“What about the principal consultant role?”
“Oh, we don’t hire into that position.”
This exchange occurred over 6 years ago. At the time, I was interviewing for a role with a consulting agency (or something calling itself that, anyway). They had four salary bands for their developer/consultants, and shooting for the top wasn’t out of bounds with my experience level. So I asked. And then they told me about this policy by way of dismissing the question.
I’m not exactly sure why this instance stands out so much in my mind. Perhaps because it occurred so explicitly. But when I think about it, I think every salaried gig I ever had featured some kind of unique role like this at the top of the individual contributor set of software people. In other words, at every job I ever had, there was always exactly one titular band — Senior Software Engineer II or Principal Developer or whatever — reserved only for the company’s dues-payers.
Not having been a wage worker for a long time, I hadn’t thought about this for years. But I heard someone mention a corporate policy like this in passing the other day, and it got me thinking.
I dunno. Call it nostalgia or whatever, but given my recent opting for whimsy with the blog, I figured I’d riff on this.
The Curious Case of “We Don’t Hire for X”
Stop for a moment, at this point, and think about how deeply weird this little corporate quirk is. I mean, you’re probably used to it, so it might be a little hard to do this mental exercise. Like the job interview, fundamentally nonsensical practices can create a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in corporate denizens.
So let’s blast away the cobwebs with a helpful graphic. Below is the skeleton of what some org chart might look like. As the GIF flashes, you’ll see color coordination. In red, you have the positions that the company will staff from the outside. Remaining clear, you’ll see all of the positions that the company has a policy to staff only via promotion.
Interesting, eh? Trickling down from CEO to C-suite to VPs to directors to managers, you have positions that a company will staff from outside, if need be. Sure, sometimes they may want to promote from within, and often they’ll do exactly that. But companies will bring in outsiders for leadership roles.
They’ll also typically look for outsiders to fill any of the roles at the individual contributor level, from Software Engineer I through Software Engineer XVI, or whatever, depending on the richness and thickness of the HR matrix.
But then you’ve got that one… it’s always an impressive sounding title, and it’s always where individual contributors go to max out, collecting COLAs and generally demurring against nudges to management.