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How to Advocate for Yourself During a Performance Review

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

A young man with brown hair is standing over a long desk as he prepares for his performance review. He is shaking hands with a woman wearing a green blouse, while another woman with long brown hair smiles from the side. There are green plants in the background of a bright office space.

It’s that time of year—your performance review is on the calendar and you need to complete a self-assessment. Although the process can vary from one organization to the next, many of us can relate to the general feelings of stress and unease brought on by performance appraisals.

The review process can be opaque and can leave many employees feeling powerless. Luckily, there are strategies you can employ to become your own best advocate—and to make the review more productive for both you and your manager.

Be proactive 

Whether it happens annually or quarterly, you don’t want a performance review to be the only time you have an in-depth dialogue with your boss. If you have a supervisor who seems to be busy all the time or is generally unresponsive, this is all the more reason to make a habit of checking in more frequently:

  • Request weekly or biweekly check-ins if possible. For example, after a meeting with your boss, you could say, “Getting your insight was so helpful. I think regular check-ins like this would be really beneficial to my work.” 
  • Find out what method of communication works best. In-person meetings aren't always realistic. Be flexible and consider calls, video chats, or email updates as backup options.

Asking for feedback from your boss will ensure that you are on the same page, and that there are no huge surprises during a performance review.

Being proactive and speaking up is also important when you notice that your workload has changed. Perhaps your responsibilities have shifted or you feel that you’re ready for more challenging work—it’s better to bring these issues up before a review. This way, your supervisor is aware of the work you’re doing and what your goals are.

How to prepare for a performance review

It’s very important to prepare for your review; don’t simply assume that your hard work is being noticed.

  • Make sure you have concrete examples of your accomplishments, and be ready to explain how these have led to positive outcomes for the team or organization. If this isn’t your first review, demonstrate and illustrate how you have worked toward your goals, or addressed constructive feedback, from a previous review.
  • You should also prepare to receive and respond to feedback in a professional manner.

Ask for what you deserve

An annual review is an ideal time to discuss a salary increase, since you have just illustrated your value to the organization. Tools like Idealist’s Nonprofit Salary Explorer can help you research what you are worth so you have a number in mind before the review.

Expecting fair compensation for your work should not be dependent on your gender or race. But unfortunately, even in the social-impact space, salary inequality still exists—and studies show that women in the workforce are less likely to ask for promotions than their male counterparts. This makes it all the more important for women and people of color to be upfront about accomplishments when asking for raises and promotions.

Come to a review with confidence and be prepared to counter any excuses for why you’re not entitled to an increase or promotion:

  • Remember that salaries are relative. Yes, some nonprofits may pay less than private-sector companies, but you still need to make sure you are being compensated fairly in relation to your co-workers. You can use salary surveys or talk to trusted colleagues to understand if you're being compensated fairly.
  • Find out if your organization uses pay bands. There may be a set salary range for your position, but you can still negotiate to be at the top of that range.
  • If you’re interested in being promoted to a certain role, be prepared to explain how you can excel in that position. Highlight any transferable skills and emphasize how you can build on your accomplishments if given greater responsibilities. 

Performance reviews don’t always have to be intimidating. If you consider your review as an opportunity to set new goals and advocate for yourself, it can even become a positive experience and something to look forward to doing each year.

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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