Writing a Great Self-Evaluation

Do you struggle with writing your self-evaluations?

I was talking with someone the other day who has her first job with a formal organization (as opposed to a small mom-and-pop). She loves her job but she just experienced her first performance evaluation and it created a little pop of stress for her. She had no idea what to do or say, or how to prepare. From what she told me, her supervisor had nothing negative to say about her work – so you couldn’t say that it went badly – but it did sound like she wasted a great opportunity, starting with her self-evaluation.

Her story reminded me of one of the worst self-evaluations that I ever received from an employee. What made it so horrible was that it consisted of two words that didn’t even make a sentence. It did serve the purpose of making me confront his attitude and he left not too long afterwards.

A great self-evaluation serves several purposes, all to your benefit:

  • It records your achievements and demonstrates that you know the value that you’ve brought to the organization
  • It recognizes your strengths and establishes the developmental areas that you want to work on
  • It gives you a chance to reflect on what you want to do next

Even if your organization doesn’t conduct annual performance evaluations, I recommend that you perform your own self-evaluation once a year, and have a conversation with your boss, even if neither one of you labels it an evaluation. (And, depending on your boss and your organization, it maybe wisest to choose not to call it an evaluation.)

There’s an art to the self-evaluation, and it starts with those pesky PARS that your college career counselor tried to drum into your head.

Using PARS to Record Achievements

As a reminder, PARS stands for Problem-Action-Result-Skills.  For example:

  • Problem: Managers of a new retail store prototype needed guidance on how to merchandise and maintain the new fixtures.
  • Action: I prepared and distributed a photo-illustrated “cookbook” that provided information about the “ingredients” and “recipes” for success in the new store prototype.
  • Result: The 35 new stores used this book and it reduced training time by 40%. It was so successful that I created a similar book using the same format and concept that applied to the older brand, too.
  • Skills: Research, writing, conceptualization, team leadership, initiative, comparative systems analysis, effectiveness working independently or as a team, needs assessment.

Using the P-A-R of PARS to document your achievements on your self-evaluation achieves three things:

  • First, it helps you think about yourself as a results-oriented person, to identify how you are taking action to solve problems and quantify the results that you are getting.
  • More importantly, it demonstrates to your boss that you know the value that you bring to the organization – which will also come in handy if you want a raise or a promotion.
  • Most importantly, when you update your resume – which you should be doing at least once a year, even if you’re happy where you are – you’ve got a record of your achievements.

I wouldn’t label them PARS when you put them on your evaluation (that’s our little secret). Just summarize: “I developed a visual merchandising manual used by 35 new stores, which reduced training time by 40%. It was so successful that I created a similarly-formatted manual for the other 850 stores.”

Evaluating Your Skills

Your achievements reflect what you did for the company; your skills reflect what you have in your professional portfolio.

Looking at the S in your PARS helps with this. You might notice, for example, that several of your achievements required you to build relationships with senior managers in other departments. If you feel like this went well, list it as a skill that you developed. If you want to spend more time growing that skill, list it as a developmental area.

Sometimes people focus on “weaknesses” during performance evaluations but I’m not big on this. Either you want to grow a skill or not. If you want to, then you’re going to put that down as a goal and we’re going to work on it together and talk about how it’s going throughout the year. If you’re determined not to work on that skill and it’s critical for your position, you’ll have to figure out how to work around it and get results – and if you don’t, we’ll be discussing that instead.

For example, you can’t succeed as a manager if you do all the work yourself and don’t delegate – it’s not sustainable, for you or for the team. If we agree that you’re going to work on delegating to your team, by golly you’d better do it. If you tell me that you’re not going to work on delegation, then we’re going to have a different kind of conversation about how you’re going to ensure that the work gets done when you can’t personally work on it, and by golly, that work had better get done.

Looking Forward

The third part of a great self-evaluation describes the kinds of activities, projects, or assignments that you worked on that you’d like to spend more time doing.

You don’t have to outline your 5-year career plan – most people I know laugh when I mention a 5-year career plan – but you do need to think about and articulate your preferences. Both for your own self-knowledge and to plant the seeds with your supervisor. If they don’t know what you want, they can’t give it to you. They may not be able to give it to you anyway, but they may surprise you if they know what you want.

A self-evaluation doesn’t have to be long or include a lot of details. Your supervisor is probably writing more than one evaluation, and they are just as busy as you are. You don’t need a long narrative, detailing every single thing you did throughout the year and self-recriminating on your mistakes or bragging of your successes. Keep it concise and factual, and your supervisor will thank you. They may even use it as the basis for the evaluation that they write for you.

If your organization has a formal evaluation process, you may find that their self-evaluation form doesn’t accommodate all three of these areas. Or maybe your organization doesn’t have a formal process. That’s ok, you can still go through the exercise, and organize your thoughts so that you can speak to your supervisor about them, formally or informally.

Performance evaluations have gotten a bad rap through the years and I know people who believe they should be eliminated altogether because supervisors and employees should be having an ongoing conversation about performance throughout the year. But I believe that, even if those conversations are happening – and so often, they are not happening – every employee deserves a dedicated 30 minutes or an hour where they can sit down with their supervisor and talk exclusively about her or himself.

What do you think? How do you feel about evaluations? What are your tricks for writing a great self-evaluation?

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