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Levelling Question

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Data Engineer at Financial Companya month ago

I had an interview with a Big Tech company last week. The Hiring Manager told me that he had 2 spots open on his team, one mid L4 and one senior L5. He then asked me what role I wanted to be in. I waffled a bit, but then said the L4 role. I genuinely believe I'd rather be in the L4 role since I've never worked in Big Tech before.

I'm assuming I made a mistake in answering the question though. Similar to how you should never give the first number when asked about comp expectations, I'm assuming the right answer to a levelling question is something like "I'm looking to contribute at the highest level I can".

I imagine this response is the better response for 2 reasons:

  1. I might be able to get an L5 role and operate at that level, even if I don't feel that way

  2. If they think I'm going for L5, they might give me L4 as consolation, whereas if they think I'm going for L4, I might end up with nothing. This is the "shoot for the moon, land among the stars" strategy.

Can people confirm my thinking is accurate?

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(2 comments)
  • 1
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    In general, you don't want to set a ceiling on yourself. That's the core premise behind negotiating pay and it applies for level as well.

    I might be able to get an L5 role and operate at that level, even if I don't feel that way

    This is correct.

    If they think I'm going for L5, they might give me L4 as consolation, whereas if they think I'm going for L4, I might end up with nothing.

    Assuming their interview process works properly, this is less correct. There are 2 ways to "fail" an interview:

    1. Entirely fail (don't meet overall company bar)
    2. Pass the interview, just not at your target level

    If you give a performance that meets the company's overall bar and shows L4 skill/behavior, then you should get an L4 offer whether you interview for L5/L4. Offers aren't given as "consolation prizes" - The interviewers should always be checking if you meet the overall bar.

    A lot of engineers undersell themselves as most companies don't have good promotion culture and are underleveling their engineers. So you should always try to shoot for the stars, especially if they give you an option to do so. 😄

    Here's a good thread about this: "How can I deal with my imposter syndrome after getting up-leveled?"

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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    a month ago

    The best philosophy is to keep any answer vague until you have confirmation that you will receive an offer.

    I'd answer any question of compensation, level, or team preference by saying "I'm sure we can figure out something workable, I'd love to circle back to that after we've done more interviews and I've had a chance to talk to more of the team."