7 Performance Review Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Chance of a Promotion

Woman looking surprised at open laptop in front of her.

Adobe Stock

Profile Picture
Punya Sandhu301
10 yrs in Big4 Consulting, Founder - BYONDGOOD

I entered the conference room with sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I’d been anxiously awaiting this evaluation since the meeting invite landed in my inbox. I was optimistic and hopeful.

I thought everyone would know about the stellar job I’d been doing all year. They’d know about the late nights I put in and the extra training I took to learn that latest software. They’d know I went out of my way to keep those extra demanding clients and managers happy with my work, team and projects.

And then, I had a bad performance review.

I didn’t know why. I thought maybe it was my nasty boss or all those pesky projects that didn’t meet the timelines. I considered maybe it was those extra demanding clients.

This negative mindset sums up how so many of us describe our performance reviews. Yet a poor performance review doesn’t mean your boss, clients or projects are to blame.

You’re your own strongest weapon, but you’re also perfectly capable of sabotaging your success. Instead of blaming others, it’s also worth self-reflecting to understand how you can improve your next review.

Here are seven common mistakes that can turn your performance evaluations into a cringe-fest—and what to do instead.

1. You don’t seek feedback proactively.

Proactively asking for feedback will change your entire attitude toward performance evaluations. Most people wait for year-end to get their final performance appraisal. It’s human nature to avoid what feels like confrontation and in some cases, a personal attack.

When you ask for feedback proactively, you take the power back. You break down the evaluation process into bite-sized chunks, which is far easier to accept and work on than the avalanche of feedback that you get at year-end. 

What to do instead

Set up a 15-minute monthly or bi-weekly recurring touchpoint on your manager’s calendar. Make it a quick call where you can ask them for feedback, what you’re doing well and where you can help them more.

 2. You don’t keep a running list of achievements.

If you’re anything like me in my early career, you probably sit to prepare for your year-end discussion a day before the meeting. When you have so many other things to do, having an evaluation meeting feels inconvenient and unnecessary. It’s not!

If you’re not going to prioritize your evaluation, your boss won’t either. So why not invest the time in building your business case?

What to do instead

Spend five to ten minutes each week to record what projects and additional initiatives you’ve worked on, the responsibilities of your current role and the clients or team with whom you worked. It could be as fancy as an excel sheet with formulae and as basic as a list on a piece of paper.

3. You’re unaware of the impact of your work.

Year-end evaluations are all about the numbers. Most of us are aware of the hours we put into our work projects, how many systems we handled, the processes we improved or the cases we worked on. Very few people are aware of the tangible, numerical impact of their work.

Early in my career, I used to think I was too junior to ask how my projects were impacting the client. Other times I was so inundated with my workload that I didn’t have the time to think about the overall impact of the larger project.

Knowing exactly how your projects have impacted your firm or your client’s organization will help you quantify the impact of your work. This is a must-have when it comes to year-end evaluations. You’ll also get a boost of clarity that’ll help you confidently communicate your case for year-end reviews. 

What to do instead

At the end of each project, schedule ten minutes with your manager or partner to understand the impact of your team’s work. Next, extrapolate it to your direct role on the project to quantify your contribution.

4.  You stay in your comfort zone.

The sure-fire way to not get promoted is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and getting so good at it that you cannot be replaced.

If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted. 

The next time you want to stay in your comfort zone, push yourself. Raise your hand for that stretch role and take on more responsibility. 

What to do instead

In your next 1-1 feedback session with your manager, ask how you can contribute by taking on more responsibility. Not only does this make their life easier, but it also signals that you’re maturing as a professional and you’re seriously invested in your career growth. 

5. You don’t upgrade your skillset.

Every new role is an opportunity to build your skills and knowledge. This should be your criteria for taking on any new project or role. 

Building a portfolio of skills that could potentially fit multiple roles (and updating your resume to show this) will make your profile more marketable within your organization and outside of it.

What to do instead

Before taking on any new role, list out all the new areas you’ll be working on. For example: is this role helping you develop your leadership skills, learn new software or handle a larger client? Whatever it may be, write it down in a running list.

6. You don’t have a cheat sheet.

As the person going through the performance evaluation process, it’s your job to make it easy for your manager to give you that promotion, pay increase or new project.

The more seriously you take your performance evaluation discussion, the more seriously your manager will act. Unfortunately, verbally rattling off a list of achievements during your evaluation meeting at year-end is not going to cut it. 

What to do instead

If you haven’t already, create a one-pager of all your accomplishments and projects (along with impact numbers) for the year to facilitate the year-end conversation. Keep this up to date with your latest projects throughout the year and use it for your 1-on-1 meetings as well.

7. You ignore previous performance feedback.

Almost everyone takes feedback personally. We get defensive and try to justify our behavior or actions. We feel bad about ourselves and make ourselves feel better by telling ourselves that our manager should be ignored.

We refuse feedback because we’re paralyzed by the rejection or delusional about the situation. That doesn’t help anyone. It took three job changes for me to realize that some of the feedback I’d been getting consistently was true and I needed to fix it.

What to do instead

Objectively assess the feedback you have received. Does some (or all!) of it ring true? If possible, ask for an informal evaluation from your peers and juniors by asking them to list out your top three strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be surprised at what comes back. 

Year-end evaluations don’t have to make you squeamish. Spend 10 minutes each week to proactively follow the tips above and take your power back. Your career is worth it.