"I Was Under Leveled!" — Avoiding the Tragedy of Making Only $500k a Year
Senior employees and executives make a common mistake while interviewing. They try to answer the interview questions, instead of focusing on their goals.
It's been awhile since I wrote an interview advice article. With the tech layoffs creating a spike in interview coaching demand, I thought that passing along some of my most common feedback would be a good use of my time.
When I was at Amazon, one common complaint I'd hear from newly hired employees was, "I was Under Leveled." What they meant was that they felt that they'd received an offer for a position at a lower level than they deserved.
I distinctly remember one Senior Manager (making in the ballpark of $500k yearly.. yes, poor him), complaining that he'd had 250 people reporting to him at his previous company, and now he only had 25 people. He recognized that Amazon was a great place to be (which was why he took the offer), but he was baffled on how he was leveled like this. It felt like a step back in his career.
How does being under leveled happen to someone? How can you avoid it happening to you?
In the case of that Senior Manager, I took the time to investigate his interview notes to see what had happened. It turns out he made literally all the mistakes I outline below.
I regularly coach senior leaders and executives on interviewing. They're applying for roles at companies like Amazon for Principal, Director, and VP positions. In my first practice round with these employees, many of them made the same mistakes.
It's predictable and avoidable. And it all comes down to not concentrating on your goals.
What are your goals in answering interview questions?
Let's say that I ask a question like, "Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker." It's a very common question.
Now, what is your goal here? Is your primary goal to tell me a story in which you disagreed with a co-worker? No. Because you might have a story which has a great conflict, but it won't accomplish your actual goals. What's the potential problem with your stories?
First, if you answer the question in a way that doesn't convince me to hire you for the job, you've failed.
Second, if you answer the question in a way that suggests that you're a lower level employee than you actually could be, you've failed.
You have two major goals.
You want to answer every question in a way that convinces me to hire you, and your answers should convince me that you're at the maximum possible/reasonable seniority.
But maximum possible seniority? That doesn't seem fair. Feels like gaming the system.
The interviewing system is stupid, inaccurate, inconsistent, and many other insulting words. We haven't invented a better scalable system, but it's not great at making fair decisions.
When in doubt, people will put you at a lower level.
When in doubt, people won't hire you at all.
You want to send the message that you're super remarkable, super valuable, and absolutely at the target level (if not higher).
Understand that your interviewer gets an incredibly short period of time with you. They take those tiny hints of data, and make gigantic assumptions about your capabilities and past performance.
Many of the most impressive career jumps people have made were when they interviewed incredibly well. I've heard of engineers at Amazon jumping two or three levels when interviewing at other companies. I've heard of managers jumping from 18-person teams to 800-person teams through a great interview.
Don't leave career growth or opportunity on the table. Think of the message you're sending.