Given a choice between cleaning the office microwave and writing a self evaluation, most people would probably grab the all-purpose cleaner and a roll of paper towels.
Self evaluations are performance assessments that bring you and your manager together to rate your performance over a given time span (quarterly, semi-annually, annually) either using a scale (one to 10 or one to five) or by answering open-ended questions. You complete the evaluation and so does your manager. During the performance review, the two of you compare notes to arrive at a final evaluation.
Writing about yourself, especially if those words are going to be part of your permanent work record, can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, self evaluations give you a voice in your performance review, and they’re opportunities to outline your career goals and get help in reaching them.
What Is an Employee Self Evaluation?
Workplace employee self evaluations can be traced back to management theorist Douglas McGregor, author of the groundbreaking 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise. McGregor believed that employees enjoy work, are intrinsically motivated to work and have the self-direction and ambition to do so.
In a 1957 Harvard Business Review article, McGregor presented self evaluations as a way to give employees and managers a way to work together to judge workplace performance, rather than handing a manager total control. “Managers are uncomfortable when they are put in the position of ‘playing God,’” he wrote.
Today, the goal of self evaluations is twofold, according to Leslie Mizerak, an executive coach at edtech company NimblyWise. They give managers an understanding of where their employees think they are in relation to their goals, and they give employees a voice that is heard and documented.
Below, we’ll examine self evaluation examples, types of self assessments, why companies use self evaluations and how both employees and managers can complete them successfully.
Benefits of Self Evaluations
Academic literature indicates that employees are more satisfied with evaluations that involve two-way communication and encourage a conversation between manager and employee, according to Thomas Begley, professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The thing is, employees have to trust that the process is fair, Begley added. If they believe it is, and they’re treated fairly and respectfully during the process, employees react positively to self evaluations. “If unfair, they lose trust in the manager and process, become disgruntled and are more likely to leave the organization,” Begley said.
Self evaluations might seem as a way to shift the burden of the review to the employee from the manager, but in reality, they benefit both.
“Self evaluations enable employees to see their work in its entirety,” Jill Bowman, director of people at fintech company Octane, said. “They ensure that employees reflect on their high points throughout the entire year and to assess their progress towards achieving predetermined objectives and goals.”
Some companies see tangible results from self evaluations. For example, Smarty, an address-verification company, enjoys low staff turnover, said Rob Green, chief revenue officer. The self-evaluation method, coupled with a strong focus on a communication-based corporate culture, has resulted in a 97 percent retention rate, Green said.
Since self evaluations are inherently reflective, they allow employees to identify and examine their strengths and weaknesses. When identifying strengths, employees will be able to use specific metrics and examples from their work to demonstrate their value. This helps employees both know their worth to an organization and what they still have left to learn.
For Bowman, employee self assessments also help managers more accurately remember each employee’s accomplishments.
“As many managers often have numerous direct reports, it provides a useful summary of the achievements of each member,” Bowman said. “Self-evaluations also help account for performance across the full year as opposed to just the most recent tasks and accomplishments that are likely still top of mind.”
It may seem obvious, but self assessments also help prepare both employees and managers for performance reviews. Completing a self evaluation can help guide the conversation in a structured, but meaningful, way. It also helps both parties get an idea of what needs to be discussed during a performance review, so neither feels caught off guard by the conversation.
Types of Self Evaluations
Self evaluations come in several varieties. One involves open-ended questions or statements asking employees to list accomplishments, setbacks and goals. Another gives a list of statements where employees are asked to rate themselves on a scale of one to five or one to ten (generally the higher the number, the more favorable the rating). Hybrid evaluations combine the two. Each approach has its own set of pros and cons to consider.
Open-ended Question Self Evaluation
Open-ended questions can vary from company to company and can serve different purposes, depending on the angle of the question. The goal of open-ended questions is generally the same: to get employees thinking deeply about their work, how they’ve accomplished their goals and where they need to improve.
With open-ended questions, employees tend to be more forgiving with themselves, which can be both good and bad. Whatever result open ended questions bring about, they typically offer more fodder for discussion between employees and managers.
Rating Self Evaluation
Rating self evaluation systems vary widely too. For instance, Smarty uses a tool called 3A+. Unlike most self evaluations, this one calls for employees and managers to sit down and complete the evaluation together, at the same time. Employees rate themselves from 3, 2 or 1 (three being the best) on their capability in their role; A, B or C on their helpfulness to others, and plus or minus on their “diligence and focus” in their role. Managers rate the employees using the same scale. A “perfect” score would be 3A+, while an employee who needs some TLC would rate 2B-.
Young likes the approach, developed by management company Arbinger, because the second part of the evaluation acknowledges that employees don’t work in a silo, and that their actions affect others. “It’s a win-win,” Young said.
But rating systems can have their challenges that are often rooted in bias. For example, women are more likely to rate themselves lower than men. People from individualistic cultures, which emphasize individuals over community, will rate themselves higher than people from collectivist cultures, which place a premium on the group rather than the individual, Jackson said.
Hybrid Self Evaluations
Hybrid self evaluations, such as the ones from the Society for Human Resource Management, include a rating scale where employees score themselves one through five on skills including project management, collaboration and teamwork and communication. Here’s an example of some questions that might be asked in a hybrid self evaluation:
- List your most significant accomplishments or contributions since last year. How do these achievements align with the goals and objectives outlined in your last review?
- Since the last appraisal period, have you successfully performed any new tasks or additional duties outside the scope of your regular responsibilities? If so, please specify.
- What activities have you initiated, or actively participated in, to encourage camaraderie and teamwork within your group and/or office? What was the result?
- Describe your professional development activities since last year, such as offsite seminars, onsite training, peer training, management coaching or mentoring, on-the-job experience, exposure to challenging projects, etc.
- Describe areas you feel require improvement in terms of your professional capabilities. List the steps you plan to take and/or the resources you need to accomplish this.
- Identify two career goals for the coming year and indicate how you plan to accomplish them.
Self-Evaluation Questions for Performance Reviews
If you’ve never done a self evaluation, or if you just need a refresher before your next performance review, looking over some examples of self evaluation questions — like the ones below — can be a helpful starting point. They provide a sense of what to expect from your next self evaluation, and they may even help you craft your answers (or help you write your next round of questions, if you’re a manager).
Self Evaluation Questions for Performance Reviews
These are some questions commonly found in a semi-annual or annual performance review:
- What are you most proud of?
- What would you do differently?
- How have you carried out the company’s mission statement?
- Where would you like to be a year from now?
- List your skills and positive attributes.
- List your accomplishments, especially those that impacted others or moved you toward goals.
- Think about your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them.
- What are your opportunities to grow through advancement and/or learning?
- How do the above tie to your professional goals?
Self Evaluation Questions for Career Planning and Growth
Questions on this type of evaluation tend to focus on an employee’s goals for their job and career:
- What are you interested in working on?
- What are you working on now?
- What do you want to learn more about?
- How can I as your manager better support you?
- What can the company do to support your journey?
- How can the immediate team support you?
- What can you do to better support the team and the company?
Self Evaluation Questions for Performance and Career Goals
This type of self evaluation puts a premium on career goals and how well employees meet them:
- How did you perform in relation to your goals?
- What level of positive impact did your performance have on the team?
- Did your performance have a positive impact on the business?
- What was your level of collaboration with other departments?
- What corporate value do you bring to life?
- What corporate value do you most struggle to align with?
- Summarize your strengths.
- Summarize your development areas.
- Summarize your performance/achievements during this year.
- How would you rate your overall performance this year?
How to Write a Self Evaluation
The ability to write a self evaluation is a critical career skill, said Richard Hawkes, CEO and founder of Growth River, a leadership and management consulting company.
“Self evaluations give you a platform to influence your manager and in many cases, reframe the nature of the relationship with your manager,” Hawkes said. “And all results in business happen in the context of relationships.”
6 Tips for Writing a Self Evaluation
- Keep track of your hits and misses throughout the review period.
- Take your time writing the evaluation.
- Have a mentor, trusted colleague or friend read over your draft.
- Acknowledge mistakes and how you learned from them.
- Be clear about your career goals.
- Use the evaluation as a starting point for a conversation with your manager.
In Hawkes’ estimation, the ability to write a comprehensive self evaluation becomes a career tool and a life tool.
Below are some tips from Hawkes and others on how to complete a self evaluation.
Track Your Work
Daily or weekly tracking of your work can help you keep track of your progress and also prevent last-minute “what on earth did I do the last six months?” panic at performance evaluation time, said Peter Griscom, CEO at New York-based Tradefluence, which makes a stock-picking app. “Strip down the questions to two or three, and just ask yourself, ‘How well did I communicate today?’ ‘How well did I solve problems today?’ ‘What have I achieved today?’” Griscom said.
“Get in the habit of writing those things out and keeping track and over time, that will help you get very comfortable with self evaluations and understand the purpose behind them,” he said, adding that he’s done just that over his career in tech.
Take Your Time
“It’s not something you can do in 15 minutes,” Hawkes said. “Slow down, take time and let your objectives stew a little bit.” Write a first draft as soon as possible after getting the email or message from your manager. Let it sit for a few days and then return to it to polish and revise.
Griscom remembers his first self evaluation, asked of him when he was head of product at a consumer-goods company. He remembers wondering whether he had to be overly brutal on himself, deciding how to best answer the questions, and trying to figure out how the answers would affect his career. “I think I over-thought it the first time,” he said.
Rather than plague himself with questions, he asked his manager, the CFO of the company, for guidance. “He said, ‘just give me your honest answers; there is no right or wrong,’” Griscom recalled. So Griscom answered the questions as accurately as he could. “What came out of it was really valuable, because it gave me a chance to reflect on my own achievements and think about where I can improve,” he said. “It forced me to do the thinking instead of just accepting feedback.”
Tout Your Wins
If your boss has a handful of direct reports, chances are good they haven’t noticed each of your shining moments during a review period. This is your chance to spotlight yourself. Quotas exceeded, projects finished ahead of schedule, fruitful mentoring relationships, processes streamlined — whatever you’ve done, share it, and don’t be shy about it, said Alexandra Phillips, a leadership and management coach. Women, especially, tend not to share achievements and accomplishments as loudly or often as they should, Phillips said. “Make sure your manager has a good sense of where you’ve had those wins, large and small, because sometimes they can fly under the radar,” she added.
Admit Weaknesses (and How You’ve Grown From Them)
If you’ve made a whopper mistake since your past review, mention it — and be sure to discuss what you’ve learned from it. Chances are good your manager knows you made a mistake, and bringing it up gives you the opportunity to provide more context to the situation. “It’s the perfect time to do so,” Culture Amp’s Jackson said.
Acknowledge Where You Can Improve
When you’re meeting with your manager, listen to what they say, both positive and negative. And be prepared for your manager to point out a few areas for improvement. This tension point is where career growth happens. “If you want something,” whether it’s a promotion or move to another department, “you need to know how to get there,” said Phillips. Just as people find it hard to brag, some find it hard to acknowledge their weaknesses. Knowing your weaknesses, “you can make some personal choices as to how to potentially bolster those spaces.”
Get a Second Opinion
Share a draft with a person you trust, whether it’s your partner or a colleague, advised Jackson. It’s a good way to have someone else weigh in, especially if you have difficulty bragging about yourself, she said. Plus, an extra set of eyes can help spot typos and grammatical errors.
Self Evaluation Examples and Templates Answers
Still not sure what to do when you put pen to paper? Here are six open-ended questions from a sample self evaluation from the Society for Human Resource Management, as well as example answers you can use to prepare for your own self evaluation.
List your most significant accomplishments or contributions since last year. How do these achievements align with the goals/objectives outlined in your last review?
How to answer with positive results: In the past year, I successfully led our team in finishing [project A]. I was instrumental in finding solutions to several project challenges, among them [X, Y and Z]. When Tom left the company unexpectedly, I was able to cover his basic tasks until a replacement was hired, thus keeping our team on track to meet KPIs.
I feel the above accomplishments demonstrate that I have taken more of a leadership role in our department, a move that we discussed during my last performance review.
How to answer with ways to improve: Although I didn’t meet all of my goals in the last year, I am working on improving this by changing my workflow and holding myself accountable. I am currently working to meet my goals by doing [X, Y and Z] and I plan to have [project A] completed by [steps here]. I believe that I will be able to correct my performance through these actionable steps.
Since the last appraisal period, have you successfully performed any new tasks or additional duties outside the scope of your regular responsibilities? If so, please specify.
How to answer with positive results: Yes. I have established mentoring relationships with one of the younger members of our team, as well as with a more seasoned person in another department. I have also successfully taken over the monthly all-hands meeting in our team, trimming meeting time to 30 minutes from an hour and establishing clear agendas and expectations for each meeting. Again, I feel these align with my goal to become more of a leader.
How to answer with ways to improve: Since the last review period, I focused my efforts on improving my communication with our team, meeting my goals consistently and fostering relationships with leaders in other departments. Over the next six months, I plan on breaking out of my comfort zone by accomplishing [X, Y and Z].
What activities have you initiated, or actively participated in, to encourage camaraderie and teamwork within your group and/or office? What was the result?
How to answer with positive results: I launched the “No More Panicked Mondays” program to help on-site and remote colleagues make Mondays more productive. The initiative includes segmenting the day into 25-minute parts to answer emails, get caught up on direct messages, sketch out to-do lists and otherwise plan for the week ahead. NMPM also includes a 15-minute “Weekend Update” around lunch time, during which staff shares weekend activities. Attendance was slow at first but has picked up to nearly 90 percent participation. The result overall for the initiative is more of the team signs on to direct messages earlier in the day, on average 9:15 a.m. instead of the previous 10 a.m., and anecdotally, the team seems more enthusiastic about the week. I plan to conduct a survey later this month to get team input on how we can change up the initiative.
How to answer with ways to improve: Although I haven’t had the chance to lead any new initiatives since I got hired, I recently had an idea for [A] and wanted to run it by you. Do you think this would be beneficial to our team? I would love to take charge of a program like this.
Describe your professional development activities since last year, such as offsite seminars/classes (specify if self-directed or required by your supervisor), onsite training, peer training, management coaching or mentoring, on-the-job experience, exposure to challenging projects, other—please describe.
How to answer with positive results: I completed a class on SEO best practices and shared what I learned from the seminar during a lunch-and-learn with my teammates. I took on a pro-bono website development project for a local nonprofit, which gave me a new look at website challenges for different types of organizations. I also, as mentioned above, started two new mentoring relationships.
How to answer with ways to improve: This is something I have been thinking about but would like a little guidance with. I would love to hear what others have done in the past to help me find my footing. I am eager to learn more about [A] and [B] and would like to hear your thoughts on which courses or seminars you might recommend.
Describe areas you feel require improvement in terms of your professional capabilities. List the steps you plan to take and/or the resources you need to accomplish this.
I feel I could do better at moving projects off my desk and on to the next person without overthinking them or sweating details that are not mine to sweat; in this regard I could trust my teammates more. I plan to enlist your help with this and ask for a weekly 15-minute one-on-one meeting to do so.
Identify two career goals for the coming year and indicate how you plan to accomplish them.
One is a promotion to senior project manager, which I plan to reach by continuing to show leadership skills on the team. Another is that I’d like to be seen as a real resource for the organization, and plan to volunteer for the committee to update the standards and practices handbook.
How Should Managers Approach Self Evaluations?
It’s clear here that self evaluations, as a type of performance review, are more employee- than manager-driven. That said, managers are a key ingredient in this process, and the way managers handle self evaluations determines much about how useful they are and how well employees respond to them.
To make sure they’re as effective as possible, consider these suggestions from Elisabeth Duncan, vice president of human resources and Adam Kanouse, chief technology officer at Evive, a provider of IT systems and platforms for HR teams.
Train Managers on How to Use Evaluations
“If you don’t, there’s no point in doing them, because the manager is going to be the one driving the conversations,” Duncan said. “Without training, the (evaluations) will be a checkbox and not meaningful.”
Don’t Use Ratings Formulaically
The results of self evaluations that employ a scale (say, one to five) can vary wildly, as one manager’s three is another manager’s five. Use the scale to identify and address discrepancies between the manager’s and employee’s answers, not to decide on raises or promotions across the company.
Hold Self Evaluations Often
They work best as career-development tools if they’re held semi-annually, quarterly or even more often. “It’s about an ongoing, consistent conversation,” Duncan said.
Tailor Them for Each Department
Competencies in sales very likely differ from competencies in tech, marketing and other departments. Competencies for junior-level employees probably differ wildly from those for senior managers. Self evaluations tailored to different employee populations will be more effective, and fairer.
Stress that the Rating Is Just the Start
The rating or the open-ended questions are the beginning of the evaluation process; they are not the process itself. “These are tools to trigger a conversation,” Duncan said.
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Overall, think of self evaluations as a way to engage with your manager and your work in a way that furthers your career. Embrace the self evaluation, get good at writing them, and in no time at all, you’ll find they’re more productive — and definitely more fun — than scrubbing the office microwave.