Profiting from Your Performance Review

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Formalized performance reviews are common in financial services. Whether you're working at a large bank, investment bank, or private equity firm, the feedback that comes during the performance review process can be critical to your career success at your current employer and beyond, says Teresa Bur.

Bur is vice president of human resources at CBIZ, a provider of accounting and tax, benefits and insurance, and consulting services. And, since the financial services environment is not quite like anywhere else, she adds, performance reviews are especially important to those working in the space.

Listen for Specifics

While you'll most certainly receive a written copy of what’s discussed, the give and take that comes during your face-to-face meeting with your superior is the most helpful. But the performance review comments shouldn’t come as a surprise, says Bur.

“It’s your responsibility to receive constant feedback from your employer throughout the year,” she adds. It’s also essential to remember that improving your performance on the job is a constant evolution based on your place in the organization. It’s helps to make sure the performance review not only addresses how well you have met the current goal of your division, but what will be asked of you next year.

Think Competencies

Not surprisingly, performance reviews should focus on core competencies—hard skills related to your job title and department efforts. Listen closely to the comments related to your most important duties throughout the year. But do your homework first before you come to the performance review meeting. “It helps to be able to identify the behaviors you’re supposed to be invested in,” says Stephen Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead, a management consulting company. “Focus on the big things, and focus on what you can control.”

Expect Good Feedback

The majority of performance reviews will be a rather formalized process with specific duties and skills highlighted—the hard and the soft skills. The softer skills might include everything from team building to creative problem solving. Performance reviews needn’t be complicated, says Balzac. But your employer should provide good feedback. It shouldn’t center on personality traits and things that can’t be changed. When getting negative feedback, it helps if your superior focuses on specific instances and examples.

Ask Questions

Make sure your employer isn’t too vague. By the time you leave the performance review, they should have hammered out the goal of the meeting. You may need to ask questions. Focus, as much as possible, on “personal behavioral goals”, says Balzac. It pays to have your boss center on specific outcomes—landing a particular client or growing revenue on a specific project. At the end of the day, says Balzac, don't leave anything on the table that might be subject to debate months later. If necessary, agree on follow up meetings to review goals and further refine them.

Take Control

Admittedly, the performance review process can be nerve wracking. “It helps to take control of the process,” says Balzac. If it’s performance review time, be the first to propose a number of times and days to hold the review, if possible, and let your boss pick one. “This makes you feel more like an equal and makes it easier to accept feedback,” he says. “Show you’re interested in what your boss has to say, even if the criticism is valid or not.” But you shouldn’t get flustered. It helps to ask for specifics, how your superior came to the conclusion, and let them know how you can fix it. If the criticism seems off the mark, try to redirect politely and remind them of when you did the right thing in the given situation. And, finally, don’t forget to thank your boss for the review.

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