need to put together themselves. A self-evaluation can change the trajectory of your career; hopefully for the better, but frequently for the worse—especially as a manager begins to question your ability to self-assess.

Most people struggle with accurately representing their job performance. It’s hard to be objective about yourself, it’s difficult to make time to do a thorough evaluation, and it’s even more complicated to know what answers will move your career in the right direction. Measuring your own job performance requires a clear plan.

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Study after study shows that employees and managers alike are fed up with traditional annual performance reviews. In a 2017 study of 1,500 office workers, for example, Adobe—which ditched traditional performance reviews in 2012—found that 59% of those surveyed agreed that performance reviews “have no impact on how they do their job.”

Performance reviews can be a source of trauma, not just annoyance. The same Adobe study found that 22% of office workers have cried after a review. That’s not a pretty picture to paint for your company.

More and more organizations are moving to a model that encourages continuous feedback between supervisors and their direct reports. As performance management and performance reviews have matured, self-evaluations have become commonplace.


Whether your organization has stuck with a traditional model or abandoned formal reviews altogether, self-evaluation is an important skill you need to master. With the right approach, it can be a valuable exercise no matter what company you work for. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do to get smart about self-evaluating.

Tips for Writing Your Performance Evaluation

Self-Assessment: Setting Expectations

Start early and make time so you don’t have to rush the process when the deadline is approaching. Depending on how often your organization conducts reviews, this could be a major project. Whether or not you make time on your calendar to do it justice may be the difference between a stressful week and a careless submission or something that could advance your career based on your past results.

Define your job and role

There’s no way to evaluate your performance without a clear description of your job. If you already have one, keep it handy while composing your self-evaluation. If you don’t know where to find this or if your job description has changed, now’s the time to write one. It doesn’t have to be a massive document. Define the major responsibilities of your job, from consistent requirements to long-term projects.

READ MORE: 50 Self-Evaluation Phrases for Your Next Performance Review

It’s your job, so even if other colleagues share your title, make sure to review or establish the specifics that make your position yours. Do this even if it’s not a requirement for your review. If you don’t, the rest of your evaluation won’t be persuasive or effective.

Align with your manager

Before beginning your review, ask your manager (or whoever is responsible for your review) how the self-evaluation will be used. You wouldn’t write anything else for work without knowing your target audience, right? This should be no different.

Once you know your role and the purpose of your self-evaluation, you’ll be ready to start writing the performance review.

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Self-Evaluation: Proving Your Worth And Tracking Progress

If we were all completely reasonable and objective in the appraisal of our role and performance, this article could be just two words: “Be honest."

Until that day comes, we’ll have to do our best to walk a fine line: the goal is not to embellish or be too self-deprecating.

Here are some tips for providing an authentic, effective self-evaluation so that your performance review doesn’t end in tears:

  • Accountability starts with you. It’s not your coworker who missed a deadline or your manager who doesn’t make themselves available or your dog who ate your crucial presentation. During a self-evaluation, be self-centered in the most positive definition of the word. Use “I” statements to make sure you’re not writing someone else’s performance review. You can include the obstacles you’ve had to contend with—especially if management can help remove them in the future—but these shouldn’t be the focal point of your self-evaluation.


  • Lead with solutions. Many self-evaluations will ask employees to identify weaknesses, though they may not use that specific term. Now is not the time to reach for the comfort of the “I’m too much of a perfectionist” answer. Don’t disguise your weaknesses (or, if you prefer, areas for improvement). Address them, briefly, and explain how your organization can help address them. Each weakness should have a to-do attached for your management. Don’t linger on this section. A self-evaluation that’s focused more on the setbacks than future progress is going to raise red flags.
  • Be forthcoming—but brief—regarding setbacks. Some reviews have you write down specific failures or times you’ve missed the mark. If your review doesn’t ask for this, count yourself lucky—and consider offering an example anyway. However, don’t focus on failure. Pivot to the lessons learned—the takeaways that will lead you to succeed in similar situations in the future. If you didn’t learn a lesson, now’s the time!
  • Report the facts of your success. Now for a part of the review that makes just as many employees uncomfortable: talking about your strengths. How do you list your many achievements without seeming smug or boastful? Think like a journalist. Your first obligation when talking about all the great things you’ve done is to faithfully report the truth of what you’ve done. Use “I” statements again, keep the positive adjectives to a minimum, and you’ll be golden. (Refrain from using the word golden just to be safe.)
  • Prove your worth. Make a clear connection between what you’ve accomplished and what your organization has accomplished (or is trying to accomplish). Read what you’ve written and see if you think of your contributions as indispensable. If you have to squint to see yourself that way, consider a rewrite and make sure your value is communicated.
  • Write short. When you’re listing accomplishments, try to be as concise as possible. Keeping stories short has several advantages. It’s harder to come across boastful or long-winded when you don’t use a lot of words. There’s more room to include a truly impressive and diverse collection without putting the reader to sleep. Plus, if your manager is incorporating your review into theirs, a longer list of shorter feats will give them more to reference—and more room to elaborate.
  • Track your progress for next time. If you’re spending too much time in between reviews, keep track of your biggest moments (both accomplishments and disappointments) in a journal or document. It’s hard to find the time and energy to dig up the breakthrough you had last October when you’re filling out a self-evaluation in September. This can also have a positive effect by improving your engagement at work in general.
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Don't just rely on proactive feedback. Solicit 360 feedback from anyone in the organization about your performance. Consolidate feedback and your self-evaluation in one place. That way, it will be easy to refer back and track improvements over time. TINYpulse offers the standard "stop, keep, start" format—and the flexibility for you to create your own questions and templates for future usage.  


Self-Improvement: Setting Goals

Every performance review is an opportunity to forge ahead in your career. A review with a section for self-evaluation and employee-directed goals gives you the opportunity to design your future. If you’re only getting a review annually, this could be your best chance to push for career advancement all year!

Each goal should make sense within the context of your career path. (If your job description and your career aspirations don’t match, it’s time for a more profound conversation with your manager.)

Set well-defined goals that are realistic but would be considered major accomplishments if you meet or exceed them. Your goals shouldn’t look anything like your job description; they can present openings to make this job your own.

If you’re having trouble coming up with goals that are attainable and relevant, there’s an acronym managers and employees have been using for almost 40 years: S.M.A.R.T.

  • S - Specific
  • M - Measurable
  • A - Achievable
  • R - Realistic
  • T - Time-based

Goals that follow this acronym translate as directives for your manager, letting you set an agenda that more vague goals can’t.

Your goals are another opportunity to request the tools you need for career advancement. If you would be helped by mentorship, education, certification, or any other development programs, tying one or more of them to a goal in self-evaluation is a great way to get that help.


self-evaluation goals 

Self-Preservation: Giving Feedback

Most performance review systems, new or old, give employees space to give feedback on the organization, its processes, and—gulp—their managers. Don’t shy away from filling that space. You’re qualified to share your thoughts on the organization as someone who works there.

At too many companies, performance reviews are one of the only forums where employee feedback is solicited. If that’s the case for you, take full advantage and tactfully share your observations.

READ MORE: What Does It Mean to Manage Up?

Align with your manager by asking any questions you have about your role and your expectations. If there isn’t a place for you to ask management questions—whether in your work environment or in the review—make this that place.

In fact, asking questions is definitely the safest way to approach a feedback section. Almost any criticism can be phrased as a polite if pointed question. Try to ask questions that require a more nuanced answer than yes or no. If your management values employee engagement, this could lead to you getting the answers to your questions in person.


Self-Compassion: Celebrating Your Progress

A performance review can be many things: a source of anxiety, a prelude to a raise, a pain in the neck. With the right approach, it can always be a chance to appreciate what you’ve accomplished in the time between the last review and the current one.

The self-appraisal is the part of the review that employees have the most control over, so take advantage of it! Then recognize what you’ve done well. You’ll notice that there’s no section on “Self-Criticism” in this article. Take a moment—or perhaps a celebratory lunch—to reflect on the process of reflection you just went through. When you go back to work, start taking notes for next time!

You can repeat this process independently from performance reviews to measure your progress. If you’re only getting prompted to self-evaluate once a year, that doesn’t mean it’s the only time of year you can take stock of where your career is headed.

performance evaluation progress 

Self-Evaluation Sample: How To Write It 

Writing a self-assessment can be easy if you already have a structure in mind and stick to it. To help you get all thoughts and tips in order, here’s a rough structure with some ideas you can use in your own self-evaluation. 

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This is a general example you need to customize to your own role and requirements. For each statement of the self-evaluation, include a real past example you’ve come across at work. Let’s have a systematic look at everything you need to check:


  • I am an accountable employee and have always finished work on time and taken full responsibility for my workload.
  • I am highly adaptable, helping my team take on new tasks even when we felt we didn’t have enough time to complete them as I’m also able to evenly divide my time among the tasks I need to take care of.
  • Besides my strong time management skills, I’ve taken the lead by mentoring others and helping everyone in my department set better time estimates for their own work.


  • I’ve noticed my strong dedication to work has led me to spend too much time tweaking the details of our projects and ignoring internal communication as a result. I tend to focus on my work and forget about making sure everyone’s on the same page. I’ve had some issues with reaching out to ask for feedback and clearly explaining task requirements.
  • Sometimes I lack the motivation to give my best for all tasks when the outcomes aren’t clear. I will try to reach out to my team for encouragement in the future.

Key Values

  • I strongly believe that communication between employees goes both ways and feedback, as well as our brainstorming sessions, are of top importance for the success of our projects.
  • I highly value creativity and have been encouraging others to share any unique ideas they might have during meetings.
  • I aim to be a more ambitious person, constantly developing myself professionally and sharing my knowledge with my colleagues.


  • I’ve managed to boost website traffic by 40% over the last two years and increased our conversion rate by 8% through my marketing efforts.
  • Clients have never asked for my work to be changed at any point and I have a 100% approval rating from them.
  • I’ve helped my team receive numerous awards and press mention for our work, strongly contributing to raising our brand’s awareness.

Future Targets

  • I’m eagerly looking forward to growing professionally and starting to manage a larger number of employees in the future.
  • I’m planning on continuing my mentorship program and contributing to the development of all teams within the organization.
  • I’d like to interact more often with clients to better understand how they think and what their needs are.


  • To achieve my goals, I’d like to be a part of client meetings in the future so that I’ll be prepared to hold them alone when no one else would be available for this task. I think all team members should attend these every once in a while so we can have a better grasp of our clients’ needs and mentality.
  • Our team leader is a very dedicated person so she’s been putting a lot of effort to ensure we all know exactly what we have to do on a daily basis. Thanks to her, I never had to ask around to clarify a requirement and I’m not wasting any time on administrative issues.
  • When I joined the company I was promised to see more transparency but the team doesn’t seem to take initiative on this as often as I’d like. I’ll make sure to make the first move more often from now on and maybe others can follow my lead.

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How to get started with self-evaluation

To get started, write down any ideas you might have in your mind right away. Then go through the list of tips above one by one to make sure you’ve got everything covered and you don’t make any common mistakes just because you’re in a rush. Start early and take a couple of days to think about all your achievements from completing lengthy projects to smaller tasks that are worth mentioning. 

If you’re not feeling creative, take a break and do something fun. Downtime will help you clear your mind and remember all of your best results, strengths, and expectations from the future of your role. 

Turn to our sample self-evaluation ideas above to get past writer’s block and focus on highlighting your best traits and value within the company. That’s the ticket to figuring out what you need to do to become the best version of yourself as a professional.

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