No Performance Reviews? Tips on Tracking Your Career

If you can answer yes, yes, yes, yes and no to the following questions, this article will provide valuable guidance to managing and building your personal brand and career pathway. 
  1. Are you a contractor working on short term projects; moving from client to client?  
  2. Do you work on a team or in an environment with multiple managers, in a situation that lacks coordination and a reliable feedback and performance evaluation system? 
  3. Does your manager discuss KRAs, KPIs or KPAs,* but after each review cycle not provide useful or specific feedback on what improved or what still needs to be improved? 
  4. Or do you work in a situation where the person you are doing work for doesn't have a process-oriented way to give or track your progress?
  5. Do you have annual performance appraisals or reviews?  
KRA, KPI and KPA are common acronyms used in Human Resource (HR) circles in India. What do these acronyms stand for? 
KRA is an acronym for Key Result Area, KPI stands for Key Performance Indicators, and the full form of KPA is Key Performance Areas.

Be Your Own Boss 
In situations of freelancing, contracting or working in temporary positions in various onsite locations, you must take matters into your own hands. Try to create your own career benchmarks and find ways to achieve your goals- either through learning more on the job or through workforce and professional development work upskill programs. 

Though some contractors reading this work for a company, it's still worth considering how to manage your own career. You will be an entrepreneur though you are not technically running an independent company. Here, you are running the company You, Inc. 

If it is hard to manage this on your own, you may need to invest in a mentor or career coach who can act as a mentor or supervisor. 

Find Creative Ways to Collect Feedback 
Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Comb this for any testimonials or ask people to leave you testimonials. Use these stories to extract your strengths. Save these testimonials offline as sometimes our professional connections may remove their profiles. 

Keep track on your computer. Start two documents on Word or your preferred word processing program. One should be entitled, "Encouraging Words," while the other can be titled, "Where I need to Improve." 

"Encouraging Words" documents your strengths. Keep in mind what is your strength today may not be your strength tomorrow without continuous application of that skill - be it a soft skill or technical skill. 

"Where I need to Improve" documents your weaknesses. We may not like to see this in words. We may not even get direct feedback about our weaknesses. We have to find creative ways to find this out. When we note our weaknesses, we must think of ways to improve ourselves through skill development or training to overcome our weaknesses. 

Documenting this feedback and reviewing it on a quarterly basis is another way to manage our own performance. Keep in mind this feedback can be used in job interviews when asked about our strengths and weaknesses.

Network. Keep Up on Industry Trends. 
When we are working independently, it can be a challenge to keep in the loop about the most up to date news in our field. When we have colleagues that we meet in our office from day to day, it is a little easier if our colleagues also are interested in keeping up on industry trends. As a contractor, it may be important not only to keep up on industry trends, but on the trends of our target market. This can be tricky at times as contractors can work with clients in many business verticals - ecommerce, banking, car insurance, hotel booking, airlines, and many others. 

When attending professional events, it's important to look into how to most effectively use our time and our training budgets. When looking at conference costs, these elements are some to factor in:
  1. Event ticket or entry fees
  2. Networking group's registration fees (if any)
  3. Travel to venue - air tickets, car rental, gas, taxi, public transport 
  4. Hotel costs 
  5. Food and Dining 
  6. Entertainment costs 
  7. Costs for missing billable hours* 
When attending events, we are not working. For contractors and freelancers who get paid only during billable working hours, going to a conference means that those hours are not billable. Unlike working for a company where a salary is given, contractors and freelancers may not have the luxury of getting paid on working days when attending professional development seminars, training programs and networking events. Hence, choosing the right events becomes critical from a time and money perspective. Time is money. Find events where you can not only take part in industry learning but network with key players in your domain to make the best use of your time, and also to grow your business and career. 

Network. Keep in Touch.

Working offsite, working on virtual teams, working with multiple clients or service providers as an independent agent can pose some unique challenges when it comes to career advancement. In traditional offices where managers and colleagues see each other everyday over the period of days, months, and years, we get to know each other. Working on virtual teams or changing service providers (essentially, in some cases, managers) every project, every month, quarter or year means that it's harder to build a reputation amongst a set of peers. This will impact us when having supervisory meetings, quarterly or yearly reviews as it is not always as easy to collect feedback in a centralized location. Because of this lack of continuity and continuous engagement with the same set of people, many contractors are missing out on raises, increments, bonuses and pay hikes. Some offshore developers may think, well I am exempt from this as my team and I have been working for the same client for several years, and as of now, we will continue to work with the same client on this project for several more years to come. While in some ways this situation seems ideal, it's like a wolf in sheep's clothing; it's an illusion. Keep in mind if you are on a virtual, distributed team where there are only daily or weekly status update calls, and very infrequent or no travel between locations, your onsite counterparts are not ever actually seeing you. Though they get to know your work by the reputation you provide virtually, the missing element of in-person interaction has hurt some professionals when it comes time for promotions and raises. If you do get a chance to go onsite, make the most of it. Don't just stay in your group from offshore. Be seen and heard by your onsite team members and counterparts. Go for lunch with them, spend breaks with them, and spend as much face time with them as possible. Do not be a person who is out of sight out of mind whether offshore or onsite. 

Keep in mind, just like we can keep in touch with our friends, it's good to keep in touch with colleagues and business associates we are not working directly with, as well. From time to time, ping them, ask them how they are doing, what interesting developments are happening in their career or business. Exchange notes and stories. Now a days with platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter for business, keeping in touch is easier than ever.

Notes on Business Cards 
Don't forget to take business cards with you everywhere. If you run your own business, having cards comes as second nature. If you work as a contractor for an employer, you may not have cards. In fact, I would not suggest to use your employer-sponsored business card. Now a days there are so many services that allow busy professionals to create business cards within a very workable budget. On these business cards keep in mind not to use your company name or logo. Act as an independent agent if and when possible. If, however, your employer is sponsoring your trip and conference costs, then yes, do by all means use only your employer sponsored business card, if any, and not your personal card. That could become a conflict of interest. 

If you attend job interviews, do not use your employer sponsored business card unless your employer is asking you to attend that interview on behalf of the company. If you are attending the job interview on your own time to change employers, then use a business card with your name, industry, and contact information. Assure the email ID on your personal business card is not your company's email ID, and that the email ID used is professional looking (your name, first name initial and last name, etc.). Do not use your company's address or phone number on your personal business card, as well.

The above tips will help you to keep track of and grow your career if you do not have yearly performance reviews

This article is written based on coaching sessions and guidance given to global career professionals. Jennifer Kumar is a corporate coach providing mentoring and advising to software professionals, contractors, onsite teams and offshore developers. Sessions are available face to face in Kochi, India as well as world wide via conference call and VOIP. To avail of corporate coaching or business and culture consulting, contact us today. 

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