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Guides / Promotion packets

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 the 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:

  • What are your Staff projects? What did you do? What was the project’s impact (including a well-defined goal)? What made this project complex? Keep it very short and then link out to supporting design documents
  • What are the high-leverage ways you’ve improved the organization?
  • What is the quantifiable impact of your projects? (Did you increase revenue by $10 million? Did you reduce year-on-year customer support tickets by 20%?)
  • Who have you mentored and through what accomplishments?
  • What glue work do you do for the organization? What’s the impact of that glue work?
  • Which teams and leaders are familiar with and advocates for your work? What do they value about your work? One sentence, include data (e.g. survey data) when possible
  • Do you have a real or perceived skill or behavior gaps that might hold you back? For each, how would you address the concern? One sentence each

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:

  1. 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. 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.”

  2. Temper your expectations. Promotions, especially at this level, are built over quarters, halves, and years. Avoid the expectation of instant results

  3. Bring your manager into the fold. Bring the promotion packet 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. Your goal is to ensure they know this is something you’re interested in and to solicit their guidance on your 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 their 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.”

  4. Write the promotion packet. Sit down for an hour and throw all your ideas together in a first version

  5. Edit the promotion packet. Wait two days, reread your promotion packet and edit for content, clarity, and context

  6. Edit the promotion packet with peers. Share your promotion packet with several trusted peers to get feedback, preferably peers already in a Staff-plus role. Peers are often better at identifying your strengths and contributions than you are, and they are closer to your work than your manager might be

  7. Edit the promotion packet with your manager. Share your promotion packet with your manager and request feedback. Ask for a particular focus on enumerating gaps to address. Ask if you can spend time in the following 1:1 discussing the kinds of projects and opportunities to both address gaps and make the packet stronger

  8. Periodically review the promotion packet with your manager. Continue to review the promotion packet with your manager during your career and performance-oriented 1:1s. Both you and your manager should use it to steer you towards demonstrating the promotion criteria over time. This is particularly important to do if your direct manager changes. Maintaining this sort of document and reviewing it across managers will help mitigate the loss of progress towards your promotion that often occurs after a manager change

If you methodically follow 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 even 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 come 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.

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If you've enjoyed reading the stories and guides on, you might also enjoy Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track, which features many of these guides and stories.

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