Google schedules their performance reviews twice a year — one major one at the end of the year and a smaller one mid-year. This answer is based on my experience as a Google engineer, and the performance review process may differ slightly for other positions.
Each review consists of a self-assessment, a set of peer reviews, and if you’re applying for a promotion, reasons for why should be promoted to the next level. Each review component is submitted via an online tool. Around performance review time, it’s not uncommon to see many engineers taking a day or more just to write the reviews through the tool.
In the self-assessment, you summarize your major accomplishments and contributions since the last review. You’re also asked to describe your strengths and areas for improvement; typically you’d frame them with respect to the job expectations described by your career ladder. For example, if you’re a senior engineer, you might write about your strengths being the tech lead of your current project.
For peer reviews, employees are expected to choose around 3-8 peers (fellow engineers, product managers, or others that can comment on their work) to write their peer reviews. Oftentimes, managers will also assign additional individuals to write peer reviews for one of their reports, particularly newer or younger reports who may be less familiar with the process.
Peers comment on your projects and contributions, on your strengths, and on areas for improvement. The peer reviews serve three purposes:
- They allow your peers to give you direct feedback on your code quality, your teamwork, etc., and to give direct feedback to your manager that you don’t feel comfortable directly sharing with the employee.
- Along with the self-assessment, they feed into your manager’s decision regarding your performance rating, which determines your yearly bonus multiplier.
- If you apply for a promotion, the peer reviews also become part of your promotion application packet.
An additional part of the peer review is indicating a list of engineers that are working below the level of the peer and a list of engineers that are working above the level of the peer. These factor into a total ordering of engineers within a team and are used to determine cutoffs for bonuses and promotions.
If you’re applying for a promotion during a performance review cycle, you’re given an additional opportunity to explain why you should be promoted. A key part to a strong application is explaining with specific details and examples how you’re achieving and contributing based on the expectations of the next level in the job ladder.