Your annual performance appraisal is your chance to talk with managers about your career goals. Victoria Madine tells you how to make the most of it
Why take appraisal seriously? Staff appraisals provide a periodic opportunity for communication between the person who assigns work and the person who performs it. The purpose is for each to have the chance to discuss what they expect from each other and how well those expectations are being met.

Be prepared. Think carefully about the points you want to raise before the meeting. Spending just a little time reflecting on your achievements and aims should help give the appraisal more direction. The best way to do this is to ask yourself specific questions.

What were the targets you set last year and have you achieved them? If yes, then how do you want to progress? If no, what might be the reasons? Do you feel your manager and team have supported you in achieving those aims?

What are your longer-term career goals? The more your manager understands the direction you would like your career to take, the more they should be able to support your ambitions. It could be that a secondment opportunity arises that deals with issues you find interesting. If people know what your interests are, you are more likely to hear about relevant opportunities.

Are you expecting your role to change? Consider which projects might arise in the near future and whether you need to plug any skills gaps. It could be that a budgeting course or a public speaking course will help you meet the challenges of future projects more effectively.

Do you feel stretched enough? Most managers are keen to keep hold of good staff and should be willing to help expand your role. You might ask to shadow a colleague to learn new skills.

The more your manager understands the direction you want your career to take, the more they can support your ambitions

What specific training could help you achieve your goals? If you don't ask for particular training you might not get the courses you really want. Human resource managers have to manage training budgets and need to know well in advance what special training requirements you may have.

Remember that appraisals are not the time to get personal. If you have serious concerns about the way colleagues treat you, are very stressed or have other serious worries, don't wait until your appraisal to tackle them.

Why not try creating your own system of appraisal? If you are eager to get ahead in your field, then creating a set of your own personal goals and periodically reviewing your own performance is not only empowering, but will help to keep you focused.

For managers who conduct appraisals: be fair and consistent. It is important to evaluate all employees according to the same criteria; remember that employees talk about what their appraisal was like with each other and inconsistencies will soon be noticed. Meet with each staff member privately for the review, ideally in a place where you can focus without interruption.