Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 15

3 Ways to Get a UN Career Boost from Your Performance Review Process

Welcome to today’s episode which is related to something many of us dread – the annual performance review process!

Oh, the hours I spent on this in my UN career. And, to be frank, not always convinced that the value of the process compared to the time I and everybody else invested in it. So, although I very much agreed with the theory of the performance review (I was working in Human Resources after all!) – I must say that I didn’t personally look forward to the process. Having to evaluate myself. Try to write about how brilliant I thought I’d done through the year. Not exactly my cup of tea!

So, I’m happy to let you know that today’s episode is not really about the performance review process itself. It’s about seeing the performance review process from a different angle.

Because I want you to see it as a welcome prompt for you to review your professional development, your goals and your aspirations. Not for the organization’s sake. But for your sake.

So, you should no longer see the performance review as a stressor in the middle of other urgent work.

Instead, let the performance review serve as your annual prompt to stay on track with your career development and ensure that you take time to take action and take charge of your career. I actually already touched on this in episode 9, the one called “Why You Always Want to Have an Updated CV!” (You can find that episode at www.barbarakandersen.com/9).

3 ways to get much more out of your performance review process

#1 Use It as an Opportunity to Go Into “Career Mode”

You’re busy. It feels like there’s never really enough time to think about your career, your professional development, networking and looking for jobs.

But for the performance review process you’re required to sit down and update your goals. You have to review your results and your competencies. You’re forced to think and write about what you’ve done well during the year. And you should welcome that as an opportunity.

You may not necessarily expect big results from the performance review itself, but I say it’s actually good that you’re forced to do this, because you need to think about it for you.

So, take this opportunity to go into “career mode” and line out:

  • Everything you’ve achieved and all you’ve learned during the year
  • The results you’ve created
  • The competencies you’ve displayed or developed
  • The skills you’ve displayed or developed

While you’re in this “career mode”, think also about:

  • What’s the next thing you’d like to do?
  • What would you like your next job to be?
  • What are the skills you’d like to develop further?
  • Would you like to diversify?
  • Would you like to go to the next level in terms of expertise – or in terms of authority and responsibility?
  • Or would you like to develop by moving to the field? Or to HQ or a regional setting?
  • Is there a particular part of the world you’re eager to experience?
  • Would you be interested to see what difference your experience could make in an NGO setting?
  • Or would you like to go home and use your expertise in a government context?

You should of course talk with your supervisor about as many of these things as you feel comfortable with. Seek his or her support for your development and your next steps. If you don’t think this is feasible, think about how else this can be done? Who else will/can support you?

Think about what you will do in order to move in that direction.

Don’t just think about what you’d like or hope your organisation to do for you. What you’re hoping your supervisor would or could do for you? Because maybe your supervisor can’t fix this? What can you do yourself?

I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t expect or ask for support from your supervisor and your organization.

What I’m saying is just that you should focus on what you can control yourself. So that you stay in charge of your own career – and don’t give away the control to somebody else. Because even if your supervisor is keen to support you – and has some room to do that – he or she is still part of a big political, bureaucratic and hierarchical context that can change any time.

And you want to ensure that you always keep the control of and responsibility for your career in your own two hands.

#2 Use It as an Opportunity to Update Your Career Documents

And by that, I mean that you use everything you put into your performance review about your results and achievements from the last year to update your CV.

You should also make sure you keep a document that you use when you prepare for job interviews. I call that an interview prep document. That’s a good place to keep a more exhaustive list of results and achievements than what can fit into your CV. And here you also keep a list of examples or stories that document your competencies. Something that’s really useful when you’re preparing for competency-based interviews.

So that means that you have two important tasks to do here:

  1. Update your CV to reflect your latest key achievements as well as any new responsibilities and new skills.
  2. Update your interview prep document with new good examples of how you’ve displayed your skills and competencies.
#3 Use It as an Opportunity to Look for Jobs – And Engage With Your Network

This might seem like a surprising suggestion, but remember that you’re in Career Mode now! You should let the performance review time be your time to look for vacancies.

You have just done some serious thinking about what you’d like your next steps and your next development to look like. It’s time to take action on that.

Maybe you know that piece of advice? That you should apply for jobs while you’re still happy in your current job. I.e., you should apply while you’re doing well and feeling well.

  • You apply with less stress and concern when you have a job you still like, because you’re in a position of power, so to speak. You don’t “need” the job – but you’re interested if the job is interesting.
  • The comfort and ease you have with your current job rub off on your application and your presentation in the interview.
  • When you’re still happy in your current job you have more energy for job-seeking than if you feel you’re stuck in a rut and feeling fed up where you are.

And if you’re not happy in your current job, it’s definitely high time to apply!

And what about your network?

  • Make sure to engage with your network if you’ve let that slip for a while. Let key people know that you’re curious about new possibilities.
  • And do you have a mentor or mentors? If not, what action will you take to find a mentor whom you can talk to and ask for advice about your career and professional development?

It’s hard to do all of this. I know. Because we’re always busy, there’s always the next email to respond to, the next meeting to attend…

But there’s really no time like the present!

Take charge of your career

So, performance review time is a great time to remind yourself that you have a career, a professional life, a future! What would you like that to look like if you can have a say in it? And of course, you can have a say!

Don’t wait and hope for things to be fixed for you. Unfortunately, generally in life, things are not being fixed for us. Which I’m sure you already experienced yourself.

It may feel unfair that we’re not being supported more. The problem is that that feeling of things being unfair is not helpful at all. It’s not going to help you drive yourself to do the things you need to do. It’s just going to make you feel deflated and demotivated. I know, because I speak from personal experience!

It’s natural that that feeling crops up once in a while, and that’s ok. But try to put it to rest as soon as you can and take responsibility, and action, yourself.

Remember though, that taking control yourself, doesn’t have to mean that you have to do it all on your own. Find somebody you trust that you can discuss these things with. Maybe you can create a small support group where you cheer each other on.

I wish you lots of luck with letting your hard work from the annual performance review process spill over into your own career development work. And enjoy the great feeling of taking charge of your career.