An Annual Review may be a key point in your career path. Depending on the company for which you work, this may be the only official feedback you receive during the year. Raises and promotions are often dependent on your annual review scores. Some companies emphasize an annual review more than others, but it's a good idea to devote some energy to them as an employee.

The first important thing to know about your annual review is that you should start thinking about it very early in the year - preferably right after your last annual review. Set explicit, measurable goals for yourself over the coming year. Once your goals are established, formulate a plan to achieve those goals. Be as specific as possible. Include skills you want to learn, certifications you want to earn, and roles you want to fill. Review these goals periodically over the following months. Revise them, if necessary and record what you are doing to accomplish them.

Keep your manager or managers aware of what you are doing throughout the year. If you are speaking at a conference, let them know. If you receive an e-mail from a customer, praising your work, forward it to your boss. He should know what you are doing and how you are doing and this tends to create a favourable impression that can only help at review time.

Record all your accomplishments. I keep a spreadsheet with a tab for Projects I've worked on, Candidate I’ve interviewed, Presentations I've given, and other categories of contributions I've made to the company. For you, this record might be a Word document or a text file or a spiral notebook. The point is that you should not rely on anyone else to remember what you did throughout the year. It's tempting to believe that your manager will remember these things, but I can tell you from experience that managers have a lot to keep track of and they will often forget what you accomplished a few months ago. Add to that the non-zero chance that your manager may leave the company or get transferred to another role and you can see why it's important that you take responsibility for remembering all that you  did during the year.

When it comes time for your review, review your accomplishments and compare them to your goals set at the beginning of the year. Give yourself an honest evaluation of your performance during the past 12 months. This accomplishes two things:

  1. It will prepare you for what your Annual Review will likely be.
  2. It will help you to articulate to your manager how well you did during the past year.

It's important to remind your manager of your accomplishments at this time. As mentioned before, there is a good chance he has forgotten some of them and providing positive data points only makes his job easier.

Finally, almost every annual review process includes some qualitative feedback. Listen carefully to this feedback, even if some of it is negative. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the promotion you wanted or if you were evaluated lower than you  expected. But make sure you understand why. Insist on an explanation if you don’t understand a score in a particular area. Look at the negative points as areas that you can improve next year. Use these points to help define your goals for the coming year.

A well-done annual review is an important part of an organization and of an individual's career path. If done correctly, the employee has at least as much involvement in a review as his manager does.