How to Avoid Down-Leveling in Tech Roles

Software Engineering
Exponent TeamExponent TeamLast updated

Down leveling is a common issue in the job hiring process, especially for software engineers.

It happens when a candidate is offered a position at a lower level than they applied for, which can significantly reduce their salary and slow down their career progression. For instance, it might result in an annual income loss of $50,000 to $100,000 as you are recommended for senior-level roles rather than director-level positions.

Kevin, a senior Meta Technical Product Manager, discusses his experience with down-leveling in interviews.

This happens when interviewers feel that a candidate's skills and experiences do not meet the requirements of the desired job level. Many applicants, perhaps due to modesty or unawareness, don’t fully showcase their achievements, leading to doubts about their capabilities.

Failing to clearly articulate past project experiences and skills can result in being offered a lower-level position.

Avoiding down-leveling in behavioral interviews

Emphasize your collaboration with high-level individuals and teams, and detail the size, scope, and complexity of your projects. It's not sufficient to just list these facts; they need to be supported by specific metrics and narrative evidence.

A recommended approach is the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results), which provides a structured way to convey your achievements. Clearly indicate the scale of your projects in terms of:

  • budget,
  • time-frame,
  • teams managed,
  • and impact areas.

Describe the significance of your tasks and integrate your technical expertise into the narrative, finishing with the impactful results you achieved.

Your responses in interviews should leave no room for doubt about the scale of your achievements, addressing any uncertainties about your true level of expertise.

When discussing technical details of a project, use language and examples that are easily understandable to your interviewers, avoiding overly complex jargon.

Provide narrative evidence with quantifiable data to firmly establish your claim of expertise. Showcasing your abilities in managing disagreements and influencing decisions without authority is also essential.

Share examples of how you've effectively collaborated with teams, especially in engineering, to underline your interpersonal skills and your ability to maintain team morale and alignment.

In the above video, Kevin's success in pitching a product to a leadership team demonstrated his understanding of market dynamics and customer psychology.

He effectively communicated the unique value of the product, leading to significant revenue and convincing leaders to invest in further development.

Highlight significant problems or opportunities and how you built trustworthy relationships to finish the project.

Practicing with mock interview partners and seeking feedback can refine your presentation. Building a supportive network is not just for interview preparation, but also for overall career growth.

Software engineer levels for the same jobs at Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft.

Why down-leveling happens

  1. Different standards and pay in companies: What a "senior software engineer" means can vary greatly from one company to another, affecting both the role and salary.
  2. Pay gaps across the tech industry: The tech sector has varied pay scales based on company size and reputation. Moving to a bigger company might mean a lower title but higher pay.
  3. Rapid salary changes in tech: Staying too long at one company might result in lower pay compared to industry standards. Switching jobs, even at a lower title, can lead to better compensation.
  4. Switching technologies and companies: Moving to a new company or technology can sometimes mean starting at a lower level, especially if the new role requires specific tech expertise.
  5. Interview performance: How well you do in an interview greatly influences the job level you're offered. A less-than-ideal interview might lead to a lower position, especially in larger tech firms.
  6. Negotiating power: If you have job offers from other companies, you might be able to avoid down-leveling or negotiate a better title.

Dealing with down-leveling

  1. Understand the new role: Know what your new title entails and what the next level up looks like.
  2. Talk to the hiring manager: If you disagree with the level offered, discuss your past achievements and ask for reconsideration.
  3. Evaluate the company's culture: Research the company's values, growth opportunities, and employee satisfaction.
  4. Prioritize title or pay: Decide what's more important to you – the status of your job title or how much you're paid.
  5. Seek advice: Talk to mentors or industry peers who have faced similar situations.
  6. Follow your goals: Consider how the role aligns with your long-term career aspirations.

Managers and down-leveling

Managers also play a key role in handling down-leveling:

  1. Be active in hiring: Being involved in the hiring process helps address any concerns about levels and titles.
  2. Review leveling decisions: Ensure that leveling is fair and based on the candidate's skills and interview performance.
  3. Consider individual context: Understand that employees' past experiences might not directly translate to the new role.
  4. Support growth: Provide resources and feedback to help employees exceed expectations in their new level.
  5. Create a positive environment: Encourage open communication and a learning culture.
  6. Adjust leveling practices: Continuously refine the leveling process based on employee feedback.

Down-leveling in the tech industry can be both a challenge and an opportunity.

Managers also have a crucial role in supporting employees through this transition and fostering an inclusive work environment.

Remember, down-leveling is not about your worth or abilities; it's a strategic step for long-term success.

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