• Preparation for an annual review should be a year-long process of tracking accomplishments, overall work performance and shortcomings.
  • Find time during the review process to create a list of long-term goals to discuss with your manager.
  • Expect both praise and constructive feedback during your annual review.

The anticipation of one's annual performance review intimidates some employees. It's nerve-wracking to sit down with your boss to discuss your job performance. The performance review process is rarely complicated, but knowing that job security and salary changes are on the line can rattle even the most confident employees.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the anxiety associated with annual performance reviews. Not only can you get past the anxiety, you can create strategies to increase your chances of getting a raise, promotion or bonus through a strong performance review meeting.

Prepare well in advance

The key to a successful annual review is preparation. Employees and managers need to enter performance reviews prepared. Both parties should be on the same page about each employee's accomplishments, goals, strengths and weaknesses. While both sides should be prepared, it falls on the employee to bring key data and accomplishments into the meeting.

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"Keep a log of all of the important things that happen month by month, good and bad," said Camden Rendon, talent acquisition manager for The 20. "I recommend keeping notes of challenges, wins, losses, strengths, and weaknesses throughout each month to then be able to go back and review at the end of the year. Once your annual review comes up, you are stocked with information about what you went through over the year."

Preparing for your annual review should be a year-long process. Take time at the end of every week, month or quarter to record your major accomplishments. If you helped improve a business process, list that. If you helped increase revenue, make a note and be sure to mention that during the performance review. The best way to enjoy a successful performance review is to prepare well in advance.

Tasia Duske, the CEO of Museum Hack, suggests treating the meeting like a job interview. In addition to preparing throughout the year, take time in the weeks or days leading up to the annual review to determine what talking points you want to discuss. Did you excel in one area of your job? You might want to make that a focal point of the discussion if you're negotiating a raise.

"You should do the work that most employees would consider overpreparing: Anticipate questions and feedback, make notes on your answers and practice in front of a mirror or a friend," said Duske. "Also develop specific asks: What do you want from your employer over the next 12 months? If you are interested in promotions in your role or pay, then help layout a plan to get there; the easier you make it for your boss, the easier it will be for them to give it to you."

Don't leave your chances of getting a promotion or pay raise up to chance. Specifically address those goals in your review. Consider drafting a plan of how you could work your way to a promotion. As Duske mentions, you're going to have a better chance of improving your job situation if you explain to your boss how you can get there.

Preparation is a two-way street, though. Annual performance reviews are doomed to fail if the employer doesn't come prepared. [Interested in a professional employer organization for your business? Check out our best picks and reviews.]

"I've been part of many annual reviews where the manager or employer did little to no preparation in advance, they just 'winged it,'" said Duske. "Compare this to a manager who spends an hour or more documenting the employee's successes and makes a custom plan for their advancement. The latter will inspire higher levels of performance, job satisfaction and retention going forward."

It's also a good idea for employees and managers to touch base a few times throughout the year to keep track of goals and performance. With expectations for jobs constantly at risk of adjusting, it's important to connect with your boss to ensure you're on the same page about goals and job duties.

"The needs of the business change and evolve and, therefore, many employees' roles have to change and evolve also," said Roy Trujillo, COO of TransPerfect. "Regular communication with one's manager is the only way to ensure that expectations haven't changed and to ensure that the employee knows what to concentrate on, what to improve, and what will be expected at the next review."

The potential nerves going into an annual review tend to subside if you're regularly checking in with your boss. The discussion points during an annual review meeting shouldn't be a surprise to employees or managers, said Amanda Ponzar, chief communications and strategy officer at Community Health Charities.

"Employees should know all year long how they are doing, with regular input on their progress against goals, as well as an opportunity to course-correct if needed," said Ponzar.

Be honest

While it's an easy tendency to want to focus on your strengths during an annual review, it's important for employees to be honest with their managers about their shortcomings. Don't make yourself out to be perfect. Managers will appreciate candor when it comes to your areas for improvement.

This doesn't mean your flaws should be the focal point of the meeting, but you need to be aware of your flaws and work with your manager to improve those weaknesses.

"The No. 1 way an annual review can derail is when the employer and employee are not aligned on reality," said Duske. "If you have had job performance issues, come to the meeting prepared to discuss these. If you bring up these issues before your employer does, you will show a strong level of self-awareness and confidence."

When preparing for your annual review, be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. What are the areas where you need to improve? How can you make improvements in those areas? Every employee has areas for improvement; be honest with yourself about what those areas are.

The best way to prepare for an annual review is to create a list throughout the year of your accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses. Don't avoid pinpointing your flaws. Honesty goes a long way before, during and after annual reviews.

Create an outline

This tip applies to both managers and employees. Before an annual review, come up with a plan. Find the areas you want to discuss and create an effective outline to do that without hurting anyone's feelings. Employees should enter these meetings with the expectation of receiving praise and constructive feedback.

Managers should create meeting outlines that keep employees thinking positively. This means emphasizing the employee's achievements and their areas for improvement. Give constructive criticism, but don't harp on weaknesses.

"Focus on the 4-1-1," said Michael O'Brien, the chief shift officer at Peloton Coaching and Consulting. "I recommend this framework for all my managers. It goes like this: Share four strengths, one area of improvement and ask, '[What's] one thing you need from me?' The employee can also use the 4-1-1 in this fashion. Share four value-added deliverables/strengths, the one thing they are looking to improve and the one area they need support from their boss. This process makes the review clear, concise and constructive."

Entering an annual review without a plan is a recipe for failure. Both parties should prepare for the meeting and come to the discussion with a plan. You may want to agree with your manager prior to the meeting about a potential outline. If you don't discuss the agenda beforehand, come up with a few key points you want to discuss, and make sure you get to them at some point during the meeting. It's a good idea to share long-term goals at some point in the meeting to discuss a plan for achieving those goals.

Understand the importance of a personal review

Employee reviews matter. A good review that showcases your strengths and accomplishments can lead to promotions and raises. A bad review can hurt your chances of gaining future promotions, or you can use a bad review as an opportunity to learn from mistakes. Proper preparation puts you in position to succeed during the discussion.

"Instead of getting defensive, ask clarifying questions to understand more about what the manager is saying," said Leigh Steere, co-founder of Managing People Better. "'This is helpful feedback. Can you give me some examples of what you'd like to see me do instead?'"

An employee's attitude and preparation are critical to the success, or lack thereof, of a performance review.

The bottom line

Performance evaluations require adequate preparations from both employees and managers. As an employee, take it upon yourself to prepare all year for your annual review. Take time every month to record your top achievements from that month. Preparing well in advance will position you for a successful meeting.