titles that don’t match job duties

A reader writes:

I work in hospitality and am slowly transitioning from this being “a job” to cultivating a career. I am currently employed by one company, but was rather aggressively pursed by the general manager of a different company to come work for him. After several meetings (both phone and in person), he offered me a position he and the district manager created specifically for me, outlined the salary and duties, I accepted, and he began the background check. It’s a position I’m extremely excited about, as it is more creative, gives me more responsibility, and the company itself affords a wider range of advancement opportunities than the company I am with right now.

However, things have stalled with HR — individual locations are not allowed to create positions; they may only hire for corporate sanctioned positions that have a built-in pay scale. The GM who recruited me told me not to worry, they’ll figure it out. What concerns me is the solution they are considering. The existing positions that have titles similar to what they want me to do are well below the pay scale they promised, so he is thinking of finding a position that has the pay scale and hire me as that — regardless of title.

What this may mean is, instead of being, say, a “Banquet Manager” and doing the duties of that position as intended, I might be hired as “Bookkeeper,” paid the rate of a Bookkeeper, but do the tasks of a Banquet Manager. While I would love to come work for this company, this “solution” is troubling me. What do you think about title discrepancies? Does the value of getting this new experience with a new company outweigh the dangers of not having a reflective title, and therefore paper trail?

It would trouble me too. I’d want to know more about what it would mean in practice. Would you be able to use a more accurate title in your day-to-day work — for instance, would your email signature and business cards and listing in the company directory identify you as a bookkeeper or as a banquet manager? If you’re being presented to coworkers and the outside world as something drastically different than what you are, that’s a problem and is going to make it harder to do your job.

Title does matter — it affects how people deal with you, how much authority they perceive you as having, and what questions and issues they do and don’t bring to you.

Furthermore, it will affect you the next time you’re looking for a job. You need know that if a prospective employer calls to verify your employment there, they’re going to be told you were a banquet manager, not that you were a bookkeeper. And you need to know that they’ll be told that by anyone they happen to talk to, not just your direct manager — meaning that if the new person in HR who just started last week and has no idea who you are looks you up in their system, there’s a safeguard to ensure that she doesn’t tell the reference-checker that you were a bookkeeper.

So you need to find out if this is just going to be your title in computer systems that won’t impact you in any way other than how they pay you, or if it’s going to be part of your identity at work. If it’s truly only the former, it may not matter — just make sure to find out.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Also I want to note that the OP was talking about advancement within the company. I wouldn’t think that banquet manager has the same track as bookkeeper, which I would be concerned about. If you change locations, or want to work at HQ, as say, Senior Bookkeeper, they’re probably not going to like that your title is actually banquet manager.

  2. Anonymous

    My company has strict rules about job codes, position codes, job grades, etc., for the HRIS, but we can use any title we choose. If there are issues arise with any of the “codes” assigned at the time of hire, revisions are made in the system. Usually, the employee is never aware of anything other than his/her title.

  3. Lulu

    While I get that there may be some HR logic to this in terms of streamlining, this kind of practice seems totally ignorant of the general concepts behind different positions having different titles! In the OP’s situation, I would definitely make sure the title had some bearing on the actual job duties and have a conversation about the potential impact on advancement opportunities. I’d hope they wouldn’t call you something completely irrelevant, if only for the sake of clarity for the people you’d be working with. But as Anon #1 & Alison mentioned, the more off your title is, the more difficult it may be for you to move on/up when the time comes.

    I ran into similar issues re: titles vs responsibilities at my last job: there was really only a provision for one level of admin, which meant that no matter how long I’d been there, who I supported, what my job duties entailed or how well I performed, my title stayed exactly the same. Whenever I broached this with my last manager, he would say “what does it matter? you’d still have to do the same thing anyway…”. So internally, it looked like I had the same status/experience as an entry-level person who had just walked in the door. And now on my resume, it looks like I spent 7 years unable to do anything worth getting promoted for – I have a ton of bulleted accomplishments on there in an attempt to compensate, but not sure if that really helps. (Of course, I’ve discovered this is all compounded by the fact that “administrative assistant” describes so many different types of positions these days depending on where you work, that it’s almost a non-title anyway…)

  4. Not So NewReader

    It seems to me that they will do things the right way- my clue is that you mention the company sanctioned positions and approved pay scale, etc. So they are looking for legitimate solutions and communicating with the higher ups. Probably others in the company have tried creating this position so the company will have suggestions from what others have done.
    If you can, familiarize yourself with something about their structure- so you are forearmed with info and have an idea of what existing job titles you do/don’t want. It sounds like a great opportunity. I can “hear” your enthusiasm.

    1. Anonymous

      It saddens me, however, that HR is able to ‘overrule’ the hiring manager like that. HR should be supporting, not impeding, the company’s goals.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah. Really. Let the people doing the work, Do The Work.
        Such a basic concept.

        And the parallel rule- let the people doing the work select the appropriate tools for the job.

        So obvious.

      2. Joey

        Ooh, I’m guessing the op and his future boss doesn’t understand how classification and compensation works. In large organizations there has to be someone that oversees this stuff otherwise you’d have an endless amount of job titles with pay all over the place. Part of Class & Comps job is to ensure consistency, provide organizational structure, and determine when and if new jobs titled are added. My guess is that this manager went about it all wrong. It’s wreckless to just decide you’re going to create a new job title without consulting with HR. What the manager should have done is notified HR BEFORE he started talking to candidates about a new job title. HR likely would have helped him identify an appropriate job title. If that wasn’t possible they’re job is not to say no. It’s to come up with solutions for these kinds of issues. Sometimes that means creating new titles, bu frequently there are sensible alternatives. Probably what’s happening now is that the manager is in a bind and came up with the quickest ( but not the best) solution to get it done. So I really fault the manager more than HR. Although I admit a good HR department frequently bends over backwards to bail managers out of these kinds of issues.

      3. Victoria

        HR has no real power, they only do as they’re told in most organizations. It’s probably corporate policy that’s instigated by the bigwigs, and out of their control.

        1. Joey

          For some things you’re right, they rely on the power of influence. But in this case they usually do have authority to stop managers from creating their own job titles. But like everyone else they can be overridden by someone higher up the food chain.

  5. Girasol

    We had the same policy – you can’t just make up unauthorized job titles. Everyone with a rather specialized job was mislabeled as something more common that deserved an equivalent amount of pay. When many of us were laid off, we new job hunters were warned that we must use our assigned titles on apps and resumes because employers would check and dishonesty would be caught. So I had to put on my resume that I was a senior software designer even though I’d be hard pressed to write a program to say “Hello World!” It was quite tricky to explain in interviews. OP should have an accurate job title if not for this job, then for the next.

    1. Long Time Admin

      “dishonesty”

      That’s the one thing that really jumped out at me. It just does not bode well.

      If this is your introduction to the company, can you expect *anyone* there to do things in an open and honest way? I can just smell “home office-ordered audit” in their future.

      1. Girasol

        I’d been with the company 20 years and it never occurred to me that it might matter if HR wanted to call me something funny. My boss and teammates knew what I did and my title, if wrong, was well paid. HR didn’t mean anything by it. They were just trying to trim a miles-long list of job titles to reduce the cost of doing market survey on how much others paid people with those titles.

        The problem came when I had to tell my next (potential) employer truthfully – because they might check up on it – what HR had called me in my last job. All of a sudden I realized why I should have cared about that title when I had the chance.

    2. Victoria

      In that case, I’d try to have something in writing from the company – an email, something – to that effect, to show to prospective employers. That I was required to use that title.

  6. Twyla

    Ugh, titles in the payroll system vs titles on a business card are a pet peeve of mine. After changing from a sales/service background to corporate HR, I can attest to the fact that what you do on a daily basis and what your title are in the system, are more often than not 2 entirely different things. The larger the company, the worse this is, because there is someone who does the system set up who is reluctant to make a new title just for you, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll get stuck in an existing bucket.

    While I can appreciate the issues of a very different title between the two, I would offer – don’t sweat it. I think a lot of companies, and therefore recruiters (but not necessarily hiring managers) understand Corporate America is somewhat dysfunctional on this front.

    With that said, Banquet Manager and Bookkeeper are two WAY different things. The titles SHOULD be closer to reality.

  7. Vicki

    This is so familiar. I was hired into my previous job as a tech writer. The job grew, the job changed, and I was doing content management and wiki support. After a long discussion with a new manager who thought I should be “doing the work my job title described” I moved to another manager who appreciated the position I actually had and we tried to change my job title to fit. After 4 months of back and forth with HR, my new manager got me changed to “Web Developer” which was pretty close; the wiki stuff included web applications and JavaScript.

    Then there was a reorg, my manager resigned, and I landed on a backend development team. Maybe due to the job title. AT which point, again, my role didn’t match what y manager thought my job title conveyed.

    And this was in a company where HR liked to say “it’s not your title that matters”.

    So, yes, OP, it will matter. It will bite you. Find a way to work it out.

    1. Mike C.

      “Your title doesn’t matter”?! They might as well say, “Your pay doesn’t matter, nor does your experience and education”.

      1. Vicki

        The company liked to think it was egalitarian. Anyone that wasn’t a manager was “equal”. Everyone, including managers, had cubicles. Arguing over a job title was seen as petty (“just call yourself whatever you like! Everyone knows what you do.”).

        Right up to the day when you get a new manager and he decides that the job title is a better description than your status reports of the past 3 years.

    2. Steve G

      Dont get me started on all that can wrong when you switch a manager! I had one (left 5 months later, couldnt take it) who wanted to turn a detailed-level analytical position into an “oversight” position. Well, that can take many months of automation, its not something you get by pretending the detailed time-consuming excel work doesnt exist and acting perturbed why someone isnt giving it up to just “oversee.” And any comment that remotely sounds like, “yeah I know you do “other stuff”” my skin crawls. OK that was my new-manager rant:-).

  8. Anonymous

    I would be very wary of having the wrong title in HR systems because its so common that future inquiries are sent to HR rather than the managers that supervised you. I found out after the fact that HR had me listed in the system as a rather junior position rather than my actual title I had been hired for. I ended up losing out on a job because it appeared I was lying. And once a company feels you’ve been deceptive, it’s very difficult to change that perception–even if you explain the mix up, they’ll still be wondering if you are just doubling down on the lie.

  9. FormerManager

    Good advice from everyone. One thing I did when I had an odd sort of title was that I would put down the title the company gave me on my resume/app and then next to it I would put my role in parentheses. Sometimes I’d do it like:

    Administrative Coordinator (Role: Writer/Editor/PR Specialist)

    The way I see it every company is different and some companies can have these very company-specific titles that would not make sense to another employer.

    1. Paige

      Excellent solution! I had a similar situation where my title was Admin Supervisor but the actual role was Technical Publications Manager.

  10. Anonymous

    I had a slightly different situation – I kept doing the same work, but the job title was changed several times. I usually just add a note that my supervisor can provide a definitive list of dates and titles, should that be necessary. Indeed, I may technically still hold the position (albeit on 0% salary).

    1. Joey

      That’s common and its probably the result of job titles being updated or a reclassification that more accurately reflects your day to day duties.

  11. Jill

    Be careful, OP. This happened to me, only worse. I was hired as a Policy Analyst and told that my job duties would entail analyzing possible policies, procedures, and legislation being considered by the government I work for. Instead, I’ve been fielding Freedom of Information Act requests for the last five years as a “fill in”. I haven’t analyzed a single thing since working here.

    I’d ask more questions and get a better flavor for the company. I’ve come to realize that the disconnect between my title and my actual duties is just one small example of how mismanaged my organization is. Make sure it won’t be the same for you. As others pointed out…why can’t HR work *with* the manager and just create a new position??? How does HR have more clout than a department head?? How much does that worry you as a prospective employee?

    Had I known that from the start, I would have said NO NO NO – a mismatch in title/duites does NOT outweigh the experience and education you might get on the job.

  12. Jenn

    Oh, great. So he’s going to hire you on as an “XYZ” when your job duties will really be “ABC”? So what if you don’t meet the position qualifications for an “ABC”? That could be a nightmare. In fact, this whole situation sounds like a nightmare. I can see where HR would have a slight problem with this scenario.

    This might end up taking awhile to sort out; you might want to look at other jobs out there in the meantime…..

  13. Canuck

    I think it depends on how different the job title is, to the job being performed. If it truly is something like “book-keeper” vs “banquet manager”, I would be concerned.

    But if it is something like “Project Manager” vs. “Regional Events Coordinator”, I would be willing to take the job – with the expectation that my title would be fixed within a short time frame.

    It would be great if the OP responded with a little more detail on the industry and how different the job title is to the job duties.

    1. OP!

      I’ve been sorely negligent in responding to this advice. I’m really grateful AAM was able to respond!

      The more specific situation was this: the new company (“NC”) is a rather large chain with several different types of operations. The position they wanted to create for me is a position that does exist in a different branch of NC, just not the specific one I’d be working for. This is why they thought it wouldn’t be an issue (NC has this very position elsewhere, surely it will be fine here), but HR insisted that if the job position/code didn’t exist for this branch already, they couldn’t make it.

      I went ahead and accepted the position, keeping the questions and concerns raised from this post in mind. I’ve been introduced to everyone with my intended title and responsibilities (“Everyone, this is So and So, she’ll be your new Bar Manager”), but my job code that I clock in with is as a “cook”, as apparently cooks make killer money at NC and that job is the one that had the pay grade they promised me.

      The GM is mindful of my concerns, and apparently is somewhat constantly dialoging with corporate to actually have my position become a reality, as another branch is having this same issue with wanting someone to perform specific tasks, but not having a tangible position for said person.

  14. Anonymous

    I know this is an old posting, but this is something that happened to me. I was given raises etc with another title in place and actually did 2 jobs. When I left and applied at another company I used my regular title, when they called to HR there were numerous issues with my pay/title etc and my new company accused me of lying/retracted my offer!!

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