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Are job titles important?

From the time a bright-faced ‘Graduate’ enters the industry, through to ‘Managing Director’, standardised job titles convey not only a level of seniority, status, experience, and ability, they also give an indication of salary ranges and expected value contribution. Having an internationally-acknowledged pathway provides a handy benchmark for company owners and hiring managers, and helps individuals to chart out their career and celebrate milestones of achievement.

However, the reality is that modern companies are changing drastically (in ownership, structure, focus, and service offering), and it’s no surprise that we see this sea change reflected in the way roles are titled.

Using agency account management teams as an example, agencies may call all of their team ‘Account Managers’, ‘Project Managers’, or ‘Account Directors’, regardless of their amount of experience. This is a common occurrence in agencies that have a flat structure or a small team; agencies that regard their account management team as their ‘sales team’; or agencies that wish to convey to their clients and staff that job titles are not their focus. Unfortunately, what this may do is ‘promote’ junior-level staff to a very senior-sounding title, or ‘demote’ senior-level staff to a junior-sounding title, which can be detrimental when that person wishes to move to another agency.

As more agencies try to redefine the agency/client relationship, we see job titles emerge that reflect new or alternative philosophies, such as ‘Account Leader’, ’Business Director’ or ‘Client Partner’. In these cases, the agency is making a statement on how they view the nature of the relationship - a move away from being purely a service provider to one of truly partnering with their client.

Whilst there are many benefits to having an established industry pathway the system can be flawed, manipulated, or just plain irrelevant. For example, some job titles bear little or no resemblance to what the person does day-to-day. Job titles can also be ‘bestowed’ upon recipients for reasons other than as a recognition or reflection of capability (such as an incentive for staff not to leave, or as an incentive to join the agency).

In spite of changing industries, and the often-arbitrary application of job titles, there is still a pathway which an industry (as a whole) continues to follow, so the next question becomes how important is a job title, and should you even care?

Are job titles important?

Hiring managers who are progressive in their approach will see past the job titles on your CV and consider the work that you have done. Hiring managers who are more traditional will want to see job titles that they recognise because that is how they will assess your suitability for a role. What you will never know is whether or not the hiring manager is progressive or traditional, so it’s safest to assume that all hiring managers will assess you using the standard industry pathway as their benchmark. Therefore, when it comes to applying for jobs, your previous job titles are super-important.

Should you change a title on your CV?

The usual approach is to show your job title as it appears in your employment contract. As mentioned, this title may not always be an accurate reflection of your level or ability (or you may have since received a promotion). However just because your job title may seem ‘unfair’, changing it on your CV could be perceived as falsifying your work history, so only you can make the call as to whether you should change your job title at any stage.

Put the ambulance at the top of the cliff

As you apply for a new role, you do have another option which is to negotiate a better job title before you sign your employment contract. Job titles can be just as negotiable as your salary and start/finish hours. If you don’t like the sound of your job title or if you think it is not a fair indication of your ability, then you should say so right up front.

It may well be that a company has a specific way that they wish to portray their team – both internally and with their clients/customers. If this is the case, they may not be open to negotiating a job title change. What you could ask is that you have your preferred job title written into your contract, but that you acknowledge you will have the company’s preferred job title on your business card. That way your job title will be safeguarded for future CV use.


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