Google Engineering Levels Demystified

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

I spoke to a Google recruiter recently in one of our recent Office Hours and we got so many questions on leveling for new hires, 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.

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.

WTF are levels anyway?!

But before we get into the nitty-gritty on levels - let's step back a little bit 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 FAANGSs, Google has separate tracks for individual contributors, known as 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 what is called “lagging promotion”(you need to exemplify that you can work at the next level for approximately six months before they will promote you)

Software Engineer Ladder Explained

Levels are demoted with the letter L + a number, denoting 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 and abilities. 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.

How do SWEs get leveled?

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

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- your situations are not clear-cut and a lot goes into these decisions. I spoke with over 10 recruiters and hiring committee folks for this piece and explanations involved a ton of hand-waving. Here’s the TLDR: your interview performance matters a ton, sometimes even more than your past experience.

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 standart on your interview- this will weigh very heavily against you and 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 completely differently from each other 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 so someone at Director level might end up as an L4/ L5 at Google easily. Your title now 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 + you do well in your interview.

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  as well and your experience will play a larger role in the level assessment.

If you need futher help understanding your level  or negotiating your compensation, reach out - Candor can help :)

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