You did so well in your recent job interviews with Company X that you got the entry-level position you really wanted. But your days of having to prove your value to the company are just beginning.
In a few months or perhaps even a year from now, you'll be asked to demonstrate your worth again to your supervisor during your first performance review.
Granted, your review probably won't carry the same make-or-break pressure as your job interview. But it will still have a significant impact on your future assignments, work relationships, day-to-day activities and salary. So you need to be as ready for your review as you were for all those interviews. And that means preparing for it from day one.
"The key to a successful performance review is what happens during the three, six or 12 months before the meeting," says Gene Mage, president of Making It Work, a Horseheads, New York-based leadership development and consulting firm. That's the time when your working relationship with your boss will be crystallized -- or not.
But here's the hard part: In many ways, forging that solid relationship will be up to you, says Sherry Cornwell, a selection specialist and strategic business partner for Medica, a Minneapolis-based health insurance company.
"I say this because there are many organizations and managers who do not take the lead in on-boarding their new employees," Cornwell says. "In the end, it's the employee's primary responsibility not to wait for information to be given to them, but to be proactive."
In other words, sooner rather than later, you need to clarify your role and your boss's expectations of you to determine how you'll eventually be assessed at your performance review. Do you have individual goals you need to achieve? Company goals?
When your review is only a few weeks or days away, you must become more concrete by completing tasks like these:
Summarize Your Key Achievements
Think about what you've achieved since you began the job, and develop a written list of your most important accomplishments. Just as you might do if you were to highlight these achievements on your resume, quantify wherever possible, and mention specific results (e.g., "helped streamline the customer database, reducing query processing time by about 40 percent.").
Present These Accomplishments
"Brainstorm concrete examples that illustrate outstanding performance, and practice communicating them so they're on the tip of your tongue," says Alexandra Levit, author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College.
You might even want to develop and use a career portfolio, a binder filled with items that will help you show your supervisor what you've accomplished.
Your portfolio need not be lengthy or complicated to be effective, says portfolio expert Carmen Croonquist, director of career services at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
While you may not have the time or inclination to prepare a full-fledged portfolio featuring layout pages, divider tabs, captions for the various items and a table of contents, "it's still advantageous to put the items into a nice binder, even in instances where you're planning to leave it behind with your supervisor," Croonquist says.
Develop a Detailed Agenda
"If you don't care about your performance reviews, no one else will," Levit stresses. "The worst thing you can do for your career as a new employee is to go through the process passively."
Make a detailed list of what you'd like to cover during your actual review meeting that's independent of your manager's agenda, Levit says. That way, you'll be able to discuss what you want to focus on, not just what the boss wants to talk about.
No matter how much you prepare, your performance review will still be at least a bit stressful. So try not to become defensive if you get some constructive criticism during the meeting, and listen as much as you talk.
If you've done your homework ahead of time and worked hard to build a solid relationship with your supervisor, then your formal review will be "exactly that -- a formality," Mage says.