August 8, 2020.
This is a draft guide for staffeng.com.
Some folks think of their promotion packet as the capstone of reaching a Staff-plus role, but I’ve seen many folks succeed by taking an opposite approach: starting to write their first Staff promotion packet long before they think they’re likely to be promoted to Staff, much the way they might use a brag document. Used this way, your packet becomes the map to accomplishing your goal.
It’s likely your company will have its own format for promotion packets, and eventually you’ll need to translate your packet into that format before it’s submitted to an internal promotion committee or process, but there’s no need to rush it. You’ll spend more time relying on it as a guide than as a formal artifact for official review, so optimize for the former.
For traversing towards your Staff-plus promotion, a general template format that’s useful is:
It’s useful to spend some time to write out those answers yourself, but getting promoted into a leadership role isn’t a solo activity – it’s something you can only accomplish with a team of folks supporting you along the way.
The approach that I recommend for iterating on your packet is:
Answer why you’re doing this. Many folks choose not to pursue the Staff level, you should have a reason why this is important to you. If you don’t, you’re liable to find yourself in a role you don’t enjoy.
Michelle Bu warns, “My first piece of advice to engineers is that they should avoid pattern matching in ways that lead them towards work they don’t enjoy. I’m deeply energized by the work I do, partnering with teams to solve abstract modeling and design problems. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to try again and again after many rounds of feedback, and to be honest, it’s not for everyone. If you’re more focused on hitting Staff than on setting yourself up to do work that energizes you, it’s easy to end up stuck in a role you don’t want.”
Bring your manager into the fold. Bring the promotion packet and to your next 1:1 with your manager, and tell them that attaining a Staff promotion is a goal of yours. Review the empty packet with them, and ask them what’s missing, what to emphasize, and if they’d recommend adding steps to the workflow. You goal is to ensure they know this is something you’re interested in and to solicit their guidance on approach.
Ritu Vincent suggests, “People frequently come to me and ask, ‘What should I do next to reach Staff?’ One of the things that I tell them is to be super open and honest with your manager about what you want from your career. A mistake I made early on in my one-on-ones was telling my manager what I thought they wanted to hear, instead of what I actually felt.”
If you take a methodical approach to following this advice, then you’ll put together your first Staff promotion packet long before you’re nominated for promotion. From there, you’ll use the packet to focus your attention and your partnership with your manager towards that goal. It won’t necessarily get you there quickly, and it event might not get you there at your current company, but it will consolidate your energy on the development and work that’ll move you towards your goal.
When it finally does comes time to write your formal packet, it’ll be a matter of editing down what you’ve collected into the official template rather than an archival process of dusting through years of effort. Hopefully nothing goes awry in the promotion process, and a Staff title follows.