I’m not even going to footer/side note this message – today’s post is me bloviating about job title best practice, the compensable value behind job titles, why job titles matter in the external market when job searching, and as always I will of course take this wherever else it takes me (us?). Read on at your own peril (it’s a bit on the long side).
…So internally, a job title can carry lots of different meanings.
Sometimes job titles are hard coded as part of an organization’s salary structure. A Director of Finance is a pay grade “X” and an Operations 1. I like using HR jobs (and specifically compensation jobs) in my analogies.Superintendent is a pay grade “Y” and a Senior Compensation Analyst 1 is a pay grade “Z” etc.
Other times job titles are just window dressing, with a moderate to at times even non-existent correlation between the significance/scope of a job title and the pay grade of the employee holding it.
I think this is an organization specific (and culture specific) issue. Tying job title to pay grade and organizational structure makes sense for some companies, but going the other way can really make just as much sense.
One of the huge pros of having flexible job titles is that it allows a company to give job title “promotions” (occasionally in lieu of salary increases) as a form of 2. I recently had the opportunity to listen to several c-level executives suggest just this.intrinsic reward 2 (though of course being too free-wheeling with titles can cause them to lose all meaning to employees).
In some companies, however, employees covet having job titles that are explicitly linked to both extrinsic reward and hierarchical status within the broader organization. Furthermore, in addition to providing a clearer sense of career progression for employees (being able to identify a road to the top of the department/function/division/business unit/company/whatever), tying job titles to extrinsic rewards often gives employees an added sense of pride in what they do.
…I don’t have a lot of energy around one practice or the other. Whatever works for a given company culture is what that company should go with. Frankly, trying to force a change if it isn’t organic is probably more trouble than it’s worth.
In the abstract, however, if one gets to choose between a “small” title and a “big” title he or she should almost always take the “big” title.
3. I will tell you even if you don’t want to know.Why, you ask? 3
In a job search job titles play a somewhat large role in if you’re considered for a position or not.
Let me tell you about a quick and dirty resume screening 1/2/3 trick that *many* recruiters use to filter through the resumes that don’t get auto-DQued via internal applicant tracking system (ATS) questions:
1. Check the candidate salary to see if it fits the range
2. Check most recent job title(s) to see if there is a strong link to the position being sourced for
3. If either candidate salary or job title is significantly smaller (or larger – but especially smaller) than the position being sourced for then pass on the candidate.
Does this sound unfair? Maybe a little. But consider this:
Let’s assume I’m a typical recruiter, and that I post a position for, say, a Plant Manager in a fairly major city (let’s go with Detroit). I get 300 applications, and then the following happens:
1. (Assuming I weighted my screening questions and key words 4. This is a great post for another daycorrectly) 4 half of the applicants are knocked out simply by not hitting the *bare* minimum qualifications.
2. After that I still have 150 resumes (that have survived the auto-DQ) left to review, and I know that:
A. Half of them are almost certainly unqualified for one reason or another (lack of relevant/totality of experience, location, cultural fit, an undisclosed “blah” that makes them ineligible for the position etc.)
B. I have several other positions that I also need to source for, and not enough time in the day to source for all of them (unless a company has a very fat recruiting team, time pressure is often just a part of the job)
I need to create a candidate slate of 6-8 people for the hiring manager. I don’t need to screen *all* 150 remaining candidates to identify the 15-20 people I’m going to phone screen to build that slate, but it is probably a good idea to go through at least half of it. So what’s the first thing I do?
Look for reasons a candidate *shouldn’t* continue. After a candidate passes the “shouldn’t continue” tests *then* I give the resume a closer look.
The three easiest “shouldn’t continue” tests once we’re past the auto-DQ stage and actually reviewing resumes are as follows:
1. What is your desired salary for this position?
If a candidate is too high in the range here I’m excluding him/her because we’ll never make the salary work… and if the candidate is too low here I’m excluding him/her because – frankly speaking – there is probably no way he or she is qualified for the job. If the Plant Manager opening I’m recruiting for has a pay range of $120,000-$150,000 and the person is asking for, say, $45,000-55,000, the odds that the candidate has the experience to step in and be the Plant Manager at the site are slim to none. I have too many other resumes to review to read further hoping I find the one in a thousand candidate that’s a great fit yet so dramatically undervalues his/her market worth. Caveat: If someone is much too low here they are dead in the water, but if they are much too high I will *sometimes* look at:
2. What do you make in your current position?
If the number in the first question and the number in question two are closely aligned I may give the candidate a call if I see something in his/her resume that suggest a pay cut could be conceivable (ex. perhaps the candidate wants a smaller role to spend more time with family and we can negotiate vacation time). This is potentially a diamond in the rough situation where I can recruit a rock-star candidate into a role at an affordable price. In this case we’ll work on retention later if he/she performs.
On the other hand, if a candidate’s salary is significantly below the range here I’m disqualifying them for the same reason I DQUed them for being well below the range in the first case – that being that if a candidate’s pay is significantly below the position range (after controlling for cost of living) they probably don’t have the experience required to perform at a high level in the new role (jumping multiple levels of responsibility in one job change 5. Hypothetically, if I were looking for a job (and applied via an ATS) I’d rather a company not consider me at all for not disclosing my base salary than to actually share my base salary. I’d share my salary requirements/range, but a company using my prior salary as either a DQ tool *or* as a leverage point in salary negotiations (by getting your previous salary they know what you’ll work for) is for me beyond the pale (there are plenty of companies that won’t require this disclosure if one is patient in their search). Further, while I don’t have any evidence to support this (although I’m sure it exist somewhere), a candidate who *doesn’t* share his/her current salary in negotiations almost certainly does better from a final offer perspective than candidates who do – and this includes internal candidates (if you share your current salary with a company prior to an offer extension there’s almost no way you’re getting more than a 20% raise – which for the record is a fantastic increase but if one is going out into the external market while still employed I say go for broke…). Fundamentally, I believe in the compensation philosophy that you pay people based on their skill level and a fair market rate (however you valuate that) as opposed to getting them as cheaply as you can. Your retention will be better in the long run – and your compensation philosophy will be more credible to your employee population.is not a common recipe for success). 5 Of course, before I even get a chance to look at salary, one of the first things I see on a resume is:
3. Most recent job title
Having a big job title (Director/VP/President/CEO etc.) doesn’t mean anything to me (or most recruiters) by itself. The next thing I’ll look to is the company you held the title at – the larger the organization the more value I assume (for the time being) that the title has as far as conveying job scope is concerned.
Having a “small” title, however, can be a DQ in this instance. Going back to our Plant Manager example, any level of Superintendent or Supervisor is likely to warrant further review on title alone for our hypothetical Plant Manager position due to job relevance (in this case I’m darting to prior salary/required salary range, and then if both pass my range tests back to the resume for a closer look), but if a job title doesn’t convey the appropriate degree of scope, that can often times be enough of a reason for me to move on. There are simply one in a hundred “Production Workers” likely to have the pedigree to be able to step into any sort of Plant Manager role (of any meaningful scale) and perform at a high level in the job.
…With all that said, 6 as discussed above job titles *can* be misleading, and in such cases it’s important to navigate that reality if one is in a job search (but happens to have a job title that doesn’t reflect the size and scope of one’s responsibilities within current role).
Case in point: In my current role I’m in a rotational management development program that has seen me hold roles as a Labor and Employee Relations Rep, Talent Acquisition Specialist, and Compensation Specialist.
My job title, however, has for each role remained as “HR Specialist” which says exactly nothing meaningful about the work I do.
I don’t have a problem with the title – it’s a program denotation assigned to reflect that fact that I’m spending time in multiple specialist roles to get an overview of the function.
6. For the record, I’m actually pretty happy with my company.If I were looking for a job I’d never put in on a resume, though. 6 I’d list titles aligned with what I did and explain the rest in an interview. To do anything else would be to handicap myself in a job search by not adequately representing my experiences. The same, of course, is true for anyone else.
…And that’s all I have to say about job titles (for now).
As always, please share your thoughts below.
If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses:
SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org