Company culture

Google Engineering Levels Demystified

Want the scoop? We have the answers to your most burning leveling questions.

I spoke to a Google recruiter recently in one of our recent Office Hours. We got so many questions on leveling for new hires that I decided it's time to write a post on it.  Post #2 in our series: Here's the tea on what you should know about levels at G.

WTF are levels anyway?

After your interview, the Hiring Committee makes a decision on whether to move forward with your application and assigns you a level. The level determines the seniority of your role and also what salary band you fall into.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's step back and talk about org structure at Google more broadly. There are 2 concepts you should know: ladder and level. They're both super important...

  • Ladder = your role
  • Level = your scope/ seniority

Similar to other FAANGs, Google has separate tracks for individual contributors (ICs) and managers. Broadly, this means engineers have 2 ladders (SWE and Software Engineering Manager). The difference is mainly in time allocation: SWE's can still manage others, but they're expected to spend most of their time contributing. EMs are expected to spend 80% of their time managing.

Performance reviews will focus on the expectations for your ladder, so being on the wrong ladder can hurt your ability to uplevel. Especially because Google, similar to Goldman, does “lagging promotions” (you need to exemplify that you can work at the next level for approximately six months before they will promote you).

👉Try next: Can you cut it at Google? Try answering 100 recent interview questions

Software Engineer Ladder Explained

Levels are denoted with the letter L + a number, which represents the seniority of the role (from lowest to highest). Most sourcing and hiring Google does goes up to level 6 (or L6).

L2 - Software Engineering Intern, usually in senior year of a four year degree program.

L3 - Full time, entry level Software Engineer, also known as the “new grad level”.

L4 - 1-5 years of industry experience, sometimes awarded to high potential new grads and PhDs.

L5- Senior Software Engineer: 6-9 years of industry experience. This is the level most engineers are at internally within Google. You’re expected to be able to operate with little direction and handle complex tasks on your own.

L6 - Staff Software Engineer: 9+ years of experience and an expectation that you have extremely strong interpersonal skills. Many engineers will start managing larger projects and teams at this point. A promotion from L5 to L6 is more exponential in nature and it’s rare that candidates get hired into this role externally.

L7- Senior Staff Software Engineer: 9+ years of experience. These offers are rare and most recruiters can count on one hand the number they’ve seen during their career.

L8 and above - Requires executive sponsorship and not typically recruited externally. This is considered an executive role with large scope.

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How do SWEs get leveled?

It’s super complex - no big surprise there. Google works extremely hard to avoid bias, so these decisions are very quantitative. There are over 15 individual factors that play into your level.

Your industry experience

New grads: This is, at least clear cut.  Here’s how it usually goes:

  • PhD candidates - L4
  • MS/BA with no industry experience - L3

Folks with some industry experience: These situations are not clear-cut and a lot goes into the decision making process. I spoke with over 10 recruiters and hiring committee members for this piece. Their explanations involved a ton of hand-waving. Here’s the TLDR: your interview performance matters a ton, sometimes even more than your past experience.

Other important factors

Your past experience...

A factor that matters a lot is what Googlers call “Trajectory”. Simply put: if you have 10 years of experience on your resume but you don’t perform to that standard in your interview, this will weigh very heavily against you. You may even get a “no hire” decision instead of a lower level.

Your years of experience don’t directly map you to a level - people with the same # of years often level differently from, based on interview performance and where their past experience was from. Titles also don’t map 1:1 from your past job - many industries, like banking, are frivolous with titles. This means someone at Director level might end up as an L4/L5 at Google. Your current title also doesn’t determine your level at Google.

If you’re from FAANG, there is also no guarantee that your level and title will match. Unless you’re working on projects of similar complexity and scale, AND you do well in your interview (in which case, levels are more likely to match).

Interview performance...

By now, you should have guessed that this is incredibly important - but only up to a certain level.  Most recruiters we spoke with agreed on  the following criteria:

  • L3/L4 - Main considerations are algorithms and coding ability.
  • L5 - System design ability is weighed heavily, along with communication skills.
  • L6- This is judged on ability to deliver impact and deal with a significant degree of complexity. The committee will likely consider past experience and responsibilities very heavily here, so your experience will play a larger role in the level assessment.

If you need further help understanding your level or negotiating your compensation, reach out - Candor can help.

👉Try next: Can you cut it at Google? Try answering 100 recent interview questions

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