Filling out a self-assessment: being critical vs. confident

When the time comes for performance reviews, most people loathe filling out self-assessments. Too positive and they risk seeming overly confident, too critical and they risk directing the reviewer’s focus to their weaknesses.

Striking the right balance is not easy but we’ve put together our top 5 things to know about self-assessments, to help your people understand why they should spend time on it, and what to focus on.

1. Why is self-assessment important

Most performance reviews require people to fill out self-assessments as this makes them more active participants in their evaluation. It forces them to think objectively about their performance over the past year and consider key accomplishments, areas for improvement and professional development goals.

Filling out a self-assessment is a helpful activity that gives people the opportunity to prepare before speaking to their manager and form their own opinion about how they have performed. This may raise some interesting points that their manager had not considered, or on the other hand, they may find themselves in close alignment. It also serves to raise any obstacles that might be blocking people’s performance and what their goals are.

For managers, a self-assessment becomes even more interesting when it comes to leadership skills, to see whether their opinion matches with the feedback they are getting from direct reports.

2. How to make use of a self-assessment

This is an opportunity for people to ask themselves important questions such as whether they are on the right track to meet their manager’s expectations, or whether they need more clarity in their role. By considering those questions, they can start to think about what they might need to improve and where they need help - for example with a specific skill set - so they can bring it up with their managers.

It’s also the time to think about career paths and goals. What do they want and how do they plan to get there? This allows people to come to the table with a pre-determined idea of where they would like to progress and ask for their manager’s support.

3. Naming strengths without sounding overly confident

Naturally, a self-assessment is a great opportunity for people to show the value they bring to the team and to the company. It’s a time when they can advocate for their accomplishments, and may even bring up conversations around promotion or compensation.

There’s nothing wrong with highlighting the things that went well. In fact, it’s also a way for managers to get a better understanding of people’s strengths and the skills they enjoy using most. Highlighting which projects went well, and why they enjoyed working on them is a great starting point. Including specific examples and any feedback received will help to contextualize and also amplify their strengths.

4. Finding areas for improvement

We are constantly learning and evolving as professionals, which means that in any performance review, areas for improvement will be identified. Rather than being disappointed about perceived “shortcomings”, employees should view this as an opportunity for development. There is no need for this part of the exercise to turn into self-criticism or for the employee to paint a dire portrait of their performance, downplaying key achievements.

Improving on certain skills and learning new ones is an important part of career development, therefore it's good to show a desire to improve and learn. This is a perfect opportunity for people to either identify a specific course to attend, upcoming pieces of training that could be relevant, or the need for more coaching from their manager.

5. Thinking ahead

Self-assessments may be difficult to complete, but ultimately it’s all about planning for the future and setting oneself up for success. Beyond being in the moment: looking at the past few months and the upcoming year, employees should think ahead about their careers. Where do they want to be in 5, 10, or even 15 years? How can they make the most of the self-assessment to reach this goal? They can turn it into a way to plan successfully for the year ahead, as well as for ongoing professional growth.

Learn more about review types and how to avoid common pitfalls, download our 2019 Guide to Modern Performance Management.

Share on

Always be learning.

Sign up to our newsletter and join a community of like-minded professionals accelerating their career with the latest industry trends and insights.


Check your email for confirmation and keep an eye out for our next newsletter.