How to Write the Perfect Self-Review

Portrait of Kevin Peters
Kevin Peters

Writing a Self-Review is a mandatory step in most companies' promotion cycles. The process of creating the Self-Review itself unveils a lot of challenges though. In this blog article, we will cover the most common problems writing this document and provide some tips, so you can excel at your next Self-Review.

The Promotion Process

As mentioned, nearly every company has a process to promote employees. On one hand, bigger companies might have promotion cycles that occur twice per year or in any kind of cycle. On the other hand, smaller companies might have an informal process where the initiation of the process might get triggered by the employee asking for a promotion or the manager mentioning that a promotion might be deserved. In most of these cases, an employee will have to figure out what they have done to get promoted. Most companies expect that you are acting on the next level and contribute outside of your responsibilities already to get promoted. Mentioning this in regular 1-on-1’s might be not enough. Write these things down in a Self-Review. With the Self-Review you can interact with the manager on another level because written down achievements will not be viewed as something informal like a talk during a 1-on-1. After writing the Self-Review you will probably have this meeting with your manager where you discuss the things written down in the Self-Review. Make expectations clear on what you want and why you deserve your promotion. Focus on this but also mention in which areas you can grow more to impact the business. Then it is up for the manager to get you promoted.

As you can see the Self-Review is an essential part of the promotion process and to write the perfect Self-Review, convincing your manager to get you promoted is hard. So let us start to discuss what is important.

Your Current Level and Responsibilities

The first part of the Self-Review should show what your current responsibilities are. It gives the readers a good understanding of what your current skill set should look like. Throughout reading the document it gives the base on what people compare you to. If you over-deliver throughout the whole document later, people will compare it to your original responsibilities and decide in their mind already that you are outgrowing the responsibilities and act above your job title level. In bigger companies, you normally have a level attached to your job title. The leveling system is kind of generic and also depends on the department the employee is in. For Google, these are defined from L2 (Intern) to L10 (Google Fellow). Most of the higher levels are reserved for outstanding persons and most Software Engineers cannot get above L5 or L6 since spaces to these positions are of course limited because not everyone can lead the full organization.

When not having a leveling system in the organization, it is worth listing the responsibilities of your current position. Normally these can be taken from the job description that is on the recruiting site. If you do not have access to them, it might be worth it to book a 1-on-1 with your manager to clear out the responsibilities you have right now. Keep them documented and also accessible for your manager.

In the Self-Review, you can then put the level or the responsibilities on top of the Self-Review to give the readers the information on the current state of your work. In getworkrecognized the level showcase is established within the profile overlook which you can also find in the following section:

Employee Name
Kevin Peters
Job Title
Software Engineer
Level
1
Boss
Joe Doe
Team
Team Skadi
Review Period
10/19/2020 - 10/23/2020
Date
10/24/2020

Check your last Performance Review

An important part to prepare for your Self-Review is the review of your previous performance review. If you never had a performance review, for now, you can skip this part but in the future, you might find this useful.

Every performance review should have a result. A promotion is one result but you and your manager should have talked about long-term development and how you can grow into this position. This feedback can be just written down but most often managers create Objective Key Results (OKRs) that are a trackable result. An example of this could be for example written blog articles. It is a definite number and Objective Key Results should be always measurable. Sometimes this is really hard, but most often it is doable. When having these Objective Key Results defined, you can check them back and see if you have achieved them in the time range they were defined in. If you know of any - write them down somewhere but not in the Self-Review as an own section. Just keep track of them.

Otherwise, your last Self-Review might also contain other things that are important to see if you have grown throughout the last period. Write all these neat little things down.

Structure by KPIs or Leadership Principles

Now, after all the preparation is done. Self-Review writing can actually start. The first problem you will have is to structure the Self-Review itself. You could just write down the Objective Key Results from last time but it does not need to start with that if you do not have the resources.

Another way to start is to write down the Key Performance Indicators or Leadership Principles as different headings. For example, this could look like the following:

Let the Team Shine

Blog Contributions

Customer Obsession

A/B Testing

...

Detailed Thinkers

...

Hint: These are the leadership principles of Klarna. Check out this article to understand how leadership principles are working.

After structuring the main content of the Self-Review we can start by filling out details and events contributing to the individual leadership principle or key performance indicator. Also, these notes should follow a specific format which is explained in the next chapter.

Describe with Situation - Behavior - Impact

A common methodology to describe actions - both good and bad is the “Situation - Behavior - Impact-Methodology”. When people write down notes they normally write down the behavior they showed like “I created a marketing campaign for xyz”. This is the behavior the employee showed. The reason why this behavior was shown is explained by the situation though. The situation could be quite different like:

  • My boss told me to do the xyz marketing campaign
  • I researched what is the most worthy marketing campaign to do

Two different situations, where the behavior might be the same but the impact is different. The first option just shows that you are delivering results when you are told to. But the second option shows that you can work independently and figure out how to use your time most effectively. The impact should validate the behavior in a sense when the outcome is positive. It is also ok to admit mistakes made where the impact might harm the company or the team. The impact should always refer to the situation.

In general, this methodology helps you and the reader to showcase a clear thinking process. It will show you care about the things you do at work, and you want to be recognized and can see the effects of your work.

Start with the "bad" things, give a good last impression

When reading the Self-Review the reader normally goes from top to bottom of the document. To give the best impression to the reader it should start with some smaller successes, followed by some bad behaviors and finally ending with the best behaviors. Readers normally remember the first things and last things of a given context the best. With this technique, you can make sure your positive contributions will get kept in their minds for a longer period.

Start with the worst KPI/Leadership Principle

The principle in the previous chapter can be applied to a general level in the first place. As we learned throughout this Blog we should start organizing the Self-Review first into Key Performance Indicator or Leadership Principle sections. These sections should be also sorted. Start with a mediocre one and then continue with some sections where you do not follow the expectations in comparison to the other sections. And finish with the sections where you think you might have over-delivered. Always compare the responsibilities you have listed in the profile section of your level or the job description to the actual achievements of the section.

Sort Description of KPIs and Leadership Principles

The principle of sorting the “bad” things and the good things can be also applied to the individual sections of the actual Self-Review. You will probably list multiple notes in the form of the “Situation-Behavior-Impact”-Methodology that will influence the perception of the leadership principle or key performance indicator. Even start here with listing a good, but not perfect, note first, continue with the bad ones and leave the last impression with the really good notes where you had the most impact on the company-level.

Write an outlook

After all of the tedious work of listing your achievements is done, you can start with working on the outlook of your review. The outlook can be quite generic. Do not fall into requesting a higher title or promotion just yet. Focus on growth in the future. You probably have a goal already on what position to reach soon and your manager might know this goal already - if not, maybe talk in the next 1-on-1 about your future career goals.

Since you are talking about your growth in this chapter you should start with listing the opportunities you have first. Tell how great the company is in providing you these opportunities, this will keep your manager into this chapter since they get appreciation out of it somehow. Next list which growth opportunities you want to tackle and explain to them why. You can follow the “Situation-Behavior-Impact”-Methodology here again by explaining the current state. The expected behavior and the expected outcome.

On top of that, you should define the Objective Key Results (OKRs). They are measurable goals that you can somehow achieve. For example: “I write 15 Blog Articles until the 10/20/2020”. The goal should be optimistic and reachable. Compare it to your last results probably and predict what you can do more and how you can extend on that. Also, discover new possibilities on what you can achieve. Out of your Self-Review descriptions of the leadership principles or Key Performance Indicators you should derive the good Objective Key Results that will help you to grow in your weakest areas. These should be listed at the top though again, based on what we learned in the last chapters.

In general, the outlook is about realistic goals you can achieve. List the goals that you will reach with a high percentage at the end. These measurements will stick in the head of the manager for the next time which is important for your future work career.

Convince your manager for the Promotion

After writing the review itself, but also pointing out growth opportunities it is time to evaluate your current position, responsibilities, and salary. Most often an increase in the number of responsibilities or contributions to the company is acknowledged the most for promotions or salary increases. So give a clear comparison on why the current state exceeds the original requirements mentioned in the first parts of the Self-Review. It gives you a good opportunity to get the promotion. Try to put the contributions in a good light and say that you over delivered expectations. After all your boss also needs to validate your promotion in front of their managers and they rather have hard facts and data at their fingertips rather than saying this person is just worth it. End the Self-Review with a clear statement like “After all of these accomplishments, I want to get promoted to the next level that is … and receive a salary increase of x% to y salary.”. That will give the manager a clear light on what you want. Do not ask for too little and rather ask for too much. You can always go lower but won’t be able to go higher.

And remember: You miss 100% of the shots you do not take.