Career management

7 Suggestions for Writing a Good Self Review

Originally shared internally and lightly edited for external readability. Note that this comes from a context where the self review is not part of the promotion packet so focuses on it as a tool to help the manager put together the review.

Credit: Pixabay

Goal of a self review:

  • Time to reflect and clarify what you’ve achieved over the past cycle.
  • Alignment between you and your manager on your work, impact, and goals.

None goals of self review:

  • Sales pitch on why you should be promoted.

Your self review – done effectively – is one of the most helpful tools for your manager in accurately representing your work and impact in the feedback cycle. It can help them cut through all the noise of various projects to hone in on the most useful points or outcomes. This makes a huge difference in how much time it takes to put together, and your manager will thank you for that alone. But it also helps highlight things they might miss if they just read through everything in your project management tool of choice. E.g. you might feel that calling and structuring a meeting was crucial to the success of your project. That might not be as apparent from the notes and project updates unless you tell them what to look for.

I’ve put together this list of tips for you.

1. Effectively summarise. Don’t make your manager read through every project you have ever done. Help them know what to look for. Put the most important projects at the top, and make the impact clear, as well as key points in the project timeline that are worth their attention. Leave out small projects that just needed to be done, or if you can’t bring yourself to do that, add them to “other projects” section at the end of the doc.

2. Focus on Impact. It’s tempting to justify how hard you worked, but focus on communicating the impact of that work instead. What was different because this project was executed? What was different because this project was executed by you? What is possible or known now that wasn’t before? If you’re not clear on the impact of a project, ask your product manager (and next time consider asking before you agree to do it).

3. Surface invisible work. We all do things that are more behind the scenes. Code reviews, releases, peer support, onboarding etc… the kind of work that makes the team run well but isn’t always visible and is easy to overlook. Make sure you surface this work in your self review, talk about the impact, and think about who you can ask for feedback that will re-enforce that. E.g. if you were an onboarding buddy, the person you onboarded or their manager can be good people to tag. If you did a lot of work improving release automation, maybe the person who does the most releases is the person to ask. It’s worth telling them what you’re hoping they will speak to and help you make more visible.

4. Deconstruct strategy. Often the value of a project is not in any one project, but in a collection of projects pushing towards some outcome. If you have a situation where multiple projects build on each other to increase impact, expose that. Explain how they fit together and what they are working towards. For instance, if you had a set of work to improve release quality and confidence, it’s worth grouping that together and explaining it overall, because the individual work within it might seem like minor tasks. This applies even if your strategy is not yet complete; you can explain where you expect to go next and initial indicators.

5. Show progress. Everyone should have things they are working on, and this is an opportunity to illustrate progress. It’s fine if it’s ongoing, but think about whether you have made progress, or whether you’ve not (and if not, why). It’s also (usually) fine if you’ve decided this is not what you want, e.g. last cycle you thought you would want to be a manager but on reflection you’ve realised that’s not where your strengths or interests truly lie. If you have areas of development from the last cycle, this is a good place to start.

6. Show what you learned. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay not to learn from it. Don’t gloss over the things that didn’t go the way you’d hoped, show what you’ve learned from them instead.

7. Choose your own career goals. You are the DRI of your career, so you get to have clarity on your own goals rather than expecting your manager to set them for you. Getting promoted is not a career goal, and it’s rarely a good reason to do anything (“if-then” rewards rarely motivate us, we do better with things tied to autonomy, mastery and purpose: see Drive or the TED talk). Your career also exists beyond where you work currently. Think about how you want to grow and the kind of work you want to do, and set goals around that instead.