Annual Review Checkup: How To Present Yourself Well

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Depending on the situation where you work, you probably approach an annual review meeting with your line manager in one of two ways: either as a bureaucratic annoyance or, if redundancy looms, as a worrying task that could have major consequences if you don't measure up. However, whether your annual review is expected to be perfunctory or potentially life-changing, it can be an important career tool for you if you use the time wisely.

All too often, staff come to the annual review with the idea that someone else (the line manager, or someone above them) is in charge, and they are there to be inspected and judged. Sometimes line managers’ attitudes contribute to this feeling. This can place academics and academic staff in a “defensive” position—and even if you’ve actually been told that your job is on the line, that is not advantageous.

So, start by flipping that idea around, and making the annual review about showcasing what you have done well and achieved in post over the preceding year. Begin by going back to something you may not have looked at for awhile—your job description. Divide this into discrete tasks and under each place the parts of your role (for example, teaching specific modules or doing specific administrative tasks) under the headings in the description. This list forms the basics, the key parts of your role that you must of course show that you have done, and done well. 

Demonstrating this is relatively simple. Consider deadlines met, reports produced, number of students worked with, and so on. If you have met the criteria in your job role, that should be “good enough”—but to survive possible cuts and thrive, you need to show that you’ve gone further, or that you are about to.

This is where you should draw attention to the other things you do, many of which your line manager may not know about. Have you attended a training course this year, done tasks that went above and beyond your job description, worked above your role, filled in for absent colleagues, sorted out problems, trained others? All of this should also be reflected (and indeed, highlighted) on your annual review form.

Unsure of what to say? Consult a trusted colleague who has been in post for a long time.

Finally, be prepared to ask for what you need to achieve even more in the coming year. Rather than assuming you’ll spend the review justifying your continued employment, come in armed with a proposal about at least one new plan for improving the work of your section or department. Include details of why you feel this task is important, and any training or mentoring you would like to access in order to achieve this goal. Make reference to key documents, such as current university or departmental strategic plans. Annual review appointments are scheduled and finite, and doing this will divert the discussion towards your future.

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