Job Titles: What’s In A Name?

 In Career Tips

Job Titles - Whats In a Name

Of all the career controversies swirling around these days, the subject of job titles and their importance is one of the most hotly debated. Why is this so?

First let me say that there is a growing movement to discard job titles altogether – particularly in start-ups, technical companies, and among some knowledge workers. Many argue that in collaborative work environments, hierarchical structures are unnecessary, outdated and even counter-productive.

A number of career experts suggest that an interest in job titles is nothing short of silly – what matters is what you accomplish in your job, not what you’re called.

Having worked with candidates through multiple career changes over many years, I have to say that I disagree with this philosophy for several reasons:


Psychological / Emotional: Job titles have a much more significant effect than simply determining a pay grade and can have a deep psychological effect on employees – even determining how they perform in their jobs. A post on Integrity HR pointed this out very effectively, “Many people hold a large amount of intrinsic value with their job title, which means there is a large likelihood that the name of one’s job title and what that title means to them can develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Responsibility and Authority: Like it or not, there is a natural credibility difference between “Manager” and “Coordinator”, “Supervisor” and “Specialist.” While these subtleties may sometimes escape senior management, humans by nature have a higher level of regard for the direction and input of authority figures in the workplace. That influence and authority can have a large impact on an employee’s ability to do his or her job effectively.

Effective Performance and Productivity: Job titles very much follow the adage,  “If the shoe fits, wear it.” If you have the title of “Assistant” and you are actually performing the job functions of an assistant, no problem. But what if you’ve taken on new job responsibilities that require you to lead your own projects or you are being held accountable for results? Being stuck in a job title that doesn’t fit can be a drain on your productivity. You may feel disrespected – and this will inevitably affect your performance. Additionally, inappropriate job titles may make it difficult for you to access needed resources or to gain access to important meetings, especially in larger organizations.

Translation in Career Change: I don’t have to tell any of you how tough the job market is. Recruiters take exactly thirty seconds to scan your resume, and their impression in that momentary review will determine whether you’re in the trashcan or on the call list. Candidates are sourced based on many factors, not the least of which are keywords – including job titles. For example, if you’re functioning as a packaging manager, but have the title of packaging supervisor you can see how this can affect your chances of being considered for a packaging management position. One recent commenter in the LinkedIn blog made this very interesting analogy:  “When a potential employer is going to spend 15 to 30 seconds on a given resume, the job titles may be all that he/she will see. If, as in my own case, those job titles do not describe what you do, this can create speed bumps in the effort to be noticed.”


So, What’s In A Name?

Organizations use job titles to classify employees, establish pay grades, establish reporting hierarchy and confer authority.

While “Client Happiness Guru” may be an amusing line on a Director of Client Services business card, in the larger world of work, such titles create confusion at best – and at worst can hinder your job search if you suddenly find that your company is no longer that interested in client happiness.

Please understand what I am saying. You are NOT your job title, nor am I suggesting that you overly identify with your title. What is important is that your title accurately reflects your actual responsibilities.

One of the best times to address job title misalignment is during your annual review or in one-on-ones with your boss. Be prepared to do a little research on your company’s job descriptions, your industry within your geographic location, and on general job descriptions and titles that represent your actual responsibilities. Start tracking and keeping a record of your accomplishments at work (you should be doing this anyway), and be prepared to talk to your boss about the value you bring to the organization.

Essentially, you are building a case for your request, so you may also want to cite some ways in which a title change will enhance your ability to do your job. Depending upon your desired title, you may not be requesting a pay increase – just a title change. If this is the case, make this clear to your boss.

As you know, many large organizations have rigid policies on job titles and salary levels. Have a modicum of patience. Discuss with your boss any additional job responsibilities it may be necessary for you to assume in order to attain the title you deserve.

If you find yourself in job search and you have an inaccurate or whimsical job title, it is generally accepted practice on a resume to use the standard organizational chart title, followed in parentheses by your formal title. For example, Client Services Manager (Client Happiness Guru).  This will keep you out of any hot water during a background check.

Finally, if you’ve decided to start looking for a new position and you think your title may be problematic, pay extra attention to the keywords appropriate to your actual job responsibilities and make sure you use them in your resume. For example, if your title is Assistant Brand Manager and you are applying to a Brand Management position, emphasize the fact that you “Directed a national product roll-out to mass retailers achieving first quarter results 30% ahead of plan.”

While  what you actually do on the job will always be more important than the title on your business card, your job title should accurately reflect your function within the organization and your level of managerial experience.

Getting the title you deserve may not only make your working life a little easier, it may make that jump to the next position a bit less difficult as well.


What about you? How important do you think job titles are to the management of your career?



Amusing Discussion of Job Titles From Laurie Ruettimann

Why Job Titles and The Promotion Process Actually Matter

More Death to Job Titles


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