You’ve worked hard all year, now it all comes down to the official assessment – the year-end appraisal.  If only you could be in the room to represent yourself, if only you could be in control. For two decades, this was my refrain after getting back from the summer holidays.

While it is not really possible to “cram for the exam,” there are some things that will help.

Know the process:

What is measured, when and by whom?  Find out the due date for evaluations, add a week or two for the usual slippage, and that’s the date by which those who need to know must be in the know about what you’ve done.  Don’t be that poor soul trying for brownie points when it’s too late.  Also, the typical 360º process gives you a say in who evaluates you.  Choose people who (a) know what you have done, (b) will take time to give you proper feedback, and (c) won’t compete with you for credit.  Work with your boss on this — they should have a vested interest in helping you to shine.

Know what you’ve done:

Write a good self-evaluation.  Note your improvements relative to last year’s feedback.  Cover the accomplishments from the entire year, not just what you’ve done lately. Keep it focused, cite concrete results and resist the temptation to over-embellish.  Direct reports of mine who wrote pages and pages of gory detail, or sounded like they were writing fiction did themselves no favours.  Done properly, your self-evaluation will be a script for your boss to promote you to others.

Find more opportunities to shine:

Even now, seek assignments that allow you to emphasize your strengths and show how you’ve overcome weaknesses.  Make each project count since there have been fewer this year.  Create your own business ideas and extracurricular leadership opportunities if no other projects are forthcoming.   Research shows that recent events are more memorable than things done in the past, so try to find things to do that impress even now.

(Re)connect with your evaluators:

Especially if you worked together early in the year.  Update them on how you built on that success or learned from mistakes.  Otherwise it is like winking at someone in the dark — you know you’ve done it, but no one else does.  Call on clients together so they can see you in action, and make use of travel time to catch up and get advice. Remind your boss of your ambitions and ask whether there are remaining areas you need to address, especially if this is a promotion year.  How you do this is important: your goal is to get your boss on side, and remind him or her of how valuable you are without being annoying or over the top.

Keep your head in it:

Stay focused on the job at hand.  Be cool.  Model the behaviours that are valued by the firm.  There is nothing worse than having a team member who is so busy worrying about themselves that their performance slips.

Once you’ve done what you can, then relax and let the chips fall where they may.  And, of course, you could always get a jump on next year…