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I was rejected from my first promotion at Google. Here's how I took control of my career and landed 3 promotions.

Ella Hopkins   

I was rejected from my first promotion at Google. Here's how I took control of my career and landed 3 promotions.
  • Irina Stanescu landed a job as a software engineer at Google in 2011.
  • She told Business Insider she was rejected for her first promotion but tried again a year later.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Irina Stanescu, a former Google software engineer based in California. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I never thought I'd end up working for Google. I was born and raised in Romania. I went to college there to study computer engineering.

When I graduated in 2010, some friends who'd done internships with Google suggested I apply. I applied for a job as a software engineer and started there in October 2011 when I was 23. I moved to Mountain View, where the Google headquarters is.

I didn't fit in

I had no idea what to expect. Being an immigrant in California wasn't easy. I tried to be open-minded, but English wasn't my first language, and I struggled to make friends.

I had a rocky start because I didn't have a team for two weeks. When I eventually did, my manager left two months into my role. I had several interim managers. I was unlucky — none of my friends who started at a similar time had an experience like that.

I found a team that felt right

After seven months, I started working on Google Fiber. I moved there because I wanted to work for a growing team. It was like a startup within Google.

I had a stable manager and felt like I finally belonged to a team.

After a year and a half, I started thinking about going for a promotion. This is roughly the timeframe for getting promoted at Google.

I was rejected for a promotion

I had to write a self-assessment and collect feedback from my peers. In my case, decisions were made by people from other organizations within Google, such as YouTube or the ads team. These "promotions committees" review your application.

In mine, I listed all the projects I was working on. My peers also gave positive feedback.

But my manager told me my promotion was rejected. They said it was because I hadn't been able to show enough impact for the next level. Google had "career rubrics" summarizing the abilities it expected from each level. Its philosophy was that you perform at the level of the role you're trying to get to for at least six months before you're up for promotion.

I didn't know that at the time, and it was disheartening. I already had imposter syndrome, and getting rejected for a promotion made it worse.

I switched teams

I didn't plan on quitting Google. I knew I needed to figure out how to get promoted, so I reverse-engineered the process. The biggest thing I realized was that managers didn't have time to guide my career. I needed to guide my career. Instead of them telling me what I needed to do to get promoted, I needed to figure it out and ask them for support in achieving those things.

I looked at the job description for the next level up. I thought about my team, and I wasn't sure, given that it worked on a smaller scale than some of the other teams at Google, that they would have enough context to judge my impact.

A new team was forming in my cubicle. I decided to pitch myself for the new team and moved there at the same level.

I asked for more responsibility

I decided to figure out as much as I could on my own and take on more responsibility. I pushed for a particular project I wanted to work on.

My manager might have said no if it had been a larger team because the work was higher than my current level, but because it was quite small, they let me take it on. My manager placed their trust in me to deliver.

I didn't rely on my manager to solve problems

When encountering problems, a junior person might rely on their manager to help. If I needed help figuring something out, I'd find other people across the company who might have experience instead.

Once, when I had a problem, I found someone from a different team to help me figure it out.

Then I could go back to my manager and say: "Here's the problem, and here's what I did to solve it."

I over-communicated

I knew I needed to show that I could be trusted with timelines, deliverables, and communication.

I became much more proactive in my communication. I escalated and flagged concerns early on and updated my manager much more frequently on my progress.

When managing my project, I kept different stakeholders updated. I created a launch timeline, mapping out the dates and process for the rollout, and told others what we were doing and when. I was working at a much higher level than my role.

I applied for another promotion a year after being turned down for the last one

I applied for another promotion. This time, I got it — two and a half years after I'd joined Google.

Getting rejected the first time was a blessing in disguise because I learned so much by getting rejected. After that, I got promoted to the next level — a senior engineer — the following Spring.

I was tasked with being the tech lead of a number of critical projects for the Google Fiber TV ads team. In early 2016, I became a tech lead manager. I left Google later that year to join Uber in January 2017 as a tech lead.

Learning that I had to take control of my own career was vital to all the promotions I've had in my career since.

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