If you’ve ever been told “your job title doesn’t matter”, you’ve just been lied to. Job titles are actually a source of power, and when recruiters, bosses, business columnists, and HR reps tell you your job title isn’t important, they’re helping to disempower you. Job titles ARE important, although not for the reasons you think they are…
Many times during negotiations, I will negotiate my job title; I will negotiate it pretty hard actually. Most hiring managers and HR reps will usually give me some spiel about the job title not being important, your work, responsibilities, and salary are important. But your job title, that doesn’t matter at all.
My rebuttal to this line of answering is always the same, “If it’s not important then why won’t you give me the job title I’m requesting? If job titles are as inconsequential as you are telling me, then it should be no problem to give me the job title I’m requesting.”
This usually makes them more flustered, and after I press the matter, I get the job title I want or some other benefit.
Why do I push so hard to get better job titles? And why are employers so reluctant to give up better job titles? The answer lies in the power they have, but not the power usually associated with them.
Job Titles Are About Perception
Ultimately, your job title is the second thing someone will notice about you after your name. It’s the second item listed on business cards, resumes, and online profiles. Your job title is like the subtitle of a Hollywood film. It’s always visible, and always memorable, and if audiences think it’s stupid they won’t take you seriously.
Today, we are all CEOs of ourselves, the company of You. Our image, our brand –we own them and they follows us everywhere.
What kind of business leaves marketing as an afterthought? Failing businesses, that’s who!
If you’re the CEO of You, then you have an obligation to care about the marketing and sales of yourself. This includes thinking about who you are and who you want to be. Does your job title reflect who you are and who you want to be? If it doesn’t, then you’re doing a disservice to your own personal branding and marketing.
When you take control of your job titles you’re taking control of your brand and how it’s perceived. So many times I’ve heard managers tell me it’s about perception and not the work I actually did (I’m sure you’ve heard this before if you work in heavily politicized offices). Well, your job title is about perception as well.
Once you start treating your life like it’s your brand, like everything you do represents the brand of YOU, you begin to feel empowered. You’re taking control of your life, you’re making powerful decisions about your life. Your job title is another step towards empowering yourself and your future.
They Are Not About Perception From Within
When people say job titles don’t matter or shouldn’t matter, this is usually what they are referring to. Job titles shouldn’t matter from an internal perspective.
The companies that make job titles matter internally are the companies that have super rigid hierarchies and a clear chain of command. Typically, these companies do not seek to empower employees. Instead, they seek to disempower employees through their bureaucracy and rigid distribution of authority.
When extra authority and power come with job titles, you tend to see more ego-driven managers and executives. That leads to infighting and an overreliance on office politics.
Teamwork breaks down and everyone begins to only look out for themselves. Companies like this cannot thrive, at least not in the long run. Everyone is vying for power for themselves by getting better titles instead of focusing on the tasks at hand to make the company successful.
Many of these companies also have strict salary guidelines based on job title. When a thing as simple as a job title prevents you from getting the raises and benefits you deserve, it damn well IS important!
You want to avoid companies that place a strict adherence to hierarchy. This leads to heavy top-down management and will make you feel like shit every day. When you have rigid top-down management, it feels like you have no real agency. Like anyone can do your job because you’re not making decisions, don’t have authority, and have no trust from the higher-ups.
Job Titles Are About Personal Power
What hiring managers and HR reps understand when they tell you job titles don’t matter, is that a job title can give an employee power and leverage… Power and leverage managers typically don’t want you to have. This is why they almost always deny requests for better job titles.
The power you get from a job title is the power it leaves on your resume, and the power you get from it during interviews with OTHER employers.
You see, the second thing a hiring manager looks at when considering a candidate is their current job title. If your current job title is impressive, without even saying a word you’ve become impressive in the mind of this hiring manager.
On the flip side, if your job title is rather bland, suddenly you are a rather bland candidate in the eyes of this hiring manager. This is the first impression, and first impressions are important.
By denying you the job title of your choice, or insisting job titles don’t matter, your current employer is basically saying, “If you take our job, we won’t trust you to stay so we’ll make it harder for you to leave giving you a less than impressive job title.”
Many employers will often add numbers after mediocre job titles in an effort to appease your need for a promotion while still keeping you trapped in mediocrity. What sounds better on a resume, Programmer IV or Software Architect?
These kinds of employers lack trust in their employees. Because they lack this trust they seek to take away your own personal power to jump ship. In essence, they are attempting to trap you into a job.
What’s The Solution?
From a company and management perspective, it could feel like you’re giving employees too much power. This is a GOOD thing. The more power you give employees the more they have to empower themselves and elevate your company at the same time.
Of course, redistributing power and authority in a company is a difficult and complicated process. Fortunately, there is a step-by-step guide that was written by the greatest submarine commander of our time. Buy the book Turn This Ship Around! by Lt. David Marquet and implement its teaching in your company, team, or home.
There’s also the Zappos solution. Zappos has a very flat hierarchy and so, internally, it doesn’t make sense to have normal job titles. This is great for Zappos and for its employees, many of them feel more empowered in a completely flat hierarchy.
How then, do they communicate what they do to the outside world? Zappos solved this by giving employees EXTERNAL job titles that are on business cards and can be put on resumes. These job titles reflect the roles and responsibilities of what the employee does in a way that can be communicated on resumes. While internally, everyone has roughly the same job title.
Great employers realize job titles are important to perception and to YOUR future and will give you whatever job title you want or deserve (within reason). This shows they trust you and want to serve you even if you leave them.
If you’re a hiring manager or a human resources representative, it’s time you begin seeing job titles in this way and you begin serving your employees instead of protecting your company.
The more you serve your employees, the harder they’ll work for you. Eventually, if you serve your employees enough, they’ll fight for you and they will bleed for you. And, best of all, they will do the same for each other.
Once you reach this level of management, you will have the greatest company in your industry.