Ten Ways To Know You’re In A Senior Role

Back when I went in search of the IT Gap I found that there was a Gap in hiring “Senior” IT people. The evidence suggested that the talent pool for such experienced people, one covered up by certain economic trends and practices. I didn’t answer one question in that essay – namely, what the heck do I mean by “Senior” person and a “Senior Role”?

I probably should have worked on answering that.  So I am now.

Why is it important? Well, though you can guess, let’s review:

  • The title affects what job you’re interviewed for.
  • The job and being thought of as Senior affects your pay rate.
  • The Senior positions affect what other positions you’re eligible for.
  • If you’re in IT and other professions (and if you’re reading this you probably are), it affects how valuable recruiters think you are – which plays back to the start of this list.

It’d be really nice to know what it means to be “Senior” in a job. And what is that definition?

That’s the problem – I can’t find anything specific

Senior And A Senior Role: The Phantom Maturity

I’ve never actually found a good checklist of what “being Senior” in a job means – and this is after two decades in IT and even more in the workforce. I’ve held many Senior positions in that time, but what made them Senior wasn’t always the exact same. In one case I got promoted to a Senior position I already had, which says something about the definition in the first place (I also didn’t get a raise, which sort of was a pain).

As I tried to investigate what “being Senior” was, I found people didn’t agree on what it meant either – it seem sot be a bit of a running joke among some professionals and recruiters that no one had a real definition. There’s no checklist, no guarantee, just a lot of maybes and could be’s.

This makes sense when you consider it – a simple title like “Senior” can’t be one size fits all because professions, jobs, and industries are different.  It’s almost laughable that we throw the word around so casually – if a bit sad that it’s hard to find much agreement on the title period.  Sorry, fellow professionals, we’re all in the same leaky boat.

So the first thing you have to realize is that being a “Senior This” or “in a Senior position” is always going to be subjective. There’s no universal standard.

However, I did find ten common traits of “Being Senior” that give you something to aim for.

What Makes Someone Senior Or Defines A Senior Role?

So, heres’ what I found makes someone Senior in their position. Please note that this is obviously biased by my IT career experience, but I think I’ve got it broad enough for most professions:

#1 – YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: A senior person has minimum five years of professional experience in their profession (and possibly industry). That means working as professional, almost certainly paid, on tasks that have a real impact to an organization.

#2 – TAKES INITIATIVE: A Senior person in any position has the experience, responsibility, and personality to take initiative on projects and issues – they may not always lead (see below) but they’re the ones that can, should, or have driven things.  If you decide on what architecture to use for an IT project or chose vendors for your school that fits.

#3 – CAN LEAD WHEN APPROPRIATE: A Senior person can provide leadership when appropriate to their profession. For some this is leading a group, for others providing leadership on technical design or organizing documents – a bit like 32.

#4 – COULD TEACH: Not can, could. A Senior person should have enough knowledge of their profession to be able to teach others about important subjects – if needed. This may not mean they’re good at it, but they could barring other barriers like, say, the actual ability to teach. Note this could be general things or company/industry specific – something.

#5 – KNOWS AN INDUSTRY: A Senior person should have awareness of their industry, follow it, and be able to analyze the impact of changes. In some cases this is “be able to” because sometimes being Senior means you end up down the rabbit hole of your own projects for awhile.

#6 – HAS RESULTS TO THEIR NAME: A Senior person can demonstrate and discuss identifiable results to their work; they didn’t just work on a project, they managed it or oversaw it or made a major contribution to its success that wouldn’t have happened without them. In short, they can not just discuss the work they did but truly can say “something existed or was done because of me.”

#7 – IS CALLED SENIOR: If someone calls you a Senior by definition of your company position, etc. you usually are. Having a position changed to be senior, called senior, or transferring into one has some cachet. It shows someone trusted you – or in the case of poorly defined positions, you stepped up to try and fit whatever random definition was forced on you.

#8 – HAS ADDITIONAL TRAINING AND CERTIFICATIONS: A Senior person has additional training, certification, classwork, or something similar behind them. This may accumulate over time, expand their horizons, or speak to their abilities – whatever the reason, they’re important.  Usually you need these things to be able to take initiative, teach, and get results anyway – other areas of “being Senior”

#9 – HAS SOME PROFESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT: A Senior person has some involvement in their profession beyond just doing it and training for it. They go to professional events, are involved in associations, go to seminars, etc. If you’re senior, you’re involved.

#10 – WORKS TO BE SENIOR: A Senior person also tries to live up to the above traits and figure out just why it means to be senior at their job, in their profession, etc. hey, I can’t give you the exact details – part of being senior is trying to be senior.  This is part of the whole “being called Senior” thing as well.

Sounds simple? Well, OK not simple, but I think I broke things down into a few useful traits that you can use. But there’s one more thing.

The Senior Cycle

One of the challenging issues of “being senior” is that sometimes it leads to . . . not being senior. You may rise high enough in your profession to move to another profession – where, no matter what, you’re sort of starting over again.

It’s probably best to give an example – when I was a Senior Programmer (some eight plus years) I became a Project Manager. Though I was leveraging my skills and experiences as a Senior code jockey, I was far more junior in the area of being a Project Manager. I could not do my management job without my IT experience, with all that perspective and knowledge, but my management skills weren’t at the same level as my coding skills.

Frankly, it took about as long to get my management skills to “Senior” level as my coding skills.

So remember, your senior job may lead you into a job that’s . . . not so senior. it’s a promotion that is kind of a demotion in a way. Remember you’ll be starting over – which means get those certifications, get that five years, etc.

Oh and if you think at some point you may get tired of moving up only to start over as “non_Senior,” you’re not alone. Some people find a point to stop moving up the ladder, and you will too.

Moving Onward

With the above ten points in mind, I hope you’ll have some guidance towards “being Senior” at your job – or even just admitting your Senior and getting that promotion/transfer/new position you wanted.  At a lot more pay and respect.

In the end part of Senior is trying to figure out what the hell it means and going after it.  Good luck.

. . . and if you find any better definitions, please let me know.

  • Steve