Unfortunately for most Foreign Service folks it is Employee Evaluation Report (EER) time again. The rating period ended on April 15, and if your post is being timely you should have your final submissions to the review panel right now.
I’ve written a lot of EERs – whether as the rated employee, rater, or reviewer. Over time you see the same mistakes being made, and while my more experienced colleagues have undoubtedly similar experience, here are a few things to avoid at all costs in your EER. Your EER is the only thing the panel sees when it comes to promotion time. Assuming promotion is important to you, you should give it your best effort.
1) Ensure you have concrete, actually happened, real-life examples to demonstrate your performance. The number of EERs I have read that contain lots of flowery language but no content is much higher than it should be. The forms even say explicitly to use specific examples to demonstrate the precepts. If you don’t have examples and have filled your EER with fluff, it’s time to revise.
Bad: “I steadfastly maintained my commitment to improving office and post processes to bring a polished product for our customers.”
Good: “By putting our access request forms onto an office website, all stakeholders had access to the forms submitted from around the embassy. Availability of the access requests allowed everyone in the office to approve them and see who was in the queue, decreasing the backlog of old requests from three weeks to a single day.”
2) Make sure your area for improvement is actionable BY YOU. Not having a legitimate, employee-acionable area for improvement discredits an entire EER – no matter how well written. Ask yourself, “is there anything I can actually do to improve in this area?” If the answer is “no” you need to talk to your rater.
Bad: “Employee X should work to improve their skills at managing up the chain of command. Their supervisors will appreciate his/her attention to detail and pro-activeness.”
Good: “Employee X should seek opportunities to demonstrate his/her public speaking skills. While Employee X has demonstrated that he/she can command a meeting, speaking to a larger audience effectively will be a vital skill throughout their career.”
3) SPELL CHECK. It is pathetic that this needs to be included in EVERY “EER Don’t” list, but you would not believe how many people do not spell check.
Bad: “…Depratment of State…” (Yes, this is a real example.)
Good: “…Department of State…”
4) GRAMMAR AND STYLE CHECK. Small things are killers. “Their” vs. “there.” “Your vs. You’re.” Putting the period inside the closing quotation mark. Using the serial comma. Two spaces after a period, not one. Spelling out each acronym.
Bad: “The DOS complement to DoD worked there magic to achieve mission goals under my supervision.”
Good: “The Department of State (DOS) liaison to the Department of Defense (DoD) worked together to achieve mission goals under my supervision.”
5) No passive voice! None! Ever! I highly suggest you make friends with someone who can go through your EER and highlight all of the instances of passive voice they can find. You might be dismayed when your track changes come back and your entire EER is red. This will be to your benefit – the passive voice is frowned upon by EER panels and promotion panels WILL notice it.
Bad: “Several issues were resolved as a result of my actions.”
Good: “I resolved long-standing issues such as visa waiting times, visa foil accountability, and bank account reconciliations that the Ambassador praised at a country team meeting.”
6) Dumb it down. Don’t use jargon, indecipherable acronyms, or highly technical terms. Your employee narrative and your rater’s statement should be in simple language that a member of the public (who sits on the promotion panel, mind you) should be able to understand with minimal thinking. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you should dumb down your sentences or keep sentence structure simple – you just should not use State Department terms that aren’t common elsewhere.
Bad: “My cables back to INR won praise from P and M for clarity and accuracy.”
Good: “I sent a series of telegrams back to headquarters, which bureau executives praised for their clarity and accuracy.”
7) When possible, use hard numbers to illustrate your impact. Saying that you reduced costs is not enough – lots of people reduce costs. Not a lot of people save $10 million of taxpayer money. If you managed a large project, say how large. My general rule of thumb is that if it’s over $50k, it’s worth your time to talk about it.
Bad: “My procedural changes reduced both financial and labor burdens on my office, allowing us to devote more time to more pressing issues.”
Good: “My procurement reforms saved the embassy over $1 million during the rating period.”
I hope someone finds these tips useful, and I truly believe this list has some decent advice. Please leave any EER advice of your own in the comments, or feel free to ask a specific question in the comments or by e-mail. My advice is free :)