Hacker Career Advice

Don’t Sweat Your Semi-Annual Review

Sorry folks, I know it’s been a while since my last post!

Q2 ends in a month, which means a lot of you are preparing for the dreaded semi-annual review. But don’t sweat it. Talking to your boss on a regular basis is 100% a good idea. Plus, if you’ve been regularly cataloging your accomplishments, you’re already prepared.

Everybody does reviews differently, but when I get 45 minutes with my boss, I have three goals:

1. Highlight my personal achievements and growth

If you work on a big team, your boss probably won’t be that familiar with your work, so tell him about it.

Come into the meeting with a list of recent accomplishments and current projects. Call out specific things you’ve done, problems you’ve solved creatively, skills you’ve learned, and the progress you’ve made.

If your work is blocked by something you can’t control like a client who refuses to email you back or insufficient hardware, ask your manager to do something about it or escalate it further up the chain.

Pro-tip: Make discrete, actionable asks.

2. Learn how the company is doing and where it’s going

For anybody who works at a VC backed startup, you should ask your boss how much runway you have left and whether you need to start fundraising again soon. The answer may surprise you, but it’s better to know than to be blindsided later.

Ask about hiring plans. Ask what the team is doing to improve sales and how the market is reacting to your product. Ask if you’ve received any recent press and how it affects your team. Ask how the competition is doing.

If your team’s morale is down, bring that up too. Keep names out of it, but make sure your boss knows that there are issues affecting team performance. In my experience, bosses are quick to act on this once you bring it up.

3. Get actionable feedback

In my experience, unless you’re performing very poorly, managers won’t offer up much feedback.

If you’re doing a good job, your boss will probably just tell you to keep up the good work. If you’re doing an amazing job, you might get a fist bump too. It can be frustrating, especially as someone who wants to continually improve.

If your boss isn’t forthcoming with actionable feedback, coax it out. Ask open ended question like: “What can I do better?” and “What am I failing at?” Or identify some new responsibilities you want to take on and ask how they feel about it.

Finally, reviews are a two-way street. Give your boss some feedback too. Maybe he’s dismissive in meetings, hard to get a hold of, or perhaps you’ve got a tip that’ll make him more effective talking to engineers. It’s also a sly way to flex your leadership skills.

One more thing

I know there’s a stereotype about getting or asking for a raise at the end of a review. At a big company, you may get a small bump every year, maybe 1–3%, as a cost of living increase. Don’t confuse this with a raise.

Personally, I’d hold out for an annual review or a situation where you have more leverage (e.g. a competing offer).

But, if you feel confident and have the data to back it up, then shoot your shot!


© 2019 Neal Shyam