What’s in a name? Plenty, when it comes to job titles. Though it’s tempting to say that a job title is just a description of your position, the fact is that the official title for your job can impact both your present and future career in several ways.
That’s not to say you should focus on the job title and nothing else when considering a job offer or promotion. Things like benefits and salary are important too. But, job titles can have a significant impact on your career in terms of career growth and salary. And the wrong job title could possibly hurt your career.
Do Job Titles Matter?
While job titles are, in some respects, nothing more than a way to explain your job in as few words as possible, the reality is that job titles do matter in more ways than one. FlexJobs Career Development Manager and Coach Brie Reynolds explains, “Job titles can matter in both your current job and in how they may influence your future opportunities.”
Do Job Titles Matter to Hiring Managers?
Your job title not only explains your role in the company, it also defines your position in the company relative to others. If your job title includes “associate,” that indicates you’re a lower-level employee. But if your job title includes “lead,” that indicates you’ve got some experience and are, perhaps, a leader or decision-maker.
These titles give hiring managers a general sense of who you are as an employee. Though there are other ways to assess where you are professionally, your job title gives a hiring manager a quick way to size you up. Do your job titles only include words like associate? Do your job titles indicate that you’ve advanced in your career through a progression of job titles that include associate, senior-level, then director? These job titles indicate what your career path has been and where it might be headed.
On the flip side, though, the “wrong” job title can put off a hiring manager if you don’t include a clear explanation of why your job titles are all over the place or don’t show a clear, upward progression.cc
For example, if your job titles went from director to associate, that could indicate that something went awry in your career path. If the reason is you decided to make a lateral move or change careers, make sure you include that information in your cover letter, so the hiring manager doesn’t jump to the wrong conclusion.
Do Job Titles Matter to Coworkers?
Job titles come with preconceived notions about who you are and where you are on the company totem pole.
These perceptions can and do impact your work relationships and who you do and don’t collaborate with. Though some coworkers don’t care about titles and would rather connect with the person who gets things done, some of your colleagues will only talk with the department head.
Do Job Titles Matter to Clients?
Just as job titles can impact who you collaborate with within the company, your job title can impact your external relationships, too.
When it comes to outside stakeholders (clients, vendors), your job title can indicate how credible you are and how much authority you have. Though clients and customers are probably used to working with an account manager, they may feel like they matter more if they are dealing with a senior account manager.
Do Job Titles Matter for Career Growth?
If you plan to follow the traditional career path (moving up the ladder in the same or a similar career field), your job titles and their progression will matter. The change in your job title indicates that you’re committed to learning and growing in your field, that you’ve taken on new and increased responsibilities, and that you’ve moved up and into supervisory or leadership roles.
Do Job Titles Impact Your Salary?
In a word: yes. Your job title will almost always impact how much money you make.
However, as an indication of how important job titles are, many people would rather have a better title than a bigger salary. One study found that 70% of respondents would take a better job title over more money—up to $10,000 less!
Your Job Title Matters During a Layoff
Speaking of money, your job title could also matter during a layoff. Bigger titles usually come with more salary, which can also mean you’re entitled to more in unemployment benefits.
How to Make Your Job Title Work for You
Reynolds points out that, like any benefit, “job titles can be negotiated and changed.” And asking for an updated job title can help your career if your current title is no longer an accurate reflection of what you do compared to what you used to do.
In some companies, titles don’t matter. Maybe you work for a small or new company that has a flat structure. In these cases, it’s not uncommon to have a job title that is the same as your job position like, “Digital Marketing,” “Accountant,” or “Programmer.”
While there’s nothing wrong with those titles per se, they aren’t very descriptive. And, over time, as the company grows, your responsibilities may change enough to the point that “Digital Marketing” no longer reflects your true job position. Saying you’re “Digital Marketing” doesn’t include the fact that now you oversee four people, for example.
This is when your job title can hurt your career. “Digital Marketing” does not encompass everything you’ve done or everything you’re currently doing. And when you apply for a job elsewhere, even if you have the perfect skill set to be the Director of Digital Marketing, the employer (or ATS) may not see that if your job title doesn’t match your true skills and current experiences.
That said, no matter what your job title is, you need to live up to it. Whether you negotiate or fall into a “big” job title, if it’s too big—something known as “title fluffing”—and you can’t live up to the expectations of the job title, you run the risk of losing credibility internally and externally.
As much as the wrong job title might hurt your career, the inability to do the job will do far more damage to your career in the long run.
Get Creatively Honest
In the end, you may not have a say over your job title. Your employer may say you’re stuck with whatever they want it to be. If you can’t easily explain what you do or demonstrate career growth, your job title may hold you and your career back when you look for a new job.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this that can help “unstick” you and your career. Let’s say your job title is “Growth Guru.” Pretty cool, but what does that mean? What do you grow, and how do you grow it?
While you can use Growth Guru on your resume and LinkedIn profile and explain what you do under the job title, the fact is a hiring manager is going to scan your job titles to get a quick idea of what you do. If they see “Growth Guru” and skip over your well-written explanation, you’ll probably get passed over for an interview—not to mention using “Growth Guru” makes it less likely you’ll show up in a recruiter search.
The easiest way to overcome this is to put a similar job title next to your given title, like this:
- Growth Guru (Content Marketer)
- Growth Guru | Content Marketer
This way, you’re being honest about your current job title while using a similar job title that accurately reflects what you do and is more likely to be familiar to hiring managers.
More Than Words
Being in the right (or wrong) job title now can impact your career path in the future. So, make sure your job matches your title to ensure career growth success.
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