5 tips on how to slay your annual review

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, your annual review – or performance review, yearly appraisal, day of dread… whatever you call it – is a fact of working life. But for a lot of people a disappointing review is the straw that breaks the poor, disillusioned camel’s absolutely knackered back. Shortly afterwards, you can bet our best stilettos we’ll have potential new candidates hitting up the Lightning jobs page.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now, we might be doing ourselves out of a job, here… But here at Lightning we genuinely want y’all to thrive. So, read on for tips on how to smash your annual review…

  1. Don’t arrive empty-handed

Most companies that know what’s up will give you some sort of review form or survey to complete before the big day. Don’t be the pillock filling this out the hour before – if you give your review this little thought, it’s no surprise if it leaves you feeling bummed out. Instead, dedicate proper time well in advance and give yourself a chance to come back to your answers with a fresh head at least once.

Aside from that (or if your company doesn’t do forms), bring your own notes. Reviews can be high-pressure – and one thing that’s guaranteed to happen when you’re under pressure is all the smart points you’ve thought up instantly plop out of your head, leaving you burbling into your coffee and talking absolutely tosh because you can’t think of anything better to say.

So, write that s**t down. Make a note of your accomplishments (see point 3), identify areas where you think you could improve (see point 4), write down what you’d like to achieve in the future (see point 2), and bring examples of comparative job specs and salaries if you’re planning to ask for a pay rise and/or promotion. Think positive and constructive, yeah?

  1. Decide what you want out of it

Contrary to popular belief, your annual review isn’t all about getting a pay rise (although that might come into it). Done right, it can and should be a great opportunity to make sense of where you’re at in terms of performance and expectations, to agree on where you’re going with your career, and to figure out how you’re going to get there.

But don’t expect your manager to present you with a pre-plotted route on a metaphorical Google Maps – how would they, if they don’t know the destination? Before your review, do some soul-searching to work out where you actually want to go (and don’t be afraid to think outside the box). Because once you know what you’re aiming for, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier for your boss to support you in getting there. 

Ask yourself: What does ‘success’ look like for you? Is it a title or position – even if that’s in a different area to where you’re currently working – that offers challenge and fulfilment? Is it learning a whole different skill, like coding, or taking on new responsibilities, like managing a team? Is it a particular salary or benefits package that offers financial stability? Or is it something that relates to your lifestyle as a whole – like being able to get a dog (guilty), working from somewhere other than the office, or dedicating more time to your side-hustle?

  1. Big yourself up (but be real)

There’s a time and a place to toot your own horn, and your review is one hundy per cent it. But don’t just bang on about how phenomenal you are without any context because that, friends, can make you sound a) arrogant and b) delusional – which certainly isn’t going to score you any points.

Instead, talk about your achievements in a way that demonstrates how you positively impacted the business: quantify accomplishments (marketing: X new leads or X repeat customers; sales: £X profit or X% leads closed; operations: X% cost savings or X% customer satisfaction – you get the picture) and bring evidence if you can – even if you need to think ahead to gather this evidence for yourself. (Top tip: keeping a running document of accomplishments throughout the year makes your life a whole lot easier come review time.)

And remember: KPIs aren’t deliciously salty nut snacks; you’re given them for a reason. Make sure to measure your performance against your previous KPIs (if you have any) and be ready to prove you’ve surpassed them or explain why you haven’t.

  1. Welcome constructive feedback

Repeat after us: “Feedback helps me grow.” Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to deliver feedback (which you’ll know if you have a toxic boss). But for the most part we can assure you your manager isn’t throwing shade for their own pleasure: they, like us, want you to thrive. 

So, don’t take criticism as a personal attack and (we’re talking to you, nasty naggy little voice in your head) remember to focus on the good as well as the bad feedback you receive. The best way to take ownership and rewrite the narrative in your imposter-syndrome-riddled mind? Ask for it. Proactively point out areas you suspect you might need to improve in and ask for guidance. Expect and welcome constructive criticism as a normal, positive part of your career growth – you’ll get further, faster, we promise.

  1. Don’t hold your tongue until your review

Are you guilty of keeping a mental s**t-list of all the things you want to moan about in your review? Have you been building up the courage to ask for a raise all year? Do you have a secret bank of ideas for how to improve your work/change your role/develop your team that all come spilling out in that one allotted hour per annum?

We’re here to tell you to pipe up as you go along. First thing is, many businesses set their budgets for pay rises/promotions/new hires ahead of review season, so if you want to be in with a chance you need to sow that seed early. Secondly, storing up negative gripes like an angry little squirrel will rot your soul from the inside out and make you a miserable person to be and be around – the last thing you want to do is come into your review with a bad attitude, so be out with it. 

Thirdly, review season can be tiring for managers – especially if they have a big team – so it might not be the optimum time to be springing new information on them. Use your regular catch-ups to keep them in the loop and get real-time feedback so you can course-correct as you go along, allowing you to ring-fence your precious review time for productive, big-picture talk.


Of course, if you do all this and the outcome still isn’t what you hoped for, you know where we are. Looking for a new opportunity? Hit us up, huns. 😉

In the meantime, here's our Talent Consultant, Jack Williams, talking about his favourite success story here at Lightning, so you can see the people who will be representing you, authentically.

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Thea Bardot

10th April

Career Advice Blog