Do job titles still matter?

A great job title can make an open position look much more attractive, helping your company find a new employee with better skills. For example, secretary sounds like a job title from the 1950s for someone who does simple tasks like typing dictation. An office administrator or office manager often does similar tasks, but the better title makes them look more responsible. It also implies that they have management experience.

Titles are an easy way for coworkers to tell who’s responsible for what. For example, a company’s accountant often manages the budget and takes care of taxes, while an account manager is usually in the sales department. Good titles make getting customers in touch with people who can solve their problems quickly easy. At most businesses, everyone doesn’t know all their coworkers well. This means that without a title like accountant or account manager, many employees won’t know who to ask about finances, sales, or other specialties.

A better job title is a great reward

If you have an employee who’s doing an excellent job, but your business just doesn’t have the budget to give him or her a raise, consider a new job title. It’s a great way to acknowledge people’s accomplishments and let coworkers know that they’re a valued employee.

Always double check titles

Before you apply for a job, make sure all the job titles on your resume are correct. Many jobs require a background check, and getting a title wrong could make you miss out on your dream job.

For example, people at your last job might have referred to your position as customer service representative when the actual title was phone customer service representative. Yes, some employers are really that picky when it comes to resumes and background checks. To avoid this problem, keep detailed records of your job titles, when you start and end jobs, and your job responsibilities. Most employers want to know the month and year you started and stopped all your previous jobs.

Making titles fair

Employees often use titles to measure their value and compensation against their coworkers. Unfortunately, a few employees could believe that they deserve a better title. You can make sure most of your employees feel like they’ve been treated fairly by giving people with the same qualifications the same types of titles. For example, two salespeople who both have a college degree and about five years of experience should have the same title.

If some employees are less experienced than others, make sure their titles reflect that. You can give your most experienced employees titles like senior sales representative instead of just sales representative. You can even make promotions impartial by letting people who think they’re ready take a test tailored for the position. You can also hold a regular promotions counsel that reviews all significant promotions in your company and submit employees for review with an explanation of why they satisfy the skill criteria required for the job titles and salaries.

Then, the committee should compare the employee to both the title’s skill description and the skills of the other employees at that level to determine whether or not to approve the promotion. This ensures fairness and educates your entire management team on the skills and accomplishments of the employees being considered for promotion.

The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory coined by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book, The Peter Principle. It says that in a hierarchy, members are promoted as long as they work competently. However, people will eventually be promoted to a position where they’re no longer competent. This is also called the level of incompetence. Then, they stay in the same job because they’re unable to earn any more promotions. Unfortunately, the Peter Principle is unavoidable because there’s no way to know when a manager or employee will become incompetent.

The law of bad employees

Employees and managers in your company with lower titles will naturally measure themselves against the worst person at the next level. For example, many of your business’s directors will ask for a promotion when they reach your worst vice president’s low level of competency.

Some startups don’t have titles

If everyone at your company does a little of everything, which is often the case with startups, job titles could unnecessarily restrict people to certain roles. For example, a customer service representative might not want to take out the office trash or clean the bathrooms because he or she isn’t a janitor. However, many smaller companies don’t have the budget to hire janitors or cleaners, so employees have to clean their own offices and take turns doing chores like cleaning the bathrooms. Waiting to give job titles to startup employees also lets them be creative and try different roles until the company starts to become successful.

Common job title mistakes

In many situations, an employee can get a higher salary and a new position without getting the same title as the person who did hold that job. This could be because the recently promoted employee doesn’t have as much experience as the person who was in that position previously or because the company wants to lower the compensation for that job.

You could also be promised a better job title, and then keep getting excuses from your employer like, “HR hasn’t processed the paperwork yet.” This can lead people to quit instead of taking on a more stressful job with more responsibilities without a change in pay or job titles.

Before you accept a raise or a change in your job title, always make sure you get it in writing. A malicious or Machiavellian employer could give you a new office and new business cards but “forget” to submit the right paperwork to HR. This can make finding a new job that’s appropriate for your experience and skill level very difficult. If the agreement is only verbal, you also could get a new manager who doesn’t feel obligated to keep the former manager’s promises.

Clear titles are best

Titles like office rock star are fun, but they don’t give coworkers or customers a clear idea of what that person actually does. Also, most people search on LinkedIn and other websites for more common titles like office administrator instead. If the conventions for your company’s job titles are similar to other businesses in your industry, finding a new job or a new employee will be much easier. Just make sure you’re honest about the experience required. For example, a senior office administrator needs a large amount of experience, while a junior office administrator could be an entry-level position.

A good title tells employees what tasks they should focus on and what coworkers and customers should expect. For example, a manager should focus on mentoring and managing employees. However, many newly promoted managers are used to promoting their own achievements, not the accomplishments of their team members. Make sure employees with new titles know how to do their jobs well and get along with coworkers, subordinates, and superiors.

Consider lateral or even downward moves

Job titles are important, but so are salaries, the people you’ll get the chance to work with, and the size of the company. You’ll have a lot more influence as a vice president of a large company like Home Depot than as a vice president of your local hardware store. You’ll probably have a higher salary and better benefits like health insurance and vacation time as well.

Many CEOs of smaller companies decide the best way to advance their careers is to take a job at a large business that has a lower title but more responsibility than their previous position. You could also have a shorter commute or a more flexible workday.

A new job title is a great way to make an employee happy. Just make sure it reflects his or her actual duties at work.

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