How to Ace Your First Annual Review

Today’s post is by Sara Gallagher of

I’m always surprised when I hear that a recent college graduate has failed to earn a raise at her first annual review. Getting a raise after your first year on the job should be easy. After all, as an entry-level employee, you’re not yet earning a substantial salary; raising it shouldn’t put an undue financial burden on your employer. Additionally, your learning curve the first year on the job is extraordinarily high. By the time you sit down with your boss for your first review, you will probably have learned many skills you didn’t know the day you interviewed.

Nonetheless, some supervisors are just tough negotiators–and in this economy, budgets are tight and competition is fierce. Here is an action plan to help you succeed where others have failed:

Learn to manage projects.

You probably won’t be managing many people during your first year on the job, but you will be managing tasks and projects. In my experience, the hardest thing to learn as a newbie career woman is how to get started. Fresh out of college, I found myself waiting for my boss to give me assignments. I didn’t understand yet that in many companies, the only assignment you’re ever going to get is your job description. While some supervisors will give you things to work on here and there, you’re responsible for meeting the objectives of your position whether or not your boss gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do so. The great thing about project management is that unlike “people management,” the results of projects are easier to quantify and communicate on a self-evaluation.

Don’t press your luck.

Gen Y has a reputation for self-entitlement and assertive office behavior. Understand that you have a lot to learn, and be careful about suggesting too many changes. Ideas show you have energy and initiative, but constant, unsolicited criticism of your company’s current systems and policies can sever important working relationships. Remember, getting a raise during your first annual review is easy–but so is getting canned before you get the chance to argue your case.

Document your success.

Remember that compensation should be a reflection of your contribution to the company’s bottom line. While “contribution” can be measured in many ways, it does need to be measured in order to justify increased pay and responsibility. Don’t wait until you’re filling out your self-evaluation to try to remember what you’ve accomplished. Keep a file on your computer with customer testimonials, sales accomplishments, project completions, and other documents that will help you describe your contribution to the company in tangible terms.


Learn as much about your business–and business in general–as you can. Learn from those above you and from peers you respect. Learn from friends working in other industries. Read trade journals, blogs, company newsletters, and any company information you have permission to access. Often, a raise is easier to justify if you’re also being considered for a promotion or increase in responsibilities. To spread your wings, you’re going to have to prove to those around you that you can handle it.

Prepare your replacement.

Sometimes, the greatest barrier to earning a raise or promotion is the fact that you do your job so well your employer fears that no one else can do your job adequately. I’ve noticed this happens the most often when you start out as an administrative or customer service professional. The best way to combat this is to proactively train others to perform aspects of your position.  Tread carefully; the goal behind “training your replacement” isn’t to shirk your duties, it’s to make you easier to promote.

Build connections.

To be successful in academics, the only person you really needed to worry about pleasing was your professor. Not so at the office. It’s important to forge mutually beneficial professional relationships where possible. Do your best to get along with everyone, and when you do run across someone you don’t like, do your best to change your opinion. Later in life, you can be a little bit more nuanced in your relational dealings; for now, you need all the friends you can get.

Treat your annual review like a job interview.

It’s likely that you practiced your answers to possible questions before going in for the job interview. It doesn’t hurt to do the same before meeting with your boss at your annual review. By all means, keep it real and don’t spout off canned answers. On the other hand, do come prepared with “talking points.” These can be accomplishments, observations about your department, ideas for improvement, or questions you’d like to ask of your more experienced manager. Your supervisor will appreciate your proactive attitude.

Complete your self-evaluation early.

Remember that your supervisor has most likely decided whether to recommend you for a raise before calling you into the office for your review. That means that you should complete a detailed, thoughtful self-evaluation at least two weeks prior to your appointment.

Sara Gallagher

Sara Gallagher graduated with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, convinced she wanted to join the CIA as a covert Middle East operative. Instead, she took a job as a corporate project manager. Sara's blog, Gears and Shifts, is a career design and business website devoted to the idea that "all careers should be on-purpose."

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