Don't Get Down-Leveled
How to avoid the latest trend for PMs in an employers’ market
The latest problem Product Managers I am talking to are facing is that they actually get the offer, but it comes in at a level lower than they expected.
Here’s what one of you wrote to me this week:
I was targeting a Lead PM role, with 6 years of experience, but my offer from Google came in at the PM level.
My first reaction is: is this really a bad thing?
And here’s what I mean by that. There’s two types of down-leveling:
The problematic type: This is when you get down-leveled and offered a lower total compensation than you were earning.
The title-only down-level: This is when your total compensation actually goes up, but you take a lower level.
The second case is something that most experienced professionals will understand.
The Seniority Roller-Coaster is a fact of life in the Tech Industry…
The Seniority Roller-Coaster created this beautiful term back in 2021. Here’s what the seniority roller-coaster looks like:
What typically happens on the seniority roller-coaster is, over time, your compensation doesn’t actually go down.
Instead, you actually continue an upward trajectory in compensation. But you don’t only do this by moving up the ladder at a single company.
You move up the ladder of companies:
Levels Vary Greatly
Let’s double-click into that. There’s a ladder of companies. Companies with the ability to attract the best talent are at the top of this ladder: Google, Facebook, etc. Companies with the ability to attract almost the best talent: Amazon, Netflix, etc are right below that.
So, as you move up any rung of this ladder, you’re liable to get down-leveled. Blind makes it loud and clear:
You mainly see the bigger, brand name companies - Google, Facebook Amazon (so the big tech we covered above) - most. You also see medium-tech brand names - Stripe, Spotify, Snap, and Salesforce - pop up occasionally.
This is the ladder in action. The higher the quality of talent a company can attract - the higher the bar at each title.
To see this in the data, let’s look at how companies of increasing size compare to each other - Anaplan, Airtable, Chewy, and Google.
It’s a clear progression - the smallest Anaplan, then the slightly larger Airtable, the larger Chewy, and the behmost Google. The Anaplan levels end before the Director level even begins at Google!
Because Levels is comparing compensation, you can see that each company size pays more. Anaplan doesn’t pay as much as Airtable and so on.
And the drop-off is the steepest from medium to big tech. You can see, a Senior Director at Chewy may just be a Group PM at Google. Companies like Facebook and Google are particularly stingy with their PM titles, because they pay the most:
You could be a principal PM at Microsoft or Amazon, but only be a PM at Facebook.
And when you get to Facebook, it becomes clear how true this is. Everyone has the same story:
I used to manage a team of 10. Now I won’t have any reports!
So the takeaway is: levels are relative to your company. The higher up the ladder, the more likely you are to be down-leveled.
If it’s an increase in total compensation, it may not be a bad thing.
With this understanding in mind, there are really two options as it relates to you, the candidate, who may have gotten, or is in the process of being down-leveled:
The company rightly down-leveled you: probably about 60% of the time
The company down-leveled you due to your performance: probably about 40% of the time
This piece is about the portion of the time when they wrongly down-level you.
This probability is still pretty high, because no interview process is going to accurately represent you as a person.
So it’s imperative to not get down-leveled.
Structure for Today
To avoid getting wrongly down-leveled and earn more, you have to know the pitfalls, find the right jobs, story-tell for your level, and be able to negotiate.
Today’s piece is your one-stop shop to do all of that.
Over 4,000 word’s we’ll cover:
Why You Get Down-Leveled
Finding Jobs At Your Level
Storytelling For Your Level
Mistakes That Drive a Down-Level
Negotiating a Down-Level
If this helps you with one job, it will be worth $1000s. The gap in pay between levels is gigantic:
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