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How do you know when you’re ready for a Senior role?

Posted on 20 September 2023

How do you know when you’re ready for a Senior role?

6-minute read

The title of 'Senior' has consistently posed confusion. While you might effortlessly fulfil the requirements for this title in one company, you could find yourself struggling to attain it in another. Titles remain highly context-dependent within each company, making it crucial to not fixate solely on acquiring the title itself. This fixation could lead you to overlook the true essence of holding a senior position in today's job market.

In this article, we are joined by three accomplished individuals in their respective fields: Yaniv Preiss from NewStore, Mike Pierce from Zolar, and Margarita Litkevych from SumUp. Each of them rose through the ranks, accumulating insights along the way, and now they are eager to impart that wisdom to you.

The objective of this article is straightforward: to equip you with a clear understanding of the required skills for embracing a Senior role. Furthermore, it aims to provide guidance on how you can commence the process of enhancing these skills starting today.

 

Core Technical Ability

It's inherently understood that to obtain the Senior role, whether within your current team or a new one, a robust grasp of your core expertise is essential. This isn't contingent on a specific duration of experience; rather, it hinges on possessing a fundamental knowledge base. This knowledge base allows you to draw upon examples and experiences that bolster your efficacy in your new capacity.

The imposter syndrome can undoubtedly exert its influence here, particularly among underrepresented groups. Yaniv highlighted that if you're grappling with a sense of insecurity about your competencies, but your manager asserts your readiness, placing trust in their judgment and taking the leap is imperative.

Mastery of everything isn't a prerequisite for assuming a Senior role; it's centered on value across an array of domains, extending beyond just technology.

How to improve:

  • Read job descriptions from organisations that are hiring within your niche, cross reference the technical skills you have today with what is being required and create a learning development plan on the areas you currently do not have.

  • Look at internal rubrics if you have access to them and see how those within your company are judging technical skills for senior roles and again, add to your learning and development plan.

  • Actively look to gain feedback from your peers around your technical knowledge, create regular check-ins to track your progress.

Impact

The Senior title, even within a role as an individual contributor, is given to those who can genuinely steer positive change within an organisation. As Yaniv explained, your impact isn't tied to the amount of time invested; instead, it's tied to the value you contribute to the business.

This impact can be created in a number of ways, some of which will be individually addressed later in this article. However, there are a few aspects we haven't delved into yet that warrant your consideration. These include proficiency in Project Management, the capacity to make informed decisions and assume accountability for their outcomes, a versatile approach to various tools and programming languages, the capability to shoulder additional responsibilities, and the awareness of knowing what to (and not to) build.

Margarita also shared that once you're able to comprehend the extent of your impact within a team and a business, and effectively communicate this to your present or future employer, your prospects of attaining this level will be significantly enhanced.

How to improve:

  • Learning from personal and team failures, take responsibility and look to uncover lessons to mitigate the same mistake in the future.

  • Adopt the 150% rule: Take on 100% of your current role and 50% of the next role to learn what the next position will entail. Pick the areas that are more natural and try to increase over time. This will give you the chance to learn about and generate impact with examples for when you’re ready to interview for the next opening.

  • Seek mentorship from those in a Senior role today, understand what impact they create for their business outside of their ability to code.

 

Communication

Proficient communication is truly an art, and all three guests emphasised its importance as an essential skill for those aspiring to Senior positions.

Yaniv expounded that Seniors must possess the ability to not only comprehend their own thoughts accurately but also to adeptly convey them to both technical and non-technical individuals in an uncomplicated manner. This also included the ability to embrace conflict as a means of refining ideas, rather than viewing it as a confrontation.

Communication is more than mere verbal however, Mike mentioned that even before you are a Senior within a team you should take an active interest in developing your non-verbal and written communication (emails, instant messaging and even project documentation) to ensure a smoother transition.

How to improve:

  • Review all areas of your communication style, not with judgement but with curiosity to improve. Look to seek why you approached conversations and responses in that way, identify common trends and then actively work on to improve them.

  • Listen to podcasts / talks or read different material to enhance your communication.

  • Get closer to other aspects of the business, expand your stakeholder reach, and speak with Product, Finance, Marketing etc. to learn how they communicate.

 

Leadership

Even if your aspirations do not lean towards a long-term managerial role, the mantle of expectations, even for a Senior individual contributor, involves embracing foundational leadership skills, as Margarita mentioned. This entails challenging yourself to cultivate an elevated awareness of the interconnectedness of all facets within the organisation, extending beyond your immediate team.

Mike supplemented this perspective by noting that leadership encompasses serving as a formidable role model for your team peers. It involves engaging junior engineers on equal footing, while generously dispensing knowledge for the betterment of the broader organisation.

The term 'leader' is frequently intertwined with 'manager', and undoubtedly, the most effective managers embody leadership qualities. However, it's equally essential to have leaders dispersed throughout the team, even outside managerial ranks.

How to improve:

  • Focus more on the success of the group and not the self, see how you can contribute even when it doesn’t directly impact you.

  • Consider not only your input but understand how it impacts the team, speak with your manager on ways in which you can directly improve from their perspective.

  • Embark on personal development outside of the working environment, explore business and leadership courses.

 

Business Awareness

Digging deeper, Senior positions indeed mark the initial significant stride towards cultivating business acumen. The expectations that accompany this role extend well beyond your foundational technical competencies.

During this juncture, hiring managers begin to place heightened importance on your grasp of the business landscape. As Mike elucidated, it's imperative to comprehend the company's endeavours, the market it serves, and, most importantly, to discern the genuine purpose behind the business – beyond the polished mission statement, delving into the actual necessity it addresses.

This is where substantial value can be injected, differentiating you from a potential Senior candidate to a confirmed one.

The extent of your business insight demands an investment of time, similar to your journey in programming. Gradually, as your confidence grew in programming, enabling you to engage in more profound discussions, a parallel process unfolds in cultivating your understanding of business.

How to improve:

  • Speak up in meetings / social contexts within your team to contribute but also learn about the wider picture.

  • Be aware of how your current organisation makes money – if you are not, learn.

  • Look at your company’s strategy documents: read it, understand it and ask questions around it – if one does not exist, question why.

 

Seniority, as Margarita aptly articulated, operates on a scale. Contemplate the present company you're employed by or one you aspire to join; this assessment aids in pinpointing the level of seniority you could potentially enter on their spectrum.

Given that seniority exists along a continuum, there's no need for all these skills to be perfect right from the start. However, acknowledging areas in which you might currently fall short sets the stage for focused skill development, especially if you encounter challenges during the transition.

Although we always knew the Senior role required far more than what most job descriptions truly tell, it wasn't until we delved deep into discussions with Yaniv, Mike, and Margarita that the true depth of this position truly unfolded before us and now, you.

Thank you to our guests and we hope this gives some clarity and no longer confusion to the Senior requirement.

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