I am currently a mid-level SWE applying for senior roles at various companies. On several occasions, the recruiter who reached out asked what my level is at my current company. This feels similar to asking what my current salary is, and seems like a data-point which can be used to down-level me later in the process.
What's the best way to answer this without coming off as standoffish?
Agreed that you should not volunteer information like your current salary or level.
Many of the same aversion tactics can be used that we talked about for not revealing your compensation numbers. Some dialogue to use as a starting point:
This can be tricky, especially when there's a concern of being potentially down-leveled.
I recommend a tactful approach, focusing on your skills, experiences and value rather than fixating on your current title.
For example, if you're aiming for a senior role, try and turn it around and ask what the criteria is for that senior position or use the job description as a reference.
"Could you share the responsibilities for a senior SWE in your organization? I'd like to understand how it aligns with my experience and skills."
"Based on the job description responsibilities, the role I am currently performing is in line with a senior position."
It would be helpful if you listed the responsibilities you currently have that line up with the role you're applying for.
I haven't met too many recruiters that push for the exact title after saying this. Putting my empathy cap on, they're just trying to gauge if you're a good fit for the role you're applying for. Most recruiters aren't as technical and use context clues to determine fit of candidate. Current position is just a context clue for them.
Keep aiming to level up! Good luck!