How to Bluff Your Way Through a Performance Appraisal or Annual Evaulation

2009 July 29

Dear GenMeh;

Help! I have my annual performance appraisal next week. Not only do I suck at meetings like this, I’m pretty sure that telling my boss that I spend every lunch hour fantasizing about quitting and running off to the Dominican Republic won’t go over too well. I kinda hate the job (a lot), but I do like being able to pay my bills and feed myself. What sort of stuff should I say?

-Don’t Want to Get Fired, kthxsbai

I could point you to half a dozen kinder-careerist websites that would walk you through this very process or reiterate the point about GenMeh not being in the business of helping out earnest young corporate go-getters, but I get the sense from your full letter that you just want to know the right things (true or otherwise) to say to get through the performance appraisal in one piece. So, if you’re looking for glossy BS speak for the purpose of making your 9-5 hell just a little less hellish, that we can certainly do. I give you:

How to Bluff Your Way Through a Performance Appraisal


Photo by Kumar Appaiah

1. Unobjectionable and appropriately ambitious sounding goals

When asked what your goals are for the coming period, go with the tried and true. Everyone wants to “strengthen their management and leadership skills.” Fact. “Gaining more exposure to other functional areas of the company as a means of strengthening my own job performance” also works. Ditto, “Increase my knowledge and understanding of our industry/sector/field via participation in training/workshops/conferences and key professional development events.” You want to balance appearing ambitious and forward thinking with naming goals both vague and modest enough to ensure that you can make a case for having achieved them by the time your next appraisal rolls around.

2. Inoffensive organizational critiques

If you’re quizzed on your org’s faults and failings, keep your answer as back-handedly complimentary as possible. If you can tie these weaknesses to an act of God in which no one within the organization can actually be faulted for the shortcoming, so much the better.  Unfortunately, “I believe office morale has suffered a decline since that tornado destroyed the break room last month.” doesn’t work for everyone.

“Our exponential growth over the last year has meant that forming personal relationships with each of my new colleagues has been more challenging than when there were a fewer of us on staff, but it’s a challenge I welcome.” might suffice if you’re the type who can pull off a little tweeness and your company is actually, you know, thriving.

If you’re surrounded by control freak information hoarders who refuse to cooperate, why not opt for the passive-aggressive, “I support strengthening our ongoing commitment to sharing information and continuing to improve our team communications.”?

3. Flattering flaws

If you have to discuss your own flaws, make sure to couch them in terms of the work you’re doing to overcome them. How about, “becoming increasingly comfortable with the flexibility and adaptability required by the nature of our work/field/project and actively working to anticipate and prepare for these shifts in priorities through ongoing info gather and environmental scanning”?  Impressive! Or perhaps you’re  “recognizing that perfect information doesn’t exist and becoming more comfortable with assuming risk and making decisions based on the best inputs and resources available”?

Ideally, you want to paint the “flaw” as circumstantial and outside of your control and play up your excellent coping mechanism (unless said coping mechanism involves sneaking into the men’s room with a flask of Jim Beam. Skip that part).

But what if your supervisor wants you to discuss her flaws? Firstly, THIS IS A TRICK QUESTION. No one is actually cool with constructive criticism. She doesn’t want you to suggest areas in which she could improve her management approach; she simply wants you to validate her awesomeness in a plausible, yet not overly fawning, manner. Talk about your appreciation for the opportunities to take on increased responsibility and mention that you hope that this trend will continue in the future and that you welcome any and all opportunities to be included in management-level discussions and to participate in/observe the decision making process. Give her milquetoast and mealy-mouthed; that’s what she’s looking for.

No guarantees, but if you follow these simple tips, you should be well on your way to securing another year of gainful employment as a self-loathing wage slave. Why not take an extra long lunch to celebrate?

Have a career/life/love problem you’d like us to help you solve? Drop us a line and we’ll see what we can do.

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