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WER Fall 2016 Feature 3
Volume XLIII, Issue II

About With Equal Right

In This Issue:
"Toot Your Own Horn: Career Development and Advancement"


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Write your Own Ticket: Using Self-Evaluations to Propel Growth and Development

By: Brita Horvath and Kristine McKinney

Brita Horvath is the Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Faegre Baker Daniels. In her role as director of diversity and inclusion, she develops initiatives and strategies to further the firm's ongoing commitment to diversity through its recruitment, retention and advancement efforts. Brita works closely with the firm's resource groups and affinity networks to implement goals and objectives as well as deliver value to individual lawyers and across the firm.

Kristine McKinney is the Director of Professional Development at Faegre Baker Daniels. Kristine is a sought-after leader on numerous topics including learning and development, change management, adaptive leadership, and diversity. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and talents through serving on professional boards and committees, writing articles, and speaking at conferences and community events. She is actively involved with numerous organizations and serves on the board of directors for NALP as the Vice-President for Member Services and Education. 

Brita Horvath

Kristine McKinney 






Why Self-Evaluations Matter

In the hectic happenings of managing projects, supervising teams, measuring results, attending endless meetings, and accumulating more tasks, there is at least one designated time and space when we are afforded the luxury of being mindful about our career objectives and development. The annual self-evaluation. Put simply, self-evaluations matter. 

Self-evaluations are powerful tools for declaring goals, managing expectations, gauging progress, scouting growth opportunities, mapping development, and telling your career development story one chapter (or year) at a time. As the author, the narrative is yours. It should be an accurate and balanced appraisal of your contributions, growth, and accomplishments. All of which were forecasted and documented in the previous year’s self-evaluation. 


Unique Gender Challenges

A growing body of research has shown that women exhibit less confidence in the workplace than men.  For example, Dr. Brenda Major at the University of California at Santa Barbara “found that the men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both. The actual performances did not differ in quality.”[1]  To complicate things further, when women do exert confidence, it can be interpreted negatively as shown in a seminal research study by Catalyst aptly entitled, “The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t.”[2]  As a result, women lawyers can have unique challenges as they approach their self-evaluation. 

In order to embark on this annual effort and avoid finding yourself in a sea of habits inherited from past experiences or as by-products of how we are socialized, we share below a series of methods, mechanisms, and practices that, when utilized, allow you to capture content and chart progress with assertion and authenticity. 


Avoid hesitant or disqualifying language and use precise verbs

Review your self-evaluation and delete conditional or disqualifying language. Hesitant language reveals itself in and around the use of verbs, such that the action taken is diminished in value. For example, use “I did” instead of “I tried to do” or “I will” instead of “I will try to”. The more words it takes to describe the action, the more likely those words are adding a reluctant or hesitant tone. Remember, the self-evaluation asserts your accomplishments, it does not “try to” assert them. Write your self-evaluation in draft form first. Then review it and remove hesitant language. Revising with that singular editorial task makes it an easier revision and an easier habit to break. Choose your verbs wisely and precisely. As a summary of your actions, the verbs you select in your self-evaluation carry a lot of weight. 

Keep track of accomplishments all year

Recency bias, easily remembering something that has happened recently, compared to remembering something that may have occurred a while back, can plague the self-evaluation process and imbalance your narrative. Select from a range of experiences that scale across the year. Draw from a broad range of experiences to show depth and breadth in your contributions. For example, while you may perceive leading a collaborative team on a smaller project as a minor accomplishment, the related skills of delegating across groups and working across offices may demonstrate an important, desired skill and development opportunity. Whether you have a separate tracking file or color-coded calendar system, review the full year of activities, examine all dimensions of contributions, and articulate the related skills developed, goals attained, growth projected, successes made, and lessons learned.

Go back to your form from last year and respond to goals you met

The assertions made in the previous year’s self-evaluation should serve as a table of contents for what you articulate in this current year. Forecast your goals each year so your current evaluation builds upon the predictions and expectations identified in the previous year. If your stated goals changed because of new or modified responsibilities, address it. If opportunities did not materialize or expected assignments took an unexpected detour, manage that message by featuring the actions you took and the deliverables that followed. Demonstrate through your evaluation that you possess professional skills that correspond with your development. You are not required to reinvent your professional-self each year through your self-evaluation. In fact, when your appraisal reflects continuity (or picking up where you left off) from one year to the next, you convey professionalism and intent.

Be specific about self-praise

Any self-praise you document is an opportunity to answer the question: “what does that [fill in success/praise] look like?”  By illustrating success with specificity, you prevent the readers from filling in the blanks with their own assumptions, experiences, biases, and/or details. Do not assume the readers will know what you mean and do not give them an opportunity to decide that for you. Quantify and qualify your successes. If your work on a project resulted in a savings to the client then add details about how much was saved, why those savings are important to the client, and how your work contributed to those savings. Or if your praise relates to leading a team, consider how you engaged the team, leveraged assignments, delegated tasks, provided feedback, developed talent and acquired skills. Again, what does that success look like? How is it aligned to your stated goals or the goals of your organization?  Supplement relevant and related praise you received from others; unsolicited, favorable feedback from stakeholders speaks volumes and verifies your assertions. If you are not already keeping a “feedback-by-project” file, consider this a great opportunity to start that system. 

Be honest about growth areas (“This is an area where I need to develop in the coming year.”)

Identify areas that you want to grow, develop and improve . . . you get to choose!  Tether each growth area with specific projects, assignments, practices, or experiences that allow you to test yourself and stretch your skills. Show your self-awareness and share how you intend to master those growth areas. By initiating “what” growth areas to address and “how” to go about making those improvements, you start to identify a plan and set expectations. This portion of your evaluation should not deviate in tone from the rest of your self-evaluation; the same rules apply.   

Ask a friend or champion to review

Once you feel confident in your draft, find a friend or a mentor to review your self-evaluation. Ask where you can be bolder in your assertions. Ask where you should provide clear examples. Having a second pair of eyes can be invaluable to your final submission.

Make the Most of It

By making the most of the self-evaluation process, you document your experiences, skills and contributions in a way that showcases your professional growth and your value to the organization. Each year, taking time to craft your powerful personal narrative will become a critical tool in your own career management. Make the most of the process by telling your career development story in a way that is both authentic and impactful.







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