One piece of advice my mentor gave me when I wanted a promotion is to tell a story that you’re consistently executing at the next level. Generally, in tech, you must demonstrate that you’re performing at the next level to get promoted.
But I sometimes thought that accruing “wins” was enough or that the management chain would magically recognize the projects I delivered successfully.
The reality is that sharing an itemized list of projects delivered, or tickets closed, is not enough when these packets go into the review groups for promotions.
Most of the time we would like for the promotion “ladders” to be checklists where we go item by item and make sure we “did that”.
In large organizations, you generally not only have to demonstrate success, and map your accomplishments to the expected areas but also show how you exemplified principles, and values, or how you contributed to the overall goals of the company.
Some of these accomplishments get harder to present as you up the ladder, because it will be more about influencing and enabling teams to deliver their outputs or get more teams to work together, solve a more general problem, etc.
Besides talking with your manager, which is the first thing you should do, you should look around for people who are on the level you want to reach, especially if they were promoted as opposed to being hired at that level.
Have a conversation about projects, or initiatives they drove to get them promoted. Not every path is the same, but it will give you a rough idea of what gets promoted in your organization.
Every career and growth path is personal, but seeing other people achieve promotions should help you see that it is certainly achievable in your organization.
Getting a mentor is also a good thing, in general, but also will help you ground yourself when you feel like you’re trying to do too much. Several times, I found myself pursuing multiple projects, or tasks, and having a mentor that acted as a sounding board helped me organize my thoughts and priorities.
Mentors can also share their experiences, see how they navigated similar situations, or simply ask questions you were wondering about.
One thing I’m trying now is to share some of these conversations with teammates in my organization. With people at different levels than mine, I like learning from everyone, what works and doesn’t in the organization. Also from past work experiences, or general thoughts they have, from themselves or seeing others around them.
What about you? Have you been promoted? Does your company have a ladder that goes beyond senior engineers? What have you seen that works, and what doesn’t?