Performance reviews can be nerve wracking, but try not to see them as an obstacle to overcome; instead, see them as opportunities to prove your worth to the company and earn either a reward or more respect in the office. The problem is, too many people believe that a performance review is meant to be one-sided--a direct review of their work and behavior in the past year akin to a movie critique. Taking an active role in your performance review opens the door to more opportunities, and will earn you more respect in the process.

As you get ready for your performance review, be sure to avoid these five critical mistakes:

1. Being Unprepared. Not preparing and underpreparing are about the worst ways to set yourself up in a performance review. Chances are, your supervisor will already have a list of items to discuss, but it's your job to anticipate those items, equip yourself with as much information as possible, and be prepared with counterpoints and items of your own to bring up. For example, you might dig through some of your old files to refresh your memory on the success of an earlier project, or you might do some research on average salaries for your position if you're asking for a raise. The first step here is to arm yourself with objective information, and the second is to prepare for certain conversation points so you can handle them eloquently and calmly. Both are necessary if you want to make a great impression and show that you've done your homework.

2. Speaking in Generalities. Whether you're bringing up points of your own or responding to items brought up by your supervisor, it's important to be as specific as possible. Speaking in generalities is an easy way out; it's non-committal and simple to improvise, but unfortunately it does little to strengthen your arguments. For example, saying "I come up with good ideas for the company" is far weaker and less persuasive than saying "I came up with three ideas for marketing campaigns, which collectively earned the company an ROI of 175 percent." It might be difficult to do this if you're not prepared (see point one above), but any specific examples you can use to add substance to your arguments can be valuable. Be prepared to list your greatest accomplishments over the course of the past year, and prepared to address any weaknesses that might come up.

3. Being Defensive Toward Criticism. A performance review isn't meant to list all your accomplishments; it's meant to thoroughly evaluate your performance over the course of the past year, and that includes identifying weaknesses, mistakes, and areas for potential improvement. As your supervisor brings up these pieces of criticism, you may instinctually move to negate them with counterarguments. Feel free to object to any points that aren't valid, but it's not your place to refute every piece of criticism; instead, accept those pieces of criticism and explain what you're going to do to respond to them. Overreacting to criticism makes you appear defensive, and as if you're unwilling to hear anything negative about yourself. This kind of stance makes it seem like you're not taking the performance review seriously, or that you aren't willing to make any substantive improvements. Remember, no matter how good you are at your job or how hard you work, there's always room for improvement. Don't shy away from those opportunities.

4. Making Requests Without Objective Reasoning. Performance reviews are usually a prime opportunity to make a request for some kind of reward or boost; for example, you might ask for a raise or a promotion in response to your hard work and improvement over the past year. You could also ask for a shift in responsibilities, greater flexibility, or some other request. No matter what you're asking for, avoid making the request without a line of logical, objective reasoning. Don't ask for a raise because you need one to keep paying your bills, and don't ask for greater flexibility just because you want it. Use data, logic, and reasoning to provide substance to your requests. For example, you might point out that the majority of people in your position make more money, and that you deserve to make more accordingly. You might also point out extra responsibilities you've taken on, or strengths in key areas that deserve to be compensated.

5. Failing to Leave With an Action Plan. Performance reviews aren't meant to be one-and-done events. They're meant to set a course for a new year, giving you direction on what strengths you need to maintain and what weaknesses you need to overcome. Before you walk out of the meeting, go over a list of action items with your supervisor, detailing exactly what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. This will give you a chance to correct any misconceptions, but more importantly it will show your supervisor how seriously you take your position. Plus, you'll have a solid game plan for how to make yourself a better asset for the company, giving you a perfect opportunity to look good in next year's review.

These performance review mistakes are all too common, but they're entirely preventable if you know what you're doing. A little bit of preparation goes a long way, and if you conduct yourself well, you'll walk away with more respect, a chance to improve, and maybe even a raise or promotion.

Published on: Feb 12, 2016