Are Job Titles Holding Back Your Hiring?

December 15, 2016


Job titles. For some people in the corporate world, they’re an afterthought, and what’s more important is impact, responsibility, and compensation. For others, a big job title is a form of validation and respect. For others – i.e. hiring managers who need to balance employee equity – they’re a complete headache.

We often tell people looking for jobs not to focus on job titles. A fixation with that “Director” title can obscure the rest of what might make a “Senior Manager” job attractive: the opportunity to lead and impact a company’s bottom line, the chance to work at a world-class company, an attractive compensation package.

Every organization has their own peculiar culture around job titles. Some companies are “title heavy:” you’re a Director even if you have a manager’s responsibilities. Others are “title light:” You have the responsibility of leading a team, launching products, moving heaven and earth, but you’re still a “Manager.” Some new companies adopt the “ninja,” “rockstar,” “guru” mode of playful titling pioneered by tech companies that challenges whether job titles are really meaningful in the first place. Big companies are often title-light, while smaller ones are often title-heavy. It’s an issue on both ends of the spectrum, because once a candidate moves on, a newer title isn’t going to necessarily square with their expectations.   

Asking people to pay attention to the substance of a role instead of thinking too much about a title is like getting your kids to shovel the walk: both are easier said than done. And when so many companies demand the exact right title from their hires, can you blame people for focusing on titles in their job searches rather than the more substantive, and often telling, elements of what a role entails? 

In our opinion, companies are too rigid in demanding certain titles from their hires. Why? Because, as we covered above, a job title doesn’t describe everything about what someone actually does. It can even create confusion. Someone with a “manager” title hasn’t necessarily managed people. A “Category Manager” can be someone who does strategic Procurement in indirect categories, but they could also be a Retail Category Manager who does Sales and Marketing as well as Procurement. A candidate could be coming from a title-light organization. They could be a “lead” that actually makes $150,000 a year. The title itself shouldn’t determine whether you hire that person or not, just as the title your company is offering shouldn’t quite determine whether someone should apply. Conversely, it pays for a company to be able to play ball when it comes to giving an all-star the job title that they’re asking for.

We understand that hiring managers are under a lot of organizational pressure. To an extent, you have to conform to the titling culture that your company has in place. There are employee equity issues. You can’t expect a team of Senior Category Managers to be happy if you hire someone at the same level and call that person a “Director.” But you’re leaving great people on the table if you refuse to hire someone because they haven’t held a certain title, and you should look to their actual accomplishments instead.

The fact is, rigid requirements for titles would be completely understandable if there was a universal standard for titles. But because each company’s titling is different, hiring managers need to be flexible. They need to make a concerted effort to look past the title on a resume to look at the “meat and potatoes.” Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge a candidate by their title. 


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