Level self-assessments

You can't get to where you're going if you don't know where you are! Level self-assessments are a low-effort tool for determining if you're ready for a promotion and communicating this information to your manager in a structured way. They're a critical tool for minimizing your manager bus factor.

Understanding level expectations

I work at Elastic, which publishes an internal leveling chart that managers use to assess an individual's performance against a standardized set of expectations. I've used this chart to assess my own performance for my manager and I coach the folks on my team to do the same. If you haven't seen one of these before, Dropbox's leveling chart is a wonderfully detailed public example.

A screenshot of Dropbox's Engineering Career Framework, describing the responsibilities and key behaviors of an IC2 Software Engineer

At Elastic, we promote people once they're already performing at the next level. If this is how things are done where you work then you can use a level self-assessment to first verify that you're meeting or exceeding expectations for your current level. If you are then you can also use it to evaluate your performance against the expectations of the next level.

🚨 Review these expectations first. It will end up being a big waste of time if your manager has a different interpretation of what's expected at your level than you do. Sometimes wording can be vague, so get on the same page with your manager about any details that could be taken to mean different things.

Preparing the self-assessment

You're going to compare your performance against the expectations your employer has for folks at your level. It's as basic as it sounds. You're just going down a list and checking off items. I use a three-step process.

  1. Create a Google Doc with sections for your current level and the next level up.
  2. Extract the expectations for these levels into bullet points in the doc.
  3. Assess whether you've been consistently meeting each expectation and mark it with a YES, NO, or MAYBE.

If you have to think deeply about whether you're meeting a particular expectation then your manager probably will, too. You can prepare to talk about these by jotting down some concrete examples to justify your YES assessments, thoughts on how you might meet your NO assessments, and any questions that your manager can answer regarding the expectations you've marked as MAYBE.

Here's an example self-assessment I made to show you how this works. This is for a fictional software engineer who's currently at Dropbox's IC1 level and wants to be promoted to IC2. In this doc I've added a few extra tips on ways you can make your self-assessment extra-useful when chatting with your manager.

  • Focus on change. Most of the expectations marked YES are missing concrete examples because they've already been established by previous self-assessments, and your manager will gain more value by focusing on the expectations you’ve improved on.
  • Highlight conversation points. To make the most of your time, guide the conversation with your manager by highlighting the items you want to discuss.
  • Current level vs. next level. Approach the “Next level” section the same as the “Current level” section, but be prepared to assess many more expectations as NO and MAYBE. You should always provide examples to justify any YES assessments because your manager needs to be able to explain why a promotion is warranted.
  • NO is OK. Some expectations can be so specific that you simply may not have had an opportunity to meet them. This is perfectly fine! For example, if you’re expected to resolve conflicts in a professional way but haven’t gotten in any conflicts, then I wouldn’t factor this into a promotion decision.

Take a look at the example doc to see what I'm talking about.

Discussing with your manager

If you think you're performing at the next level, then tell your manager! The worst that happens is your manager disagrees and offers alternative ways to progress your career. And even if you decide you're not ready for that promotion yet, you can still use your self-assessment to get aligned with your manager about how you're performing, identify areas for growth, and maximize your odds of being promoted when you are ready.

I recommend everyone get into the habit of writing their own self-assessments come review time. If you're a manager, I suggest coaching your direct reports to do the same. The bottom line is that by being able to accurately assess their own performance, an individual will be empowered to nudge their manager when they're confident that their performance merits promotion. This will save their manager time, develop their confidence and initiative, and make it easier for the manager to pull the trigger on that promotion.

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