Am I Ready For That Promotion?
At Box we’re about to start our twice annual promotion and review cycle in engineering. For us to be promoted, we have to work together with our managers to put together a promotion case, which is then reviewed by a committee of managers and more senior engineers. This committee ultimately decides if our case adequately demonstrates that we’ve been performing at the next level according to our engineering rubric or not. As someone who has experienced both the manager and employee sides of the Box promotion process, I was asked to help answer questions for a promotion case workshop run by our Women in Tech group. All of this got me thinking about what strategies I’ve used to decide whether I’m ready for promotion or not and how to make sure I’ve put myself in the best possible position to set up a good case.
Am I ready? What are my Gaps?
Many companies strive to only promote people who are already performing at the next level, not people at the top of their current level. To that end, they want to see evidence that the person can do everything expected of the next level and enough of a pattern to know that the person didn’t just get lucky once. They want to know that I’ll continue to perform at that level once they promote me.
How do I know if I’m already performing at that level? It’s impossible to know how far I am from the next level (or if I’m already there) unless I take a good look at where I am now. To do that, I pull out the rubric for the next level, not the one for my current level. When reading through the different areas, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking about them in terms of if I ‘could’ do them. That doesn’t constitute proof to anyone else. It’s much more useful to write down solid examples of times that I’ve actually demonstrated each quality. Once I’ve written down some bullet points, I find it helpful to also go through this rough list with my manager or a trusted mentor to get an outside perspective as well. They often have additional ideas about how I’ve demonstrated something or they have thoughts about where my accomplishments fit best. They also help ensure I’m not undervaluing or overvaluing my contributions.
When should I go up for Promotion?
At some companies the timelines for promotion are flexible. At Box, since we have a formal process, there are clear deadlines. Either way, it’s never too soon to start thinking about what might be next and how to make sure I’m set up for success. Finding my gaps sooner gives me more time to work on them. Even if I’m right at the edge of a promotion cycle, I would still recommend figuring out where I am now. If I find that I have a lot to work on, I’ll have the time to actually improve those areas before the next cycle. If I find that I have a lot less than I thought, I can still do something about it now.
If I find that I’m borderline, it’s not always very clear if I should go up for promotion this cycle or wait. There’s a few things to consider. If I go up for promotion way too soon, I’m wasting the time of the promotion committee as well as my manager and probably my own time too. Doing that is considered somewhat bad form and I likely won’t get any useful feedback about what to work on beyond what I already knew. If, however, I think I’m close, at least at Box, we’ll usually suggest that I go ahead and try for the promotion. In the best case, I was undervaluing myself. In the worst case, I won’t get the promotion, but I will get feedback from the committee around what they think I should work on. In some cases the feedback isn’t super helpful, but frequently its an insight into how others view my work and promotion case and how they interpret the various areas of the rubric. I find that it can be a bit hard to put myself out there, but I’ll never know for sure if I don’t try.
Make A Plan
If I do find that I do have some things I should work on, I can set goals or make a plan around what I want to do to fill those gaps. Even though I’m personally the type of person who doesn’t always like setting goals or having rigid plans, taking the time to brainstorm is still really valuable. I’ve found that having some ideas about how to demonstrate a skill allows me to be more aware of opportunities when they arise so that I can seize them. It also allows me to clearly communicate with my manager, allowing her to keep an eye out for opportunities for me as well. Having some idea of where I’m trying to go also gives me an additional metric for deciding what to spend my limited time on. I’m obviously not saying that I’ll sacrifice the function of my team so that I can go on some crazy self-promoting tangent. However, if two equally important tasks come up, but one allows me to demonstrate something I want to work on, it can help me decide which one is the better one for me to take.
Most of the time, it’s rare that there’s only one way to demonstrate a quality. For example, being an ambassador for quality could mean convincing the team to move to a better testing framework or driving the adoption of a new test type or it could mean always giving really thorough code reviews and suggesting missed test cases or it could mean finding ways to incrementally improve all of the code you touch or it could even mean advocating for a code clean up project. Often a lot of small things or one big thing are both acceptable. One of these might be more natural for me to do than another or in the context of my team, one might be more readily available. Waiting for what I see as the golden opportunity likely isn’t a good use of my time and there’s a good chance that it may never come.
No One is Perfect at Everything
According to a study conducted by HP, women only applied for an internal job when they felt they met 100% of the requirements, as opposed to 60% for men. In another study by Colombia Business School, men routinely overestimated their abilities by 30% while women routinely underestimated their abilities. Both of these, along with many additional studies, would suggest that women are more likely to seek a higher level of perfection before applying for a job or promotion. Most companies will tell you that for promotions they really do want 100% of the qualifications met, but that’s not entirely true either. Everyone has areas they’re much stronger in than others. If I’m absolutely amazing in one area and mediocre in another, maybe that’s still good enough. Since every company is a little different, this should be a conversation with my manager around the expectations of my organization, but I’m holding myself back if I wait to have that conversation until I think I’ve fully demonstrated everything.
It’s also worth thinking about if there are ways to leverage your strengths to help compensate for some of your weaker areas and get the same things accomplished. For example, if I’m not very good at one particular type of work, but I’m good at motivating others, the team can still complete it. Or maybe I’m not very good at public speaking, but I’m a really good writer, I might be able to still effectively communicate the same information to the same audience. There is more than one way to solve almost any problem.
Whether I’m almost at that next level or if I’ve just been promoted, it never hurts to start thinking about what’s next and how to get there. Even if I have no idea what I want to do next, having some idea of what I want to improve gives me focus. I can always change my mind later! Although it may not seem like it, ultimately, I’m in one of the best positions to fully understand if I’m ready for a promotion or not and I’m also in the best position to make sure I get there.