how to negotiate a different title when accepting a job

A reader writes:

I had an in-person interview this week for a position that I initially wasn’t going to apply for based on the job title. It was a marketing coordinator position, and I’m at the assistant manager/manager level; I’ve interviewed for some associate director positions too. When I read the job description, saw the salary range listed, and noted how many years’ experience they wanted (7-10 with a master’s degree preferred, which I have), it was in line with the Manager positions I’ve interviewed for, so I decided to apply.

When I went for the interview, I asked how the department was structured. There is a specialist position that reports to the position for which I was interviewing, and the new hire reports directly to the VP. It’s essentially a manager-level position with a different title.

This may be moot since there’s another round of interviews to go before they make a decision (and the interview went fine, not amazing), but it would be good to have in my negotiation arsenal nonetheless: how would you negotiate a different title? What would you say? Would you bother doing so at all in this situation? In my experience, a coordinator is someone with less than five years’ experience. I’ve seen “coordinator” and “specialist” used interchangeably, but I’ve never seen “coordinator” and “manager” used that way. I’d rather try to negotiate a different title than explain the “lesser” title down the road if/when I’m interviewing again.

Absolutely! I’d wait until you have an offer and then say something like this:  “I’m really interested in the work, but the title is giving me some hesitation, since I’ve been at the manager level. Would you be open to calling the position a marketing manager instead? The responsibilities of the job and the level of experience I’d bring are in line with other marketing manager positions, and if the title could reflect that, I’d be thrilled to take the job.”

Titles really do matter when you’re looking for work in the future, and especially when you’re talking about something like the difference between coordinator (generally fairly junior) and manager (generally not so junior), so I wouldn’t be shy about raising this.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Lee*

    I have had title discussions before as well and in my experience it is very important that you put it in context. Some industry groups also have standardized titles and descriptions which show progression which is very helpful, especially if you are the only person in a company or department who is a member of a service industry.

  2. Anonymous*

    This is good advice… I didn’t realize how simple it could be.

    I have a related question- I work for a large university that uses strange titles (if you google them, we are the only place that actually uses them so if I leave the university, they will mean nothing.) we are referred to by more functional titles (ie project manager, coordinator,etc). Should I list that on my resume? I don’t want to be misleading but I also don’t want a “huh?” reaction.

    1. Cary*

      I also work for a large university where we sometimes use the classification titles which will seem odd if you don’t know the systems. So my advice is to just use the functional title on resumes.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I feel like it’s safest to use the format Real Title (Functional Title). Then, there’s no confusion, and if there is, they can ask and it’s super easy to explain why you used both.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – this is how I would do it.

        I wouldn’t leave off my actual title because that is the one which will be verified with HR (should I advance that far) and you don’t want any red flags for something so simple.

      2. Piper*

        This is how I do it, too. I’ve had some really superfluous, fluffy, and downright confusing titles, so I always put what it actually was (according to everyone else in the industry) in parenthesis. This seems to work fine.

    3. ChristineH*

      I’ve seen that with large universities, and maybe even larger organizations. I never understood how that all works.

      1. mh_76*

        Anonymous (the one above), I have also worked for a Large University in the past and there were titles that were relatively ambiguous – example: Programmer/Analyst I through -IV. At some employers, I is high and IV is low and in other places, the reverse it true. On my resume, though I haven’t had any of the P/A jobs, I have most of my titles in a hybrid format combining the real and functional titles sometimes with a “/” in the middle – all of the words are there and the descriptions are accurate and I’ve been employed since so it hasn’t been an issue in terms of employment verification checks. Jamie’s idea is also good, though I might reverse the order and use “Functional Title (Real Title)”. Regardless of how you decide to word your title, there is someone out there who will like your wording, someone who won’t; someone who will verify your employment & not like that you (maybe) didn’t use the title verbatim as it is in your employer’s HRIS system, and someone who will understand why you worded it the way you did.

        What does your gut tell you? What titles do the jobs that you seek have and is the functional title you use close to them? Are you looking inside or outside of Large University? All are questions to consider when crafting your resume. Good luck!

          1. Kristi*

            I like these options of combining functional title and real title. I was an assistant at one job for six years, and outgrew assistant after the first two years. My next job was director and I’ve never liked how it looked on paper, the jump from assistant to director. I know I’m over-thinking this and just need to let it go. More than likely no one else is putting that much thought into it. More focus on accomplishments, not titles.

        1. Anonymous*

          Thanks for the input, everyone! I will probably apply for non university jobs in the future, and would have less hesitation using only the classification title for another university, since it seems so common in that setting. I like the idea of using a hybrid of the titles… That’s probably the most honest and accurate way. I guess I shouldn’t be too worried, since you obviously list your duties and accomplishments anyway..

  3. EJ*

    I agree with AAM, with the exception that I would leave out “since I’ve been at the manager level”.

    If the position aligns with manager responsibilities, and similar roles in the industry are called ‘manager’ roles, it makes good sense to change the title. But feeling that a ‘coordinator’ title is beneath me isn’t the reaon that I would highlight before I even start the job, especially since ‘coordinator’ may mean something different to them.

  4. ChristineH*

    I agree with AAM – wait until you receive an offer.

    I get so confused with job titles sometimes; thank you, Alison, for clarifying that “coordinator” tends to be a more junior-level position. Although, I had one job where I was a “data coordinator”. I learned when I got the job that it was a fancy title for data entry clerk (our manager always referred to us as “clerks”), so I had the opposite problem as the OP; a job that sounds more advanced than it really was.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m a “coordinator”, which means I make >100K, supervise about 5, and am the main POC for our biggest client. I think titles are fairly fluid, which (good news!) makes them highly negotiable. Also, not very informative when looking at a potential hire. I ignore them. My best hire was a guy whose job title was “Jedi Master”. He truly is a master of his software specialty and we are lucky to have him.

  5. The Bookworm*

    Just an FYI – when you negotiate a new title, include both the hiring manager and HR in the negotiations.

    The hiring manager may agree to the new title, but depending on the company & their HR department, getting a new title added to the HR system/database may be a long process – and might not happen at all.

  6. Steve G*

    That company needs help making job titles! And at the 5 companies I’ve worked at, Coordinator was always below Specialist.

    I worked at one place that had too many “managers’ – but they were Project Mgr type jobs. To add variation, they started calling people “analysts” even though those people didn’t analyze a darn thing.

    1. Anon*

      Was this in D.C.? Everyone in D.C. who’s not a lawyer seems to be a “project manager,” an “analyst,” or a “research assistant.” (Makes me glad to be a lawyer, frankly.)

      1. Steve G*

        Actually the suburbs 30 miles from NYC. Maybe tiitle inflation hit too hard there so they felt dubbing someone a plain, old “coordinator,” i.e. the person that does all of the random follow up..

    2. Piper*

      I’ve never heard of a coordinator being above a specialist. Usually, specialist (especially in marketing) is higher in the corporate hierarchy. And yeah, I’ve heard “analyst,” “specialist,” “coordinator,” and “manager” all applied to the role of project manager (so project analyst, project coordinator, project specialist, etc), all at one company. That was so confusing.

    3. K./OP*

      Yeah, there were a couple of other titles in the department where I had to ask for an explanation of what they do because the title told me nothing.

  7. Josh S*

    Wow. I’ve never really thought about negotiating title in the job offer stage before. I guess it makes sense; I’ve just never been in that sort of position to date and hadn’t thought about the impact on future jobs. Thanks for the useful info, Alison. One more tool in the toolbox for whenever such a situation arises.

  8. fluffy*

    at my current location the order from lowest to highest is
    senior librarian
    principal librarian
    coordinating librarian
    division director

    So I think you’d better be prepared to explain the hierarchy

  9. Anonymous*

    I’ve seen coordinator used at a manager level. Sometimes it was the due to the fact that they didn’t manage many people directly, and instead coordinated projects and other staff without them being direct reports. It’s all semantics. Your salary and responsibilities say more than your title in many industries. Except banking, where everyone gets to be a VP!

  10. K./OP*

    Thanks as always, Alison! The script is perfect – concise and conveys just what I want it to.

    And of course I’d wait until I got an offer to bring it up (which, frankly, I’m not that confident about – but I’d take an offer if we could sync up on title and salary); I didn’t mention it in the interview at all. That “How is the department structured?” is a standard interview question for me. But as I said in the letter, I figured it’s good be prepared in case this ever comes up in the future, even if this particular job doesn’t work out.

  11. Anonymous*

    So let’s say you get a job offer, and you want to negotiate salary and maybe time off and schedule and title- how do you bring all these things up at once without it just being ridiculous? It’s like “Oh yes I really want this job! Only for more money and more time off and a better title and a more flexible schedule.”

    I mean you probably wouldn’t ask for all those things, but if you’re asking for more than one I don’t know how to minimize the impact of your requests. Bring them up all at once? One at a time, after the last is resolved?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Bring them up all at once so the employer is able to factor in everything you’re requesting in their response. You’ve got to negotiate smartly — in most cases, it probably won’t make sense to negotiate title AND salary AND schedule AND time off — probably just a couple of those. (And of course, you’ve got to know how much negotiating power you do or don’t have.)

  12. Rachel*

    I work in the human services field and in my organization, coordinators are higher than managers, supervisors, and specialists. We’re the equivalent of assistant directors. This isn’t unique to my agency. Our county office is organized the same way, as are several other human service agencies in this area. Maybe we just do things backward here!

  13. Dana*

    My current boss (at a large, multinational company) has the title Marketing Coordinator. She has all of the same duties as a manager (hiring/firing/budgets, etc.), goes to managers’ meetings, and has 10+ years of experience, but she reports to the Manager of Marketing Services. Not sure why her title doesn’t reflect her managerial duties, but I guess that’s just how they do it here.

  14. Dan*

    I interviewed at one company who was looking for BS/MS/MBA graduates straight out of school. They wanted to call them “senior analysts” and pay less than $50k/yr.

    I interviewed at another company, who asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years. I said, “Well, it takes awhile to get good at the job, so in five years I hope to be a senior analyst with you.” That company said, “Oh, that’s great, but it takes at least 10 years to become a senior analyst.”

  15. Louis*

    Title work very diffrently depending on the company. I wonder why people still pay any attention to them when hiring.

    In my career I have been :

    – Consultant (usually in charge of myself, but managing up to 4 people with under that title.
    – Projet Director (managing 9 people directly and another 6 indirectly at a client site)
    – Associate Projet Director (managing 3 people directly at a client site but sitting on the board once a month)
    – Client services coordinator (managing 6 people directly)

    Right now I’m “team lead” and I manage 17 people directly.
    My boss has the title “Chef” (not restaurant related… just another word for manager in french) has 28 people under her… me and my 17 plus another team of 10
    My boss’s boss is also a “Chef” with about 60 people under him.
    The boss’s boss boss is a “Director” with around 200 people under her.

    At the same company you have some “Chef” that manage only 4 people.

    My old employer once told me that one of his negocitation trick was to offer a fancy title in order to save a few thousand $ a year in salary…. Bob, we can’t give you a raise this year, but we will promote you from “consultant” to “senior consultant”.

    Over the year I have aquire the reflex that title are mostly meaningless if you don’t know the context.

  16. LJL*

    I was in this situation myself. After an interview and getting an offer, I said to both the hiring manager and to the HR director something like this: “I am very interested in the position, and it seems to be a good match between your needs and my experience. However, after talking to you about the work involved, it seems that there is much more strategic work involved than the title reflects. Could we change the title to something like ‘Director of Teapot Initiatives’ rather than ‘Lead Teapot Designer?’ I think that would be much more reflective of what you’re looking for. ”

    I’ve been in the new position, with my suggested functional title, for almost a year now. :-)

  17. Billy Growth*

    Think that job title comes with experience. More experience that you get working in one position will give you right to pretend on higher level. When time comes you just need to be honest with your superiors .

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