Tune in every Wednesday for a weekly "small dose" of advice, an explanation, or an interview with a web veteran. Lauren Bacon has mentored and coached many web professionals as they were starting out and loves sharing all that she's learned from her 15-year career as a designer, front-end developer, and agency principal.
Skill Level Beginner
- [Lauren] Hi, I'm Lauren Bacon and this is the Web Career Clinic, where I explore how to build a career you love making good stuff on the web. Today I'm talking about job titles. Specifically, what it means when a title says junior, intermediate, or senior. What does it take to move up a level? How do you know when you've arrived at intermediate? Wouldn't it be nice if there were some kind of checklist or a badge that could answer this question definitively? Unfortunately of course, the answers to these questions are subjective.
But I can say that I think it boils down less to specific technical skills, whatever your role may be. And more to capacities like competence and leadership. Let's look a little more closely at each of these areas and how you can assess your competence and leadership skills. First, competence. You might think of this as a black and white thing, like either you're competence or you're incompetent. But a more useful framework is the four stages of competence. Which illustrates how we progress from being a complete novice in a certain subject area, to being an expert.
The first stage is unconscious incompetence. When you're just starting out, you don't even know how much you don't know. You probably don't even know what questions to ask, to begin to learn about the topic. Whether it's MySQL databases or playing the viola or color theory. This is the scariest stage in a lot of ways, because it feels so intimidating. On the other hand, if you're at this stage, chances are you're not looking at job postings yet, because most people who are unconsciously incompetent haven't even given serious thought to the subject area in the first place.
So, let's move on to the second stage. Which is conscious incompetence. At this point, you are aware of what you don't know. This is how I would describe a junior worker in any field. They know enough to be hungry for more knowledge. They'll thrive in an environment where there are mentors available to encourage and teach them. On the other hand, they aren't likely to succeed if they're just thrown into the deep end without support, because they don't yet know enough to complete a successful project all on their own. Junior employees are best suited to supporting roles.
Where they're getting a lot of tasks delegated to them. But they still have some oversight from someone with deeper expertise. This isn't to say that junior employees are never thrown into the deep end. It's just that that's not the ideal environment for them to really thrive and grow. The third stage of competence is conscious competence. At this stage, you're getting more confident with your subject area but you're still building skills. It's called conscious competence because you're competent, but you're still thinking about your work.
It still takes some conscious effort for you to move through the process of your work. So, most intermediate level positions are best suited to someone at this level of competence. You probably don't require as much close management as a junior employee would. So you can work more independently. But you might not yet be a master of your craft. So you'd probably still benefit from having a more senior person to collaborate with. But you could take on bigger chunks of a project and run with them. The fourth and final stage of competence, is called unconscious competence.
Where your skills come so easily that you no longer have to think about them. Think about driving a car for example. Once you've done it long enough, you can drive the car safely and carry on a conversation at the same time, because your body's muscle memory kicks in and your mind has the capacity to monitor the road without too much conscious effort. This is where most senior employees are at with their technical skills. They can do their work easily enough that it starts to feel second nature and there's a kind of internal toolkit they can draw on for different kinds of projects, because they've seen enough different types of problem scenarios that they tend to be pretty advanced troubleshooters.
So, those are the four stages of competence. And they map pretty clearly to the technical skills that are required for junior, intermediate and senior positions. But there's another angle I want to look at this from and that's leadership. Because the more senior your position, the more you'll be called on to demonstrate leadership. And I don't necessarily mean managing other people. Although, sometimes that does go along with a more senior role. I mean individual leadership qualities. Like responsibility, reliability, ownership and strategic thinking.
There are five key questions that I recommend asking yourself to assess your leadership skills. First, how much responsibility are you willing to take on? The more senior you get, the more responsibility you'll be given. So, it's important to demonstrate your readiness on this front early and often. Second, do you consistently show up and meet or exceed expectations? This might seem like an obvious thing, but being consistently reliable is a huge asset. So pay attention to how well you're setting and meeting expectations with your team.
Third, do you put ideas forward about how the organization can improve processes and outcomes? In other words, do you take ownership of the area in which you work? This shows that you're really invested. Not only in your own career, but in your teams overall success. Fourth, are you prepared to mentor, coach and lead a team? As I mentioned, this isn't necessarily required of every senior level role. But it's definitely an asset. And finally, do you consistently look ahead to discern potential challenges and propose solutions? This is your strategic skillset.
And it's a critical one for employers. They don't just want strong technicians on staff, they want people who think about the organization as a whole and the direction it's going in. So if you want to move into a more senior position, this is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. So there you have it. Competence and leadership. Two lenses to help you assess where you currently sit, on the junior, intermediate, senior scale. And how to get to the next level. And that's it for this weeks Web Career Clinic.
If you have questions about your web career, I'd love to hear them. You can drop me a line on Twitter, at at Lauren Bacon. Using the hashtag Pro Web Clinic. tune in next time as I explore another topic for web professionals. See you next week.