Episode 5 – Do job titles matter?


Job titles are a contentious issue but do they really matter? Would you apply for a job if you perceived the title to be technically below your current role?

In this podcast, Katie and Graham discuss nuances of job titles including:

  • The importance (or lack of importance) of a job title
  • Does a job title affect your ability to influence partners and clients?
  • Should you apply for a job if you don’t like the title?
  • Why it’s important to have the right job title to attract the best candidates
  • Trends in job titles

If you’d like further advice about job titles, please feel welcome to call Katie or Graham.

Transcript – Do job titles matter?

Katie Rosser: [00:00:21]

I’m Katie Rosser, I’m here with Graham Seldon and welcome to today’s podcast about the contentious issue of job titles. More contentious than you might imagine. Graham why do job titles matter?

Graham Seldon: [00:00:35]

Well, they do matter. I can’t answer why they matter. They just do. For a lot of people, they matter for organizations and they matter for candidates. I think you have to look at strictly at what job titles are for. I mean, they are an internal marker. They say what you do. They say what level you do it. And sometimes they even say where you do it. So, for instance, you could be the Asia PAC sales and business development leader, which is very clear to that organization, the level you’re at why you’re doing it and what you’re responsible for and what it is you’re supposed to be doing. But it is internally focused. And I think we need to be aware of that, because sometimes these job titles are highly nuanced to the organization and they make absolutely no sense to people in the outside world. And particularly, I think in law firm business development and marketing, where we’re starting to see job titles becoming very highly specialized. It does raise the question about whether they really are relevant from a career development perspective going from one to another. And I’d be interested to know what you think about that issue.

Katie Rosser: [00:01:47]

It’s interesting you say the word leader actually, because that’s one of those job titles that I’ve seen popping up but only in the odd firm. There’s other job titles-  specialist. What does specialist mean? And consultant is another. In some businesses, you know, it’s a junior manager, in other businesses, it’s a senior coordinator.

Graham Seldon: [00:02:07]


Katie Rosser: [00:02:08]

And don’t get me started on U.S. firms where, you know, you can be on 200 grand a year and be called a coordinator.

Graham Seldon: [00:02:12]

Or you’re a chief marketing officer, but you don’t do marketing.

Katie Rosser: [00:02:17]

Yes, absolutely. So I think titles are getting increasingly inconsistent. That’s usually my advice to people. I don’t see a future where they are uniform across the industry. I don’t know that we necessarily need to aim for that, particularly in the globalization of our clients. I speak to a lot of clients who are sometimes a little hemmed in by a global title structure and even say to me, do you know what? This person can call themselves something a little bit different on LinkedIn and on their emails and on their future CV. But on that contract and when we go to market, they have to be called X.. So I think some of our clients are understanding what’s in a job title as well.

Graham Seldon: [00:02:59]

Yeah. We we have a really good example of somebody who was appointed as Head of Asia BD for a firm that had said that one of the things they wanted the candidate to do in their first 12 months was to bring a sales culture to the organization. But the job title didn’t have the word sales in it. So the candidate on offer said, I will take this job if it has sales in the job title because I want every interaction internally to be focused on selling. It’s on my job title, that’s why we’re having the meeting. And I think that worked. You know, it was it was quite a good strategic thing for that candidate to do. The firm just gave him the job title. Even though the job title wasn’t uniform across the globe, you know, he was the first sales and BD head of in the region.

Katie Rosser: [00:03:51]

Which is great and great for the whole industry, actually. That, you know, one firm can move in that direction. But also they were a senior person and there’ll be lots of people listening to this podcast, who will not be that senior in their careers. And you don’t have negotiation room or wiggle room, a lot of the time on titles. So knowing that, knowing there’s an inconsistency in titles and knowing that unless you’re direct to level, you’re probably not going to be able to negotiate it. Should candidates care about it when applying for jobs? How important should it be that they’re perceiving the correct hierarchy from their job title?

Graham Seldon: [00:04:27]

I personally always have alarm bells when a candidate fixates on the job title as a reason for applying or not applying for a job. Though I do have sympathy in this market, I can understand why somebody would say, well, the only reason I would move jobs for career progression and the only way that I can announce to my peers, my family, my friends I’ve had career possession is if I go from a coordinator to an exec or a manager to a senior manager. But I think it’s a bit short sighted. I think that you have to look at the whole opportunity on its merits. For instance, there is a global law firm that we recruit for heavily in Australia and who don’t have a senior manager title. And when we had a candidate who said, well, you know, look, I’m a senior manager now, I don’t really want to move for a manager title. The response from the Law firms, which I thought was brilliant, was our lawyers know the value of business development. They respect business development. They know that you have a seat at the table. We don’t need to put senior in a job title to denote the fact that it is a senior role in our organization. And that was that, you know, and I thought that response was actually really, really good. And then the candidate was happy with that with that response. So I think that, you know, my advice to candidates when it comes to job title is to work out whether the job itself is a career development job. The job title is pretty irrelevant. You may even remember it in five years time.

Katie Rosser: [00:05:49]

I completely agree with you. It’s in line with the advice I often give people as well. Here’s one thing people sometimes worry about. But how will that affect my CV in five years time when I go on from this role? If I’ve gone senior manager to manager, if I’ve gone head of to senior manager exec to senior coordinator, how’s that going to affect people’s perception of me when I go on from here?

Graham Seldon: [00:06:15]

My response to that with candidates is that I always suggest that candidates caveat weird job titles in their CV or I’ve actually sometimes advised candidates to change the job title because to be honest, our clients really care about where you’ve worked and what you’ve done. They don’t really care about what you were called whilst you were doing it.

Graham Seldon: [00:06:37] And I think has, as job titles become even more specialized then there really is a lot of interpretation that needs to be done. And I would say do yourself a favour and just explain the job. If, for instance, if your job title is senior engagement manager, I mean, I’ve seen that. What does that actually mean to the rest of the world? SENIOR ENGAGEMENT MANAGER? What it actually meant was it was sort of a business development role focused on clients. So it was almost like a client relationship manager role. So I just said to the candidate, well, just put senior engagement manager, which is your title and in brackets put (this was a BD role focused on clients)

Katie Rosser: [00:07:17]


Graham Seldon: [00:07:18]

One sentence. Yeah.

Katie Rosser: [00:07:20]

Is it important though to to keep your actual job title on the CV? I mean look, as an ex lawyer I think it is.  And I have had candidates say to me sometimes I’ve had permission from my boss to change the title on the CV. They’ll back it up at reference, you know. But I do think the CV is the place where you have to give accuracy. I’ve had clients say to me, I interviewed somebody and I know because I used to work in that business, I know that they weren’t really at that position. So you have to be careful.

Graham Seldon: [00:07:50]

I think you have to be careful, that’s why I say you can put it in brackets. And also it has to reflect your LinkedIn profile. I mean, here are you and I know we’re quite old fashioned in our view of CVs. You know, we were brought up with CVs. But the younger generation, it’s all about LinkedIn profiles. I mean, how often now do you get a candidate who says to you, you know, when you say, have you got a CV, they send you the link to their LinkedIn profile as if to say, that’s my CV. So I think that, you know, as long as there’s a consistent story on the see the in the Linkedin profile. But honestly, is it the letter of the law that you have to state your job description exactly? I think you can have a bit of leeway.

Katie Rosser: [00:08:28]

Well, we did say it was a contentious issue.

Graham Seldon: [00:08:32]

Well, this is really this is true.

Katie Rosser: [00:08:34]

And I think different people have different levels of comfort.

Graham Seldon: [00:08:36]

I would say also that the problem with job titles, and it’s a problem for us as recruiters, is that you have to have a title when you’re advertising a role. You know, you do this market. You need to be able to say what this role is going to do. And if it’s a business development manager looking after corporate, then it is what it says on the tin. But but it’s interesting because I think that sometimes candidates don’t apply for jobs based on job title. And that I think is a real concern because we have so many examples, including an example of a role where job title was Marketing Manager (it was paying $300,000 a year for an engineering firm). You know, I think that that’s the reality of it. The engineering firm was like, well, it’s our marketing manager, it’s our head of marketing. And it’s just called marketing manager. They went to market with that. We went to market with that. But it was worth $300,000 a year. So I think it’s very interesting that the job titles can sometimes be a barrier to applying for an amazing opportunity. I would say if you’re not sure of the level, if you’re not sure of a level of responsibility and strategic input, send us an e-mail and say, you know, do you think this role is right for somebody with my profile? We’ll quickly tell you.

Katie Rosser: [00:09:49]

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a bit like the time I got invited in to see a client and a meeting was set up between myself and an administrator. And I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I got there, I realized they were the COO so I quickly sharpened myself up.

Graham Seldon: [00:10:04]

Well, this is the thing. I mean, I think job titles are misleading. And and I think  as the businesses change more rapidly, you know, job titles are they are on trend with what’s happening in the market. And that’s why you’re starting to see very specialized job descriptions in business development and marketing. I mean, if you think back 10 years ago, nobody would ever be dreamed of being called a digital coordinator. I mean, what does that even mean? But, you know, we’ve seen the rise of that and because of technology. So I think that we will start to see even more and more new job titles coming in. And I go back to my original point, which is that, you know, they’re not really that relevant to the outside world.

Katie Rosser: [00:10:45]

I mean, the only time that I do get cause to sort of stop and think about that is when I’m working with a client, working with somebody who’s client facing. And I think there’s a genuine concern or point that they will have to make sure that their title gives them credibility and gravitas with the client. And but, you know, at the same time, I think sometimes we perhaps overstate how much clients care.

Graham Seldon: [00:11:09]

Yes, I mean, they care what you’re called Katie Rosser. But do they really care that you’re a, you know, client relationship manager, brackets, property and construction brackets? I don’t think that they do.

Graham Seldon: [00:11:20]

No, I just think that you are listening to them and that you’re responding to what they want.

Katie Rosser: [00:11:25]

Absolutely. And I often say to candidates, better to be a BD manager and spend half your time out with clients than a client relationship manager that’s never seen a client.

Graham Seldon: [00:11:34]

That’s brilliant. Actually, I agree with that. The other thing is, I think I have to be really, really careful about what your internal stakeholders perceive of your job title. And so there has been a trend of late of BD people sort of creating job titles that they think suit them in the market or suit the way they want the direction that the BD strategy to go. But to the lawyers or the accountants or the engineers, it makes absolutely no sense. And I think that’s really important, because the last thing you want is for a partner in a law firm to be looking down a balance sheet and going, why are we spending all this money on a insert, you know, pursuits development coach or whatever it might be? What does that even mean? So, you know, I think that sometimes we do ourselves a disservice in this sector by coming out with very complicated trendy job titles or actually just saying, you know, I’m here to help you business win business might might be enough.

Katie Rosser: [00:12:30]

Should perhaps we just call, you know, everybody in our in our industry winners of work?

Graham Seldon: [00:12:34]

Well, winners of work or you know, there are some organizations in in tech, but that just that you just have your name on your business card. You don’t have a job title. It’s just you work for this organization. You’re a member of the team. It is what it is.

Katie Rosser: [00:12:46]

So in summary, it sounds like both of us are giving candidates very similar advice when they come to us, which is don’t get too bogged down in the job title. People come to me and they say I say what you want next. It’s always about impact and value and contribution, autonomy in a business where they respect what I’m doing. I have career development. Don’t get bogged down in the job title to the detriment of all of them.

Graham Seldon: [00:13:08]

Now to learn more about Seldon Rosser and some of fantastic career opportunities, we have head to seldonrosser.com. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast, subscribe on iTunes. Write us a review. Send an email. We’d love to hear what you think.



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