Do Job Titles Really Matter?

Job titles – do they really matter? What do you think?

I didn’t always think so, but in today’s “scannable” world, I’m more inclined to say yes.

According this HBR article, a recent CareerBuilder.com study shows that half of all hiring managers admit they limit their candidate pools by only looking at applicants with specific job titles.

What does this mean for you? It means that, while ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ might be a c-level spot in your company, to online recruitment platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor (where candidate sourcing is based on targeted searches) you might as well be a ticket-taker at the happiest place on earth.

And that’s where the real problem with job titling lies. While organizations are free to exercise their ‘creative license,’ hiring practices are all based around the same, sometimes outdated, definitions.

For example, a large organization might use job titles stringently as a way to define corporate structure, pay scale or managerial requirements (who hasn’t met someone jumping ship because there’s just “no more room for upper management” where they work?). On the other hand, in smaller organizations, like start-ups, where employees tend to where many hats, job titles are often handed out liberally.

As stated by this CEO in a NY Times article, “My point of view is that titles don’t cost a business anything and they create psychological and business benefits for our staff, so why not give them out.”

From a recruiting perspective, that can make an employee seem far more senior, on paper, than the scope of their actual job responsibilities and qualifications determine.

The real crux of the matter, though, is when it comes to online candidate sourcing and your next job search. That’s because candidate searches on popular job sites are often limited to queries that search for – you guessed it – a persons’ previous job title: VP, Director, Manager, Assistant. That means that if your title’s not clear (i.e. it takes more than two seconds to figure out what you do and what level you do it at), then you might run the risk of being filtered out.

So what’s a person to do? Here’s my best recruiters’ advice on how to proceed with caution when it comes to your job title:

Be strategic in your job title choice: When you’re looking for a new position, take some time to weigh out the pros and cons of salary over job title. You might get paid more for a slight responsibility dip, but how will that affect your next career move?

Feel free to make your case: As Shakespeare might say, “a job by any other name”…If it’s your dream job on all fronts except the job title, than why not lay out a reasonable argument for why a slight title-tweak would actually empower your ability to the job. Certainly in client-facing or sales related roles, a slight title boost can often lead to better responses when it comes to emails or meeting requests.

Think ‘off’ the ladder.

Take some time to think about why you’re pursuing a career move in the first place. One of the first questions I ask new candidates is what kind of job they’re targeting. Some will give me a list of “job titles” as an example, and some will describe the kind of challenges or work they’d like to encounter. Consider your own motives for switching jobs. Are you in a mad dash to climb the corporate ladder? Or are you frustrated by a lack of responsibility, scope or creativity in your current role? Don’t underestimate the importance of personal fit in the search for personal achievement.

I would love to know what you think about this issue. Would you be willing to be paid less (or the same amount) for a title bump? Or, would you demand that any title bump come with an increase in pay? How important is your title? Is seniority everything or does personal fulfillment rank just as high?