Promotions: Effectively Using Standard Appraisal Tools

Engineers of all ages and experience levels place a lot of focus on getting promotions, and rightfully so.  Everybody wants to earn more money or receive more recognition and prestige.

But here is the most important thing to remember: It doesn’t matter how many years you have worked at the company or at your current position. It doesn’t matter how smart you think you are, or how much experience you think you have. And it certainly doesn’t matter how many of your peers have been promoted ahead of you, because you are not entitled to one. Period. End of story.

Instead, you need to actually earn that promotion, and unfortunately, you can’t expect your actions on the job to speak for themselves, because unless you have an awesome manager, he’s going to be too busy with the hundreds of tasks dumped on his desk to always pay attention to what you’re doing.  Therefore, you’re going to have to proactively show your boss why you’ve earned a promotion.

There are many methods and tools one can use to increase the likelihood of a promotion. But in this post, I’ll discuss how to use your company’s performance appraisal tools to get value from them and why you should take them seriously.

Nearly all companies will utilize some kind of performance appraisal tools, which may include annual or semi-annual performance reviews, requesting feedback from those you’ve worked with, and self-evaluations.

In many cases, use of those tools is required, and engineers only fill them out to get the check mark, figuring they don’t really matter.  And there is some truth to that.  At my company, for example, promotions and raises are determined well before feedback is received via the standard tools. Our managers won’t admit that, but we all know it’s true. That said, the tools still have value if for nothing other than serving as an official history of your performance.

Therefore, if you must use them, you might as well make them value-added. Here are a few tips for doing just that…

When requesting feedback, don’t just ask your team leads. While their evaluation is important when it comes to your technical performance, it leaves out critical aspects of your overall performance.

To paint the whole picture, also request feedback from an engineer who works for you and an engineer who works with you.  This will provide insight into your leadership skills, and your valuation among your peers.  It’s also a good idea to request feedback from personnel outside of engineering (supply chain, operations, configuration management, etc).

Equally as important to glowing reviews from other employees is your self-assessment.  Write honestly and critically of yourself, but always be supportive. Avoid self-deprecation.  Find a balance between being humble and bragging.  Highlight the value you bring to the company by listing your accomplishments and growth.

A great way to show self-awareness is to review the development needs listed in your previous performance appraisals.  Write that you’ve taken the advice to heart and have strived to close those performance gaps.  Cite examples such as training or instances in which you behaved differently than you would have a year ago.  This demonstrates that you are proactive and always looking to improve yourself.

As mentioned earlier, these tools are a written, and recognized – they’re typically “acknowledged” by your supervisor – history of your career development, so do not be afraid to reference them during your performance appraisal.  Consider bringing copies to the meeting with your boss.  If he or she tells you something contradictory to past reviews or misstates the facts, you’ll be able to kindly point to the truth.

There is no guaranteed way to get a promotion, but consistently utilizing your company’s performance appraisal tools is a solid first step.

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