4 min read

Preparing for a performance review cycle

Performance review cycles can be stressful for some, and there can be a fear that highly meaningful, impactful work will go unrecognized.

The lack of full recognition for such work can translate into:

  • delays in career advancement, commonly in the form of a promotion;
  • a loss in potential earnings in the form of increased compensation or equity as part of a bonus structure; and
  • missed project opportunities that could lead to further career development

This fear is especially acute for folks that find themselves doing work that they know contribute to the success of the teams and projects that the individual is working on, but is known to be commonly unrecognized.

Some of this work is known as ‘glue work’ as coined by Tanya Reilly, but there are times when work consistently demonstrating competencies at a more senior level in the context of a highly visible project can sometimes be lost due to the amount of time that passes between review cycles.

For instance, some companies perform annual reviews, while others perform them on a biannual basis. In a fast paced work environment such as that found in a startup company, a lot can happen during that time.

While every company and team does review cycles differently, there are some things that can be done in the lead up to and during a performance review that help ensure that all of your contributions are made visible to your manager and others who make the decisions related to career advancement and opportunities related to that.

These things are:

  • keeping a record
  • working with your manager
  • not omitting accomplishments in a review due to a request to be brief, such as in the context of a self-review

I’m going to take a moment before diving in and state that the suggestions being made here are based on my personal experiences with performance reviews as a software engineer working in start up companies, as well as various pieces of advice given to me by colleagues and friends over the years.

I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful, and that you come away from reading this feeling a bit more empowered and in control of your career.

Keep a record

Initially when I started tracking my work on projects I used a simple list that contained brief descriptions of projects that I was a part of and what I did on them. The details for what I did on them tended to be a bit more high level and captured what I did in broad sense.

Over time, more details have made their way into this record, and has turned into something more performance-review ready.  It’s now easy for me to use parts with some minor edits in a self-assessment form should that be a component of a future review.

The record now contains the following about a given project:

  • Brief description
  • Length of time it took to complete
  • Business goals, what the project was intended to achieve in terms of value to the company, and the metrics by which that success would be measured
  • What did the success metrics look like after a given amount of time (first day, first week, first month)

The record has evolved to also serve as a resource of lessons learned that could be applied to future projects that I’m a part of. Once a project as been completed, the record includes :

  • What I felt went well
  • What I felt went not so well
  • Lessons learned over the course of the project

By maintaining a more detailed record, it’s far easier during a performance review cycle to point to your impact in a detailed manner.

You don’t want to be in a position where you’re struggling to remember all that you’d done in your most impactful project for the review cycle because it happened shortly after the last review cycle ended and a lot of time has passed since.

Work with your manager

Don’t wait until the review cycle is underway before having a conversation with your manager.

Particularly if you’re new to the company and it’s your first review, find out the format of the review and if there’s a stage at which you provide input. The input could be a formal self-assessment or an informal list of various things you’d like your manager to keep in mind as they’re conducting their review.

Ideally, aim to have a conversation with them a couple of weeks to a month before the review cycle starts so that you can prepare any materials that you need so that once the review cycle starts it’s a far less stressful endeavor.

Your manager can also help guide you on how to ensure that all of your contributions are recognized while following the review cycle format as close as possible.

For instance, there might be a peer review format where you can only request members of your immediate team for feedback, but the person you would have asked because you had worked with them closely for the past year had recently transferred to a different team, and so is not longer an option within the performance review feedback software that is used.

Your manager can work with you and that former team mate to ensure that that feedback is incorporated into the review cycle.

Don’t limit your accomplishments to one or two sentences

Don’t write a novel, but also don’t short change yourself. Be concise while highlighting your accomplishments and their impact within your team and the broader company.

The format I’ve generally followed is to break down accomplishments into a list so it’s easy to digest for the reader and to attempt to categorize them as best as I can. For example, you could have something like:

Shipped Project A

  • Team grew 50% during this time. I had made various onboarding resources in order to ensure they were able to onboard successfully. Found that team members were able to start contributing to code base within X amount of time (compared to X amount of time previously), which helped ensure that Project A was delivered on time to our customers.

Increased reliability of product

  • Working with individuals across teams to incorporate continuous testing using X service and wrote documentation explaining how to set it up for new projects
  • Created monitors and alerts within X service to ensure that the engineering team is alerted within Y amount of time for critical functionality


Performance review cycles can be daunting if you’ve never experienced one before, but the key thing to remember is that you need to be your strongest advocate as even the best manager that wants to help you grow and advance within the company won’t necessarily see everything that you do.

By keeping track of all the impactful work that you do, you make it easy for yourself and your manager to make strong cases for career opportunities and advancements within your company, and ensuring that you’re not waiting any longer for formal recognition than necessary.

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