do job titles matter?

A reader writes:

I work for a small company of 25 employees. We still call ourselves a start-up (with all of the cultural elements that brings), but we’ve been around almost 10 years now.

The founder/sole owner believes “titles don’t matter” and it’s more important to focus on the responsibilities each person has. So most people have their official title as basically the department they work for (business development, software engineering, etc), although the management team does have official titles.

I’ve been with the company for two years now and this is my first job out of graduate school, although I did work full-time at another start-up during my master’s degree. I’ve been taking on more and more responsibility with no title change, just a lot of praise. My question is, do job titles matter? Am I wrong to feel that I want my growth recognized through a new title?

Titles can matter a great deal:

First, when you’re searching for your next job. Yes, your resume can make clear exactly what you did in this job, but people still look to titles to get the gist of it. It won’t be a deal-breaker that you don’t have a real title, but it won’t be helpful either. There’s a lot of fudging and obfuscation someone can do on a resume to make “communications assistant” look more like “communications director.” Titles help indicate what level of authority and expertise you had relative to the rest of the team and the rest of the company.

Second, titles affect how much authority people perceive you as having. It can be helpful to have a title with some authority when you’re dealing with people outside of your company — it can give you more credibility and make people take you more seriously. (Not always, but sometimes.)

And third, by keeping you title-free, there’s no way to formalize a promotion. You keep taking on more and more responsibility, but you’re still just “business development” (or whatever). Being able to show advancement matters for your resume, and it matters for raises too. (It’s not that you can’t get a raise without a formal promotion, but a promotion provides a really obvious time to revisit what you’re paid and how that lines up with the role you’re in.)

I’m also curious whether the lack of titles is reflected in people’s actual roles. Do you and others have very clear role descriptions, despite the lack of formal titles? Or is it just “pitch in and do what needs to be done in your area”? If it’s the latter, that’s not sustainable or efficient and it’s going to hold people (and your company) back over time.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. Uncle Bob*

    I worked at a company like this as a Lead Engineer or Senior Engineer and never got a new title. Never had an issue just putting Senior Engineer on my resume and LinkedIn. It reflected my job more accurately. I suppose someone could try to call you out on it in some kind of background check, but I would just explain my position that way.

    1. Uncle Bob*

      Hit enter too soon.

      Its similar logic why my resume doesn’t say “Engineer III”, even though that was my official internal title, it’s meaningless without wider context. I can just put down “Senior” and people in the industry know what I am talking about. Outside companies dont have magic access to internal HR title systems or job descriptions anyway.

      1. Crystal*

        Yeah same, my “real” government job title is pretty inscrutable. On linked in and resumes I tailor it, as well as at presentations. Specialist is in the real title so I’ll just say Teapot Specialist or Mushroom Specialist vs. GovernmentTitleThatMeansNothing Specialist

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I worked somewhere where they couldn’t be bothered to change our titles with HR. “Uh, you’re titled as a Teapot Painter but doing the work of Teapot Coordinator, but if you’re covering for the Teapot Director you’ll need to use your Llama Wrangler paycode since you’re getting paid $X an hour for that and that’s about what we’d pay you as a Teapot Director.”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I would have agreed that we could all agree what “Senior” meant until I had a meeting with some other project stakeholders last week. One of the guy’s business cards said “Senior Staff Engineer” but he was an EIT. Looked him up on Linkedin, and he graduated 3 years ago. You have to have your full PE license and at least 10 years experience in my company to be a Senior.

        My current working title is “Project Manager”, but my HR title is “Design Engineering Manager.” I’m hoping for “Senior Design Engineering Manager” soon. (I do a lot of explaining to friends and family about what my job is and most of them get pretty bored after one sentence.)

        1. Antilles*

          My last company did that (possibly the same one? a decent sized geotechnical/environmental engineering firm?). Essentially, the key to senior staff engineer is “staff” – he’s more experienced than a mere “Staff Engineer” (a newbie so green the ink on the diploma might still be wet), but he’s still very junior staff level.

          Of course, when I previously mentioned that story before on here, someone else jumped in to comment that at their engineering firm, “Staff Engineer” is actually very high up in the chain, so shoot, I don’t know.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Where I work it is high up. A senior staff is mostly responsible to a director, VP, or chief engineer for the program. (Chief engineer is responsible for the technical aspect of the program which is usually in the billions of dollars).

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Ha! Sure sounds like the same one. In MI, by chance? I guess I get the thinking on that, but they could use staff, associate, and senior (or basically anything else) instead. It’s like calling 6th graders seniors since they’re the oldest in elementary school.

            We really use E1-6 here, but 1-2 are staff, 3-4 are midlevel, and 5-6 are senior on the rate sheet. Most 20-40 year engineers fall into that 5-6, but occasionally a 10-year person gets there, generally someone with a narrow focus who has been brought in to fill an specialist role. There are also a few 20+ year people who never get their license and never get into management and just sit at the E4 level forever.

            1. Antilles*

              Could be. Ex-company was a nationwide firm with ~30 offices, but mostly small. Pretty sure they did have an office in Detroit or Ann Arbor.
              The classification level system is always interesting to me because it varies so much. It’s pretty consistent that the numbers increase as you go up (6>5>4>…), but I’ve seen some organizations which go up to like “Engineer XI” while others just have fewer levels and still others will break it up into “Engineer I-III” and “Project Engineer I-III” and “Senior Engineer I-III”.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          Yes, I saw this title inflation on the recent post on number of hours worked in a week. Several people stated “my job title is senior so that makes me a senior in my industry”. It was clear from the job descriptions that they really weren’t senior at all, they only had 10 years experience! That’s not much in an industry that can have 30+ years of experience.

          I’ve also seen claims of “chief engineer” when they were not. They were only in charge of a subsystem, not the entire system.

          The biggest problem I see with this is that people think they have arrived and are no longer willing to listen to the true experts in their field. They’ll argue and fight tooth and nail if you tell them that they have a problem. That exposes their true lack of knowledge – they are so inexperienced they can’t see the problem when it is shown to them.

          1. lap*

            My (large) engineering company starts at Engineer III and moves up to Senior Engineer within 5-7 years. The really talented engineers become “Lead Engineer” or “Principle Engineer” but those are hard to get positions. We have no such thing as a staff engineer or chief engineer, but there is clear hierarchy… it’s just not the same as your hierarchy. 10 years is still a lot of years, especially as more and more people are switching between industries (I don’t think this is a bad thing!). As for the rest, as a newer employee, I’ve certainly corrected my fair share of old timers who had forgotten the details of the work we were discussing. Experience doesn’t prevent you from being the problem.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              My company went from associate engineer to engineer to senior engineer to staff engineer to senior staff engineer.
              A senior engineer was nowhere near a senior staff.
              The job descriptions focused on two aspects: how much supervision you needed and how much you could affect the company if you messed up. By senior staff you had little supervision (mainly check ins) and your mistakes could cost the company several new contracts.

              While 10 years is experienced, I can state that the knowledge I had then was nowhere near at 30 years. It’s more of an exponential growth Vs a linear one. I can also state that I had no clue how much harder the senior positions were.

        3. Commenting Incognito in Case Boss Is Here*

          In my position at my firm, “senior” now means you have certain designations. I acquired mine three months after I came to work here but your title became “coordinator” once you got the full designation. Since then the titles have been “restructured” and more than one person has told me the change in title sounds like I was severely demoted.

          Someone who’s been here years longer than me never was able to achieve the requirements for “senior.” Recently we hired someone who came in as senior because she had the designation from her previous job. It’s a sore point with a lot of people and I sure don’t feel very proud of my job now. Also, while some of my responsibilities remained the same, I’ve been saddled with more lower-rung tasks that I thought I’d left behind years ago, because my title makes me sound like the one to do them. My salary didn’t change and it’s nice, but I’ve been looking for another job and wondering if the lukewarm response has anything to do with my resume looking at first glance like my current job is clearing the jams in the copy machine and ordering the coffee and donuts.

          1. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

            I’ve been told that we can’t use “Senior” in job titles where I work because it has ageist connotations (this is a paraphrase of the reason given by my manager for why my job title *wouldn’t* be changing at the recent review period, despite doing far more advanced and technical work than the two other ‘Co-ordinators’)
            This made me laugh – I’m fifteen years younger than the rest of my team, and they’re worried about calling me Senior Co-ordinator!

          2. Engineer Girl*

            No need to have the exact titles on your resume. It’s better to have descriptive ones and then have the bullet points be the evidence of that description.
            The only place it really matters is the work history you have to provide HR once you are hired.
            Never forget that a resume is a marketing document. It doesn’t have to be a one to one match.
            For example, for one job I had “Lead Software Engineer” instead of my company title. That’s because I headed up the software team for the satellite computers, and my bullet points provided the objective evidence that I was telling the truth.

        4. char*

          I was promoted to “Senior Analyst” within a few months of starting my first-ever analyst job. It made me uncomfortable, actually – I was good at the job, but I knew I didn’t have the industry experience I’d expect from someone with “Senior” in their title.

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      Had to come up with my own title at a small savings bank. If you didn’t have a title perceived as important to various agencies and investors, they weren’t going to take your requests seriously.

    3. Minocho*

      Had the title “Programmer” one place. I did all new development of web applications, all integrations between systems, all report writing and maintenance, all website development and maintenance, but sure. Programmer. Cool.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, my current job started a “career framework” initiative a few years ago which lays out what is expected of different levels and tried to make people in all departments have the same levels and titles to help facilitate internal transfers. I’m a fan of the program in general, but it means my title is “Specialist” which is not very helpful to anyone outside the company.

      Under the old system, my title would probably have been “Senior Accountant” so when I applied for a new job I put “Specialist/Senior Accountant” on my resume. That way if they confirm with my current job, it has my proper title listed, but it also makes it clearer to outside parties where I’m really at.

    5. TardyTardis*

      I’ve worked at too many places where guys doing the same thing got a slightly different title and were paid more.

      Not fun.

  2. Aspie AF*

    Management having titles makes this seem very Animal Farm – “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    1. TPS Cover Sheet*

      All animals are equal, but certain swine are more equal than other animals…

    2. designbot*

      This has been the case at every company I’ve worked that claimed a flat hierarchy. I’m convinced that “flat hierarchy” is code for “you’re a peon and nothing you say is going to make you not be a peon.”

      1. CM*

        I believe it’s possible for this to work in theory, but, yeah, in my experience “flat hierarchy” can be a code for “I am the only one with any power and everyone is equally powerless next to me.” In the wrong hands, it can be used as a way to remove structures that act as a check against a particular executive’s power.

    3. only acting normal*

      For a very long time where I work only managers had job titles, everyone else was just a staff member. Although we have a very hierarchical structure of 9 staff levels where the top 4 levels can be managerial or technical experts (who would still be staff members). Searching the company online directory for the right experts when there are 2000 “staff members” was really fun.
      After every other role (admins, project management, accounts etc) had a job title (and after much complaining) the senior managers finally allowed us to use a set scheme of seniority descriptions + science discipline.

  3. Lance*

    I would love to ask him the rationale behind managers mattering enough to have titles, but not the people that do the groundwork, that functionally keep the business running. I’m not going to call it skeevy on its face… but I feel like it points to something of a disconnect about the value each worker brings, and the fact that titles are more than just an ‘at the top’ thing.

    More than that, as Alison touched on: have you gotten raises? How much? Because if not, that’s another very big thing to go to your boss about; even early in your career as you are, it’s not going to be sustainable to you (on a business or personal level) to just keep on getting and doing more work without any such thing to show for it.

    1. anon today*

      If managers are more client or public facing it makes sense for them to have titles rather than anyone lower on the chain. Not everything is a power play designed to punch down, though the comments on this site would have you believe otherwise.

      1. BenH*

        Even if they’re not client facing, titles are still important.

        Clearly defined roles, aren’t just good for your resume, but for ensuring that all job functions are covered. Most people want clarity to your expectations, which you can’t provide if you’re constantly just telling them to “pitch in wherever needed.”

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The cynic in me thinks…

    The owner who believes “titles don’t matter” also believes “raises don’t matter” either because the former is supposed to go hand in hand with the latter. When they don’t, you’re doing more work for free.

    If nothing else, I’d love to know how the founder/sole owner introduces himself in professional settings where he wants to be taken seriously. Oh I bet he loves that title then!

      1. That One Girl*

        Exactly my thoughts! That, and as they may be tied to promotions, I can just see this: If we eliminate titles, we eliminate promotions and thus eliminate raises. Brilliant!

    1. Ro*

      I also think “titles don’t matter” when you already essentially have a title (“company owner and co-founder”). If the company owner ever has to go searching for a new job, this will carry some weight. I worry about any boss who doesn’t worry about their employees. Could be cluelessness, but still, this kind of policy has a direct effect on your workers.

      It’s also telling that while nobody has a real title, the managers do. In other words, the people with more work world experience, who already know why work titles are important- for all of the reasons that Alison listed- are exceptions. Only the people new to the working world seem to not have them.

      1. Kikishua*

        I know someone whose company restructured – and the only change was her job title got a comma in the middle!!

  5. Holly*

    This is a pretty ingrained cultural thing at the company but on LinkedIn and resumes and such just put whatever you think your title should be. If they don’t matter then that works both ways. But yeah, having a lot of friends that work in start-ups, I’d be shocked if you ever got a raise or title. Has anyone else not management ever gotten one? If not, there’s your answer.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was thinking the same, but I wonder if it would backfire if the new job calls current job to verify your employment. I generally put my official title on my resume, but make sure to list all duties of the job and reference what is relevant to new job in my cover letter.

      1. Antilles*

        I don’t think it would be a dealbreaker as long as the title isn’t clearly exaggerated. If you said “Senior Accountant” instead of “Accountant V”, it’s going to seem pretty reasonable. If you’re a low level designer claiming to be Teapot Department Head, then sure, it’ll backfire badly.
        (Note that this only applies to the actual resume and how you colloquially describe it during your interviews/discussions. If it’s a formal document for a security clearance background check or whatever, then you’d absolutely want to use whatever exact name would pop up in the system.)

      2. Massmatt*

        I was going to say this. You might well be accurately describing your duties but the call to verify might we’ll be handled by someone in HR who has no idea what you did and just reads your title in the database, and now you look like someone inflating their title. The people who knew what you actually did there might be long gone by the time a call for confirmation comes around.

        All well and good for mr founder and CEO to poo-poo titles but it can have real consequences in many careers.

  6. Not Today*

    We have a similar problem at my company. The owner believes titles don’t matter and hands them out willy-nilly. Whatever you say your title is- goes. It’s horrible. We have a massive crew of “directors” who think they are important, but one is “Director of Office Supplies”. 5 or 6 Executive Vice Presidents, titles that no one has any idea what the person actually does “Business Case Director”, etc. Everyone wants to act like their title makes them better than someone else, but in reality, they’re not and they have no authority at all. It’s confusing and frustrating for all. At least in my department, our manager has a level head and gave us specific roles and titles that make sense.

    1. Arielle*

      Wow, do you work at my old (startup) company? It was so ridiculously bloated with directors who didn’t manage anyone, much less managers, because the founders liked to hand out titles in lieu of raises.

      1. Samwise*

        We have departments at my large public university where there’s a director, an associate director, a slew of assistant directors, and then the office support staff. Entry level is assistant director. It generates resentment in other departments, like one I previously worked in, where assistant director is someone with authority over a particular function (not all functions have assistant directors, however).

      2. Blep*

        In my industry, the director tier titles are industry standard, falling below Vice President tier and above manager tier, but having a director title doesn’t mean you have direct reports. The director title is more about functional management responsibilities and authority.

    2. Preppy6917*

      This is the comment I was looking for. An acquaintance of mine is a “Senior Director” in a twelve person organization with one person reporting under them. I roll my eyes so hard when scroll across his profile on LinkedIn.

      1. SezU*

        In my office, the Director of Office Supplies is the admin assistant… But I do like this idea… I wonder what my title shall be tomorrow????!!

        Director of I Can’t Believe I Am In the Office on a Friday in the Summer?
        Executive Vice President in Charge of Whatever I Feel Like Doing Today?

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I like this system! I claim Chief Executive for Oversight and Oh My GOD Can You Just Go Away Already You Are Annoying As All Hell and I Have Actual Work to Do Here.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I see a lot of Office Manager jobs advertised nowadays that, from the descriptions, are really run-of-the-mill administrative assistant jobs. Can’t tell you how many Office Manager jobs start with “answer phones.” Whatever happened to receptionists?

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      Has anyone taken “Microwave Police and Director of Refrigerator Clean-Up”?

    4. Audiophile*

      I’ve seen Director of First Impressions and First Impressions Associate a lot recently. It’s a fancy title for front desk/reception staff.

      It’s titles like that, which mean absolutely nothing outside of those companies, that make it harder for people to move up or leave for another role. I’d rather have more money in my paycheck than a glorified title I need to reconfigure later on my resume and LinkedIn profile.

    5. PossiblyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

      Hubby used to work for a small business owner who, whenever anyone asked for clarification of their job title (usually in connection with an increase in responsibilities but not pay) would say “Call yourself Director if it makes you feel better”.
      There were almost never any pay rises and staff turnover was laughable. But then, this guy actually begrudged having to have staff at all, and ‘Director’ is still below ‘CEO’ no matter how many you have.

  7. Chelle*

    My company does this and we’re not a start-up. You get titles for facets of your job–team lead, lead installer, product lead–but everyone’s official title is the same as when they were hired. My resume describes the various things I’ve done as sub-headings, so:
    Teapot Development, 2015-Present
    As Teapot Associate, 2015-2017
    *Lead spout team to under-budget go-live with metrics in the top 10% of all organizations
    As Teapot Manager, 2017-Present
    *Mentored three new Teapot Associates on customer-facing projects

    Etc, etc. It isn’t perfect, but it works okay.

  8. Pants*

    I had an employer change my title for technical reasons at one point, but I was told that if I wanted to informally use my old title or put my old title on a resume in the future, they wouldn’t care. Use a title that makes sense on LinkedIn, etc., and plan to clarify, “yeah, they weren’t big on titles and technically called us all ‘teapot worker,’ but I’d be called a ‘teapot production specialist’ at any other company” if it comes up in interviews someday.

    But, ugh, this sucks while you’re at this company.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Are promotions that big of a deal? I’ve never worked at a company that had them and never had one myself. There’s nowhere to get promoted to in small companies.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You can be promoted in small companies, so that’s not an absolute.

      I went from Accounting Clerk to Bookkeeper at my first job. I’ve seen office assistants promoted to account managers. Or of course there’s always the “lead” or “senior” position available in other small businesses. We just promoted a CSR to “senior” and gave them extra authority that they no longer need to clear certain things through their manager.

      Are they a big deal? On a personal level they can be. For a financial reason, they absolutely can be as well. It’s usually a little bit of both.

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      This is definitely an issue at small companies, but there can still be hierarchies and room for growth. I was hired as a manager, promoted to director after a year (that was in my agreement up front – trial period as manager, then take over the team). If you’re doing the same thing year after year, then a title change may not make sense. If you’re looking to expand responsibilities, I feel like you need to do more work to outline your new role/responsibilities/title/pay to your boss, but it’s definitely doable.

      If I’m still here in a few years and I work on expanding my team and responsibilities, I think a title change could make sense. Part of the issue here is trying to create a new role and not take on my boss’s role, because that’s really not my goal (please don’t leave me, boss).

      1. Amber Rose*

        My responsibilities have tripled over the years, but this is a SMALL company. Everyone is the same. What growth? Our teams don’t grow or change. My boss has been here since the company started and will never leave.

        I get raises when I ask for them.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It depends on drastically on the company itself and it’s scope. A lot of small companies are steadily growing with the anticipation of being a mid-sized company as well. This isn’t the case with yours for some reason, which happens. Sometimes you cap out and reach your peak, you don’t need to grow so you just don’t bring on anyone else.

          A lot of times though, since you’ve had your duties tripled instead of bringing in someone else to help, that’s a greedy business plan. They don’t hire other people because they don’t need to. When you leave one day, they may need to hire 2 people to do all your jobs. I’ve seen that happen a lot over the years.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          If your responsibilities have tripled over the years, that sounds like job growth that would be promotion-worthy in many organizations.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I have essentially the same title as my very first job because I am a subject matter expert (think Alpaca Geneticist) and the only promotion would be into management. What has changed over time, whether withing the same employer or between them, is my pay and responsibilities. I think the importance of promotions is very field dependent

    4. Willis*

      Sometimes a promotion could just recognize that you’re doing pretty much the same job but at a higher level. My small company has associate, seniors, etc. levels in front of a job title and you could get promoted to the next without it meaning a whole new position, although you may be taking on somewhat more responsibilities or working with more autonomy.

      1. Amber Rose*

        We don’t have enough people for that to make sense. We have three departments, and a head of each department, and then the company owners. If you’re not the head of the department, you’re either a tech or systems support. That’s all.

        1. Willis*

          Maybe there isn’t in your company, but there could still be different levels of experience (and job title/senior) among staff members in a small company. I’ve worked in a really small company and got title improvements /raises as I got more experience and took on some higher level tasks. Sure, it will depend on your company but my point is that it’s not universal that promotions don’t happen in small companies.

        2. Buttons*

          In lots of cases, promotions don’t just mean into management, they are an acknowledgement that your level of expertise and skills have increased and to replace you and to hire someone who could do the work you do, at the level you do it at, they would need a person at a higher level or divide the position into two positions.
          If your company isn’t doing that, they aren’t thinking about the possibility of people leaving- either because they move on to a place that does have advancement opportunities, illness, or for life changes like children or relocation, or retirement. What happens when someone leaves your company? Do they hire someone at an entry-level?
          That being said, it isn’t that unusual in small companies or in smaller non-profits, but because they aren’t thinking about those things it makes life harder on everyone when a person leaves, harder to retain people, and harder to replace people.
          Hopefully, it is a great place to work, turnover isn’t high, and you and your coworkers are engaged and satisfied.

          1. Buttons*

            Here is an example from my own company, in the department I manage. Reporting to me I have an instructional designer level 2. In the next year I have her working on some things that require a higher skill level that she has gained over the previous year’s projects and she will have a bit more autonomy. If she performs at that level I will increase her to a level 3. Her job isn’t changing, but her competencies will have increased and she will be promoted to a higher level, with a higher salary. I hope that helps illustrate what we are saying.

    5. Quinalla*

      For small companies, often there are not really promotions, but often level of responsibility change or level of autonomy change. My first real job was at a small company (About 20 when I was hired, 5 people at its smallest, was up to 9 when I left) and yeah, we didn’t really have titles or official promotions, but we did have unofficial things that folks knew. It worked ok, but does not smoothly translate to medium/large companies very well. I ended up using a title that made sense based on my years of experience on my resume and had no issue. If you are really worried, you can put your actual title on your resume with a more traditional title in parenthesis, but I’d just put the traditional title on there and then explain in your interview that it was a small company so your official title was actually X.

      My current place is medium sized (for our industry, we are ~150 which is tiny in some industries :) ) and we definitely have real titles and promotions, but there is still plenty of unofficial responsibility and autonomy stuff that happens here too.

    6. DrinkingStraw*

      I was promoted (with raises) when I worked in a small design firm that never had more than 3 employees at a time. I started as a jr. designer and when the senior designer left, I went up to designer and left the company as a senior designer.

      For my industry there is a huge difference in knowledge, capabilities, responsibilities and salary from jr. to senior designer. I actually worked to have my title changed when I started working in-house and was the “Creative Services Associate,” which is pretty meaningless in my field and at best kind of implies you’re doing production work. (There’s nothing wrong with production work, it’s just typically paid a lot less and is more on the technical side of design, which isn’t where I wanted to go.)

      I’ve worked my way into another promotion and title change at my current job (not so small, but not huge) that fits their strange naming conventions but will also allow me to turn that into a move to art director or creative director when I’m ready to leave here.

      Essentially each title change is bump in salary and responsibility for me, so I see them as very important.

    7. Anon for this*

      Are promotions that big a deal? YES! My income quintupled over the years mostly because of them! My partner’s has quadrupled. What a question.

  10. Not the Boss*

    Admittedly, I’ve worked for the same company for a dozen years, but I call myself whatever is going to get the job done. Sometimes I’m the Finance Manager, sometimes the HR Manager, other times I’m just the person who answers the phones and has no idea how to solve your problem.

    1. Dan*

      I work for a big company, and while we all have titles, nobody uses them. I mean, we know what they are, but unless you are in management, “technical track” titles are worthless. As in, many of us are some version of “systems engineer.”

      One day, we were all sitting down for some external meeting prep, the project lead starts the meeting with, “ahem, alright, what should we call ourselves on the intro slide?” I enthusiastically said, “blah blah systems engineers”. Her response was “hell no”. I loved it.

  11. TPS Cover Sheet*

    Yeah but no… I just noticed reading through my old reference letters for the dates, I’d used a different title for the job what the actual job reads.

    But, then again, it’s also a cultural thing. Like I worked in a 5-star hotel… downgraded itseld to 4 stars dureing the recession as we couldn’t keep the business floor up… as a ”Night porter”. Now where I come from it means ”night manager” as the ”porter” would be ”night receptionist”, that is, if you had minions. I was running the shop alone. So 50/60…

  12. irene adler*

    The “titles don’t matter” will come back to bite you because you won’t be able to show you moved up in the company via title changes tied to promotions.
    I have the same job as 20 years ago. But the tasks have increased four-fold. But the title never changed. On paper I look like a loser who never progressed in the company.

    1. Tiny Magnolia*

      Yes. This.

      I had one promotion and it included adding “senior” to my job title, but that’s government. Sigh.

      Added responsibilities? Yes!
      Added projects? Yes!
      “All other duties as assigned”? Yes! Why? The answer for that is “Magnolia will do it… she’s great at everything!”

    2. hermit crab*

      I agree that title changes can be a really good shortcut way to show career progression, even if the titles themselves are kinda meaningless. I spent about 10 years at one company and my titles were: Research Analyst, Analyst, Senior Analyst, and Associate. Consulting firms in my field mix and match “analyst”- and “associate”-based titles in a lot of different ways so they don’t make much sense without context, but I like being able to put the series of four titles down on my resume.

      1. Dan*

        In my field, “senior” gets handed out to rather junior people. I see it and laugh now.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s also helpful if you stay at one organization for a long time. I was with one organization for 15 years, but I was continuously promoted up from assistant to director over those years with increasing responsibility. If I had the same title, I’d worry that it looked like I just managed not to get fired every year.

  13. HereKittyKitty*

    A similar problem in my company- they will absolutely use it to pay you less. My reoccurring problem is that HR looks at my title to decide if I’m paid accurately for the position at yearly raises. The obvious problem being that I’ve taken on roles that expand way beyond my current title. If you go by job duties I should be paid around 10k more, if you go by my title, then my pay is on the lower end of what’s “acceptable.”

    Additionally, in an interview recently, my interviewer told me the title on my app was doing me a disservice based on actual duties performed.

    1. Annoyed Architect*

      I had a similar thing. I was seconded from IT architecture to a position in a different team to do product design & architecture. This was a product that I basically designed. It was my baby and they wanted me to do it. That secondment was into a business analyst position because that’s the title of the vacant spot on the team. I speak with the boss about changing it and we agree “titles don’t matter” and we can fix it up later – there’s more fun things to do. Of course we don’t. Anyway, life goes on, I do technical design, market research, prototypes, business plans, turnover, profit, pricing models etc. etc. Fast forward a year or so and (once again) I put a strong case for a significant raise using various market research and my value to the company/product. My boss agrees. HR basically ignores all the facts and tells me that I’m overpaid for a business analyst. End Of Story.

  14. AnotherCorporateStooge*

    Titles at my job matter… sort of.
    Public facing (internally to the company and out)
    Assistant, Manager, Senior Manager, Director, Senior Director, Vice President, Division President

    Internal facing (only known to you and your bosses)
    Assistant 1, Assistant 2, Manager (1,2,3), Senior Manager (1 & 2), etc.

    It gives you a sense of promotion and gives you an opportunity to get a raise, but just because you get ‘promoted’ does not mean you get a raise… and, ultimately, doesn’t matter because you’re still doing the same work, you mostly get promoted for longevity it seems…

    I’d argue it matters for your career though, personally, I could care less unless my responsibilities actually change.

    1. Seat Sat*

      Maybe this is industry specific, but I would think that promotions not coming with a raise would be pretty rare and cause a lot of discontent.

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Titles matter outside of your actual office in the end.

    Internally, it’s usually up to all of you to just know what everyone does and where things to or who to bounce things off of. So who cares what you call one another, you know? But yeah, from the resume standpoint and explaining to other future employers what you did and what you can do for them, it matters a lot.

  16. Ree*

    Ohh yes, titles can mean so much!
    My official title is administrative assistant, but I’m not an administrative assistant, I’m an executive assistant and it’s confusing to various departments because they think I’m like a “team” admin but I’m not, I’m the admin for five of the executive team members and I’m not really cleared to help the broader teams, but they don’t realize that because we ALSO have admin assistants who DO help the broader teams.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh and there’s a big distinction between administrative assistant and executive assistant if you ever leave that organization.

      1. MagicUnicorn*

        My office once had an entry-level, very green administrative assistant whose main responsibility was stocking the copy room with supplies. She tried to get around that distinction by labeling herself as the “assistant to the company_name executive team” and it did NOT go over well with the executive assistants who were supporting the C-suite.

      2. Nessun*

        100% Try getting a job supporting a C-suite if your resume says Administrative Assistant and not Executive Assistant – do not pass Go, do not collect a new salary.

  17. not a concierge*

    I worked at a company where I was primarily an office manager, but also acted as an EA to one of the directors and supported research for various projects. All this and they called me a “concierge.” I changed it to office manager on my resume because…that’s what I was, and I don’t work in hospitality. I can’t understand how titles wouldn’t matter to someone with all the issues it can bring inside and outside of the office.

    1. A tester, not a developer*

      My company just went through a huge process to try and align our titles with industry standards. Apparently they were having issues getting qualified candidates; using your example, we’d be looking for an office manager but would get applicants with a hospitality background because we posted for a ‘concierge’.

    2. Julia*

      I was more or less office manager (plus preparing for and presenting events and interpreting for the big guys) and my office labelled me “secretary”. There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary, but they do tend to get mistreated (which I did), so I wasn’t happy about having that title.

    3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Was there any blowback to putting that title on your resume? Alison advises against it, but I don’t know how to reflect my actual job when my title screams “entry level.”

  18. AvonLady Barksdale*

    When I was interviewing for my current position, the title my boss intended to use was one that I had had several years before in a different job, with a more structured system. Part of me thought titles didn’t matter, but another part of me thought that if I ever wanted to get back into my old industry, I was going to have a REALLY hard time because it would be hard to explain why I went so far backwards. As I was contemplating this, he said to me, “I’m actually thinking of changing the title because I want it to reflect something different.” He did, thank goodness, and saved me the discussion.

  19. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    One of the large employers around here, when you upload your resume to their applicant tracking system, only sends your employer/titles/dates of employment through the parsing system. Not job descriptions.

    I am not optimistic about getting a job there, because many of the jobs I’m safely qualified for based on duties, I am not based on the fact that my previous two employers were sloppy with titles.

  20. MsMaryMary*

    I have a different but related issue with job titles. In my industry, it’s common to have broad job titles that could mean different things at different organizations. For example: project manager, account manager, account executive, consultant. I feel reasonably comfortable using my resume, cover letter, and hopefully an interview to indicate my level of responsibility and job duties. However, we’ve been burned a couple times by hiring people who had the same job title at a competing firm, but whose work was more reflective of someone a level or two below. (Don’t get me started on hiring and recruiting at my company. If people are checking references they’re not doing it well).

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I have this issue – my title is fairly generic and my level designation doesn’t mean much outside the very large company. My title also doesn’t fit my actual degree, skills, or experience but there is no better fit. I add modifiers to the title on my resume to reflect the actual work I do, so it’s recognizable to people who are familiar with my field.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      The project manager title is shamelessly used as a catchall, and other industries have a lot different scope to manage. That one is a pet peeve of mine since that’s my current title! I always feel I need to explain that my job requires a lot of technical and “soft” expertise and is kind of sought after role in my company. IDK what my problem is, ha. I either have a big ego, or I want some credit for all the pain I’ve gone through over 20 years to get here.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is something that I’ve ran into as well that’s made hiring people difficult as well. The lack of uniformity of titles is painful at times.

      It’s like the places who call their receptionist an Office Manager. They’re only greeting and checking people in, giving out directions and forwarding calls, etc. Then they apply for our Office Manager position, which clearly states in the description that it’s actual office management, including managing the customer service/administrative team, doing the bookkeeping, hiring/firing office staff, processing payroll, etc. It makes me die a little inside each time, not gonna lie.

      1. Anonym*

        This is just one perception data point, but I’d expect the role you’re describing to be something more like Operations Manager or Ops Head or Head of Business Administration. Or something with Director in the title. Admittedly, my small business experience was all in medical, but Office Manager was typically scheduling, front office, dealing with insurers but never payroll, other HR or accounting. Those were either done by the owner or outsourced. Some did hire/fire their own staff, but not anyone else. Possibly irrelevant, but thought to share just in case!

  21. Mazzy*

    Yeah I have a junior sounding job title and don’t get invited to meetings or get left off stuff, or conversely, other people make decisions in my area because they’re perceived as being higher level. But corporate America views titles as a reward, so, I don’t get one because no one wants to reward me, but at the same time, some people have inflated job titles in place of a raise, so you end up with Director of Program Management who does a lot of basic coordinating stuff, or Senior Programmer who is learning basic coding. Crap annoys me to no end!

    1. Anonymous for this*

      I once attended a meeting which I should not have been invited to, and I said so in advance, but the organizers (senior administration) insisted.

      When I got there, most of the attendees had my job title, a few had a title with “secretary” in the name, and I think one or two had a completely different title. They wanted people who handled the financial sides of our little sub-groups – but that’s almost invariably the “(Senior or Intermediate) Secretary” at our level, which the higher-ups obviously did not know. The Admins don’t do money. And just to make things more confusing to seniors and outsiders, we have two types of admins, and the acronyms (my employer loves acronyms) are the same. Think China Teapot Administrator and China Teapot Assistant, with a fair salary difference between the two classifications. And how the duties are split up depends on the size of the subgroup with said admins. Clear job titles would simplify matters a lot.

  22. 8DaysAWeek*

    I am reviewing resumes right now for a position in our group. To me a persons’s skill-set is most important. But to your question around titles:
    For the external candidates, the titles don’t really matter to me because I don’t know what those titles mean in their company. Dog Groomer 1 vs Dog Groomer Specialist….I don’t know the distinction and who would have greater responsibility.
    For the internal candidates, I do rely heavily on them and for how long they had that title. For example have they been in a lower-level position for too long…why aren’t they advancing after so many years? But on the other hand I also take into account that maybe their manager never promotes.

  23. Manager now*

    It matters. I had the title of “coordinator” once, which is standard for my job (nationally). Turns out my company used the title of “coordinator” for lots of things. I was technically managing a program…running PI projects, lots of data analysis, education for my company and all contracted companies, developing all sorts of things, and owning a lot of confidential information (among other things)- all across multiple service lines. My department then got merged with another and we moved to another floor. I came back from maternity leave to discover they had moved my office into an open room with 4 other “coordinators”- people who’s sole job was to schedule appointments.
    Had to fight to get an office back. I had never minded being called a coordinator until I realized that title meant lottssss of different things.

    1. Mazzy*

      Oh yes this was what was going to happen if I took the offer from my last company when another one bought us. I hadn’t realized how deflated my title was until the other company’s only slot for me was in a much smaller role, which was what that title truly was. I couldn’t do it

    2. Overeducated*

      I had this issue when I was thinking of going from public sector to nonprofit a couple years ago – realized that in government “coordinator” was a descriptive title and could be mid- to senior-level, but in nonprofits around here it seemed to just mean “entry level.” As someone who’s definitely not entry level…yikes.

  24. Agent J*

    Companies who say titles don’t matter but give them to senior staff are contradicting themselves a bit. What they really mean is titles don’t matter for staff under a certain seniority. If you need to distinguish between VP, Director, and Manager, then it should matter for those who report to them.

    A few jobs ago, I negotiated a title upgrade that has helped me in negotiating salaries for each new job after. It might not matter for every industry, but job titles in my industry to hold a certain seniority / indicate a certain skillset which means you can ask for a salary that matches.

  25. Turquoisecow*

    My old company was fond of doing mass lay-offs under the guise of “position eliminated” and then telling those of us who remained that we had a new job…which was basically the same job we’d been doing. I started as a specialist, then became a clerk, then (to justify a raise) was bumped “up” to coordinator, where I was still doing basically the same job I’d done from day one.

    Then they did a really big layoff and merged several jobs into one and came up with a title that described a tenth of what I was doing. When I went to job hunt (because by that point the company was clearly on its way out, and indeed declared bankruptcy and ceased operations a year or so later), I didn’t bother with the new title and stuck with one that matched what I saw at other companies. Most of my coworkers did the same.

    Titles, at least in my industry, are far from universal. My advice to OP would be to try to match your job “title” to what other workplaces are advertising that’s similar to what you’re doing. No one is going to mind if you call yourself a clerk or a coordinator when your company didn’t, as long as they see you were doing the same tasks they’re hiring for.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, my current title is proposal writer which, like you, is only a fraction of what I do. Most of my time is spent doing technical editing work, content creation in the form of training guides, coaching of sales staff who actually writes our proposal content that I clean up, and (pretty soon), software implementation and administration. Now to be fair, my role is newly created and the hiring managers didn’t know what all I would be doing – I’m essentially shaping this role day-to-day as I figure out process gaps and support needs. I have a title in mind that I think is way better and more broadly encompasses what I’ve ended up doing, so during my next performance review, I’m going to bring it up and ask if my title can be changed to more accurately reflect my work. Right now, the title and my accomplishments on my resume look completely incongruous.

  26. Powerpants*

    My title is “office assistant”. I have been at my job for 10 years and everyone says that I run things around here. /: Help. Ugh.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Have you asked about changing your title to Office Manager by chance? Sometimes it’s as simple as that.

      I had that discussion with bosses who weren’t concerned with titles but I wanted to hammer something out that wasn’t something cringeworthy or just simply wrong.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      To paraphrase something I read (I can’t remember who or where, sorry!): if you introduce someone by saying “she really runs things around here” or “she keeps us all sane” or “I don’t know what we’d do without her” you are underpaying that woman.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Or you’re patronizing her when you say that. IF they really felt that she ran things, she WOULD be paid double. No one ever compliments the SVP by saying she really runs things around here. They say she’s really grown the organization, grown profits, “turned things around”, or whatever.

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        Now that I think on it, I’ve never heard a man introduced as “oh we all know he’s the one who’s really in charge here” or “we couldn’t get anything done without him”. Huh.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        When she holds a lower title, I can readily agree with this statement. [Like our friend Powerpants, here. Running the show and having an “office assistant” title, yuck.]

        However if you are properly titled, not always the case. I’ve rarely been underpaid and the places who did underpay, did it due to their actual capital available. I was still paid fine enough compared to everyone else within the organization, it was still management pay etc. Granted I worked for a decade for a man who stopped taking a paycheck and paid me more than anyone else to run his business, so my POV is very much skewed given that personal twist.

  27. GrooveBat*

    They absolutely matter. I learned this the hard way. After four years of leading a team in an informal capacity, I asked my boss for the official title. He said I didn’t need a title to prove my value and to just keep doing what I was doing. Six months later, he hired someone into the “official” team lead role and gave HIM the title I wanted.

    So, yeah, it matters.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I had this kind of discussion with a manager-equivalent person for a much lower-stakes situation. He gave someone else (a favored employee) more credit for a project that I objectively contributed more to, and then tried to tell me that it didn’t matter because I still got some credit. I asked him since it didn’t matter to him but it mattered to me, why not change it? He did, but I don’t know that he ever really understood why I was willing to go to bat for it.

      I’m sorry your boss screwed you over.

      1. GrooveBat*

        I got my revenge. Sort of. New guy flamed out and I finally got the role (and an even better title), along with a nice raise.

  28. Brian*

    During the dot-com boom some friends from college and I started a company and gave ourselves outlandish exaggerated job titles. I was “Chief Operating Officer.” We ended up folding and I had trouble finding another job until I changed how I listed it on my resume. Two recruiters told me I was overqualified because the position in question wasn’t a management position. One said they were afraid I’d run off and try to start another company.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What did you change your resume to, out of curiosity? I think it would be helpful to a lot of others who have had similar instances to know the trick to putting your own company on your resume.

      I won’t lie, I don’t readily interview people who have “Founder” or “Owner” or any high ranking title from a clearly defunct business adventure listed on their resumes. I rarely think of it as over-qualified though. It always makes me wonder and obsess over how they’ll operate in an office position where they’re answer to multiple bosses though, since I’m familiar with the alpha personalities that tend to come along with the entrepreneurial spirit. When I’ve discussed this kneejerk reaction with others, they have a similar outlook. Which stinks because it really does make it hard for people who have to re-enter the workforce after wrapping up a failed business adventure.

      1. Acornia*

        Or even a successful business venture that they sold because they were tired of 70+ hour work weeks. I’m wanting to move to an organization *because* I don’t want to run the ship any more. I look forward to having my own small niche!
        Not everyone is leaving business ownership because of failure. Some have very thoughtfully considered what it means to move back to the employee role and are fully aware of what that means.
        So it’s extremely discouraging to hear this. Please reconsider your attitude.
        Sold my business, took time off to recover from burnout, and ready to join a company I don’t own.

        1. Ginger*

          ^My recommendation is to really highlight that in your cover letter. (I had a coworker who was having a hard time getting a permanent desk [BigLaw often has “floater” admin staff] who had previously been “Office Manager” and in talking to her, it became clear that folks internally interviewing her were worried she would be bored. I suggested she start replying with something along the lines of “it was a great learning experience but I found I really miss providing direct support to a small team, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to that” and she got a spot at her next internal interview. You definitely want to just address the fear upfront and smoothly.)

  29. JJ Bittenbinder*

    I had a similar-but-backwards issue in a previous company. A lot of the grant-funded positions didn’t have a lot of budget to work with so salaries weren’t great. A lot of the people responsible for hiring staff under those grants went kind of rogue with titles, thinking that if we can’t pay them well, at least we can make them feel better with a snazzy title. Cue lots of JDs going out with Director of X and Administrator of Y titles that the job functions really did not support. This had gone on for quite a while before I got there and part of my role was harnessing this all and creating job bands/families. We’d have people whose salaries were so out of whack with what they were called, and it really did create some internal issues.

  30. Clever Name*

    I work at a company that was resistant to having functional job titles for a very long time. We are not a startup–we have been around for over 25 years!!–but for a long time we had lot of characteristics of a startup, which did not serve the company well. For example, until the last 5 years or so, the management structure was flat. It was the owner/CEO as The Boss, and then everyone else. It worked okay until we hit about 20-30 people, and then we hit a wall. Working was difficult and stressful. I didn’t know which projects had priority, and literally no one else knew either. Balancing workload was nonexistent. Project managers went to the best scientists to work on their projects, so the folks who were really good at their jobs were overloaded while others were underutilized. Staff was told to “push back on the project manager” when conflicts with workload or deadlines arose. And part of this startup culture was the owner’s insistence that folk’s job titles simply be their degrees (except for them, of course). It kind of made sense for a while, as we are a consulting company and we hire scientists and engineers. But as soon as we had to hire folks to help with things like IT and pulling together proposals, cracks started showing (the communications major we hired to handle proposals got an actual job title of “proposal coordinator”). It became apparent to me how silly the system was. For example one of our senior project managers was doing high level tasks such as negotiating site cleanup standards with state agencies, but since we were a flat management structure with no effective job title, he was signing documents as “scientist”.

    I think what finally broke the pattern was when the company went through a long overdue and much needed restructuring. I actually got a boss who managed my day to day work, and her job title was “group manager”. I totally agree with Alison that not having effective job titles can hold your career back. I finally asked for and got “senior” tacked onto my job title (which is still my degree). It just makes so much more sense when I interact with regulatory agencies or I sign my name as the reviewer of a document. If you can, advocate for a job title that reflects your actual job duties. If you think you can get away with it (if you’ve asked and it seems that management is dragging their feet in responding to you, but I wouldn’t do this if you are told no) start signing your emails with your desired title. I realize this is a risky move, so don’t do this unless you’re sure there won’t be negative blow-back.

    Frankly, I think the “titles don’t matter” attitude is naive at best. I think many (most?) startup founders start their companies as a reaction against Corporate America (TM). But there’s a reason why basically every successful company has things like job titles and management structures.

  31. sweqehas*

    My guess is, he’s thinking “titles don’t matter here”, but you’re not always going to work there. Plus when dealing with vendors or what not, your title make make a difference, so this is a very short-sighted way of thinking.

  32. K.Rae*

    I worked at a company who didn’t really care how their job titles looked to the outside world and hadn’t bothered changing them since they were a mom and pop operation. But the equivalent of senior managers were titled as coordinators, directors as senior coordinators. I heard many stories from my friends in HR/recruiting where people with 1-3 years worth of experience were applying for coordinator positions that needed 10-12 years of experience simply because the job was advertised as a “coordinator”. They not only had to sift through so many irrelevant applications but they found out later that the jobs weren’t even hitting the right audience of job seekers because the algorithms automatically classified them as entry-level.

    And on the flip side of that, many colleagues would use a “made-up” title on Linkedin. There was definitely some variations on what exactly the equivalent of a coordinator was, ranging from manager to senior director (that one guy got a major eye roll from me when I saw it).

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I think I’ve seen more of the opposite, where a job is advertised with a fancy title and then they want 2-3 years experience. I saw one the other day that came to my email from an athletic event company because I subscribe to their event updates. It was for a Director of Operations, required 2 years experience and paid about $40k. Plus, hope you enjoy working weekends!

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      For years, I worked in an industry without title standardization, and it made interpreting resumes and identifying jobs a nightmare. One progression might go assistant, specialist, manager; another was analyst, coordinator, manager; yet another was specialist, analyst, director. I once had to explain to HR that appropriate applicants might be titled senior analyst, specialist, coordinator, or project manager, just depending on where they worked, and they didn’t believe me until we ended up hiring a senior specialist and a project manager for the same job (that had a completely different title within our organization).

  33. Tiny Magnolia*

    Yes. This.

    I had one promotion and it included adding “senior” to my job title, but that’s government. Sigh.

    Added responsibilities? Yes!
    Added projects? Yes!
    “All other duties as assigned”? Yes! Why? The answer for that is “Magnolia will do it… she’s great at everything!”

  34. Jack Be Nimble*

    My company is struggling to fill a high-level role (requiring advanced degrees, specializations, and professional certification) because it has an entry-level title. Essentially, we’re looking for a llama groomer with 10+ years experience, a doctorate in ungulate physiology, and experience overseeing a large curry comb department, but the position is titled ‘curry comb coordinator.’

    Titles manage internally and externally — it’s hard to advertise a position with a vague, misleading, or non-existent title.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, few people with that level of experience would take that job because it reads like demotion.

      1. Untitled*

        Forget “take” the job. They would probably scroll on by after looking at the title and not even read the job description.

  35. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I was thinking of the converse of this. No raise, but we will give you a title. I always thought that was the biggest load of bullshit.
    I was wrong.
    Carry on.

    1. Alenyaka*

      I work at a non-profit that cannot always offer raises. Especially right now with budget issues. I’m the HR Manager here, and I always offer up titles to more closely match what the person is doing to help them both internally, and whenever they choose to leave for the future. My goal is to set them up well, and managers and employees are loving it. The titles still match the general format and levels we have internally so as not to mess up equity, but it’s EXTREMELY important to have a title. When I was a recruiter, and now that I oversee recruitment I can tell you titles are often times way more important than actual job duties.

  36. Semprini!*

    I feel like if management truly believes titles don’t matter, employees should be authorized to make their own titles for use on things like business cards and LinkedIn. After all, it doesn’t actually matter!

    1. Not the Boss*

      At one point, I did have my own cards made up that called me Queen of the Universe. It amused me. Then I lost the box of cards in an office move, and never bothered to get more made (it’s been 6 years now).

  37. Spreadsheets and Books*

    I work in a field where titles are extremely rigid and follow a set progression up the ladder, so it matters a great deal where I am. I actually recently switched companies almost solely for the title bump. Depending on where you work, they can be very important.

  38. dumb dumb*

    Wow! This is super relevant for me. I was just (like, literally seconds ago) talking to a coworker about how annoying and aggravating having everyone at our company, who isn’t a manager, titled at “Technician” from the moment they start until the moment they move on to another company. Those of us who have not only trained and become proficient in our job duties, but who have taken on more responsibilities are feeling incredibly unappreciated and underrated. Not to mention that no job title change equals no salary increase! I just wish I could print this off and sneak it into the quarterly reports that the CEO and the Board of Directors get!

  39. noahwynn*

    I never thought titles mattered. I was with the same company for 10 years and after being promoted from Specialist to Supervisor about 6 months in, I never was given a title change again. Problem was the role changed drastically and I ended up running one of the 4 core operational departments. When the company merged and I started looking for a new job, I had to constantly explain what I did in my previous role. Now I definitely push for title changes, even if it is small like Manager to Senior Manager.

    1. Faith*

      It’s actually not that small. When I had my title on LinkedIn listed as “Manager”, I would get messaging from recruiters about manager roles as well as senior analyst roles. However, when my title changed to “Senior Manager”, I completely stopped getting messages about senior analyst roles, and now get messages about manager or director level roles. It’s kind of silly because a senior manager title itself does not indicate your level of experience, but it does seem to put you in a different “box” in the eyes of some recruiters.

  40. Anonymous Educator*

    Why not have the founder of the company take on the title Front Desk Receptionist and then have the receptionist take on the title Founder, if the founder truly believes titles don’t matter?

    Oh, seems they do matter after all.

    It kind of reminds me of those people who are like “I don’t care where we eat. Doesn’t matter.” And then you suggest five or six different restaurants, and they found one reason or another to shoot down whatever suggestion you make.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      And the executives who think open offices and hot desking are wonderful and foster culture, while they sit behind their closed door offices

  41. Anonymous Educator*

    When I’m searching for a job and am in no rush to find a job (just curious to see what’s out there), I actually kind of like not having my job title match my duties exactly, because it shows me who’s actually paying attention to my résumé and who’s paying attention to only titles or using some horrible algorithm to screen applicants. That means I can dodge a few bullets.

    But when I desperately need a job (e.g., moving across the country at a particular time so need a job before I move or shortly after I get there), having mismatched job titles is really annoying for the exact same reason, because I’m less picky about potential employers, since I need a job in a particular limited time frame.

  42. Faith*

    I used to work for a company where you could not get a “Manager” title unless you had at least 3 direct reports. You didn’t even have to supervise their work, they just had to report to you on paper. So, those of us that had the expertise and the experience and were doing manager type work, but did not have any direct reports were called “Master”. I kid you not. I kept joking that I was going to put “Mistress of Teapots” on my resume. To make it more confusing, the title “Master” was only used for some purposes, but not others. For example, the official title for my position was “Senior Teapot Analyst II”, which doesn’t sound anything like manager.

  43. anonynora*

    I work at a very small company (not a startup though) that’s like this. If you’re not managerial or in a client-facing role (such that the bosses buy you business cards with your title on them), then at best you have what department you’re in. Which means… let’s see, after the last round of layoffs I’m one of only two people in the 15-person company without an actual job title. Makes me feel mighty valued, let me tell you.

  44. AnotherAlison*

    Okay, one thing I’m curious about. . .for those without titles, was there a job posting when you hired into your position? What did it say? I guess for a startup, it wouldn’t be crazy to get hired via a conversation with someone you know who just says, “We need someone like you, come work for us,” without getting into titles, but anyone in this situation who actually had to apply for the role?

    1. Untitled*

      Been in this situation and applied for the job. Ad I responded to at the time said something like “Junior Marketing Role”

      I was never given a title when I started, just an hourly wage and was made part of the “XYZ Marketing Function Team”

  45. Nessun*

    I was an EA until last year, when I moved in to a new role. My old job title was never Executive Assistant, but that’s probably what I’d have used on a resume if I was job searching, because my exact job title didn’t explain anything. When I moved to my new role, one of the things that my boss and I agreed on was that no matter what, the role would be called some form of Manager (he eventually chose the title – he created the role), and it wouldn’t mention admin work. His idea (which I agreed with) was that if I chose to move on once he retired, this title would help me get in on jobs where my experience and skill set matched but the employer wasn’t looking for an EA specifically. It will open doors, I’m sure – though I don’t want to go anywhere!

  46. Jules the First*

    This is the first job where I’ve actually had a job title – and the irony is that my current job title does not reflect what I actually do!

    My first professional job had no title and they used to introduce me as “the office genius – like the Apple store, but for life instead of just your iphone”, which, come to think of it, was a pretty accurate description of my job.

    My next job had no title and no job spec – they literally hired me to do “blank” for £Xx thousand a year. That was fun.

    Neither of these has ever held me back, (my linkedin says “equivalent to X”) but the current job makes it difficult to actually have a title, because the title I’ve got is one rung lower than what I actually do, so I struggle to hire a second in command because the title on offer is sub-par. Sometimes titles matter, sometimes they don’t.

  47. BossLady*

    I’m in government. We have civil service job titles that are super vague and cover tons of different jobs. But we also have functional titles that indicate level and work better. I usually list both on my resume:

    Functional Job Title (Civil Service Title).

    Given, it’s pretty standard in my government context so I know no one would consider it a problem to do that, I’m wondering if you could do something like that? As long as you aren’t inflating it, I would think it would be okay.

    1. Kiwiii*

      I’m here with you, a lot of the lowest titles across the agencies I’ve been working with are some variation on Program Associate. Which is fine and recognizable, but it can mean they do anything from receptionist to office assistant to mid-level analyst or policy work. I know that I interviewed to be one awhile ago with the impression that it would be somewhere between an office assistant and a low-level policy position, and it ended up being very very numbers and report-heavy. Like surely that was a different job??

  48. ATechRecruiter*

    This probably varies by industry, but I think it’s inaccurate to say that without a title there is no way to formalize promotions. Many tech companies use leveling systems, with or without job title changes, to differentiate your expected performance level and responsibilities. These are often just numbers like being an IC3 or a 62. Those companies who do not change titles when levels change feel that by keeping numbers opaque, it creates a more egalitarian workplace where you’re not really aware that the person next to you just got promoted to a higher level than you, and so when they suggest a crappy idea, you feel just as free to say so as you did before. If tithes writer works in a high-demand field like software engineering, their title doesn’t matter. If they have around the right number of years of experience, a recruiter will talk to them and probe about the scope of their responsibilities and the size of the projects they worked on to determine if they have enough experience for their needs, and if so, the interviewing process will confirm it.

    1. Close Bracket*

      At my last employer, I had a level but no title. So, I was an IC3 in the quality division. But the IC3 level applied to all divisions: hardware, software, quality, program management, facilities, etc. Knowing my level told you nothing about my job.

      I don’t put job titles on my resume for any of my companies. I put projects.

  49. Cheluzal*

    First job that wasn’t a fast food restaurant. I was in college working at a doctors office mostly doing medical record copying and filing. My third year there I gave myself my own title: medical records wrangler.

    Started signing Cheluzal Smith, MRW on my correspondence to attorneys asking for records. The first one that mailed back something with my letters addressed properly my office manager taped to my monitor LOL.

  50. zora*

    Although, the 2nd point cracks me up now that I’m in the PR industry. All titles have been ‘inflated’ to make clients think they have competent people working for them, but it’s at the point that it’s meaningless.
    Entry level positions are Account Executives, then Directors, then we have like 5million “Vice Presidents”, so that is sounds like everyone has experience and authority. But if everyone does, than no one does…. but that doesn’t seem to matter.

    I think it’s silly, but most PR agencies are doing the same thing, so no one is going to change any time soon.

  51. MissDisplaced*

    Titles matter!
    I once had a new manager try to make a change in my job title that would had sounded very much like a demotion. It wasn’t, but here’s why I wouldn’t let them do that:
    > In my field there’s a typical progression; think: assistant, associate, analyst, senior analyst, manager, director then c-suite. To be moved from a manager to associate sounds like a demotion to the rest of this industry.
    > If you continually accept a no-title or lower sounding title, it may put you in the firing line. As in “Why are we paying that Teapot Assistant $80k year? Going rate for a Teapot Associate is only $40k.” And so on. Unscrupulous companies may actually decide to give you a pay cut down the road that “matches” the title.

    Of course this works the other way too. If your title is more grandiose than your actual skills and experience, when you job search you may not be qualified for similar titles. So, it’s important to have titles that are fairly accurate to both personal levels and field norms.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Not entry level, but definitely junior.
      It is what it says: Performs a specialized knowledge function in a particular area as a contributor but not a manager.

      That “knowledge” may be quite difficult and/or have required certain technical skills or education though.

    2. Magenta*

      In the UK it would mean someone has built up a lot of knowledge in their area and is recognised and respected for this, it would certainly not be junior.

    3. CM*

      If an entry-level job is a job that doesn’t require prior work experience in your field, then I think specialist roles can go either way, depending on how the organization is using the term “specialist.” Some will just apply it to every role near the bottom of the org chart whereas others use it to imply that you need to have some amount of expertise already in doing the specialized thing you’re being hired to do.

      So, “Communications Specialist” could mean “our company has several communications roles, and this is the most junior one, suitable for somebody with little experience” or it could mean, “our company has no communications roles, but we want to create one, and we need someone with specialized knowledge of the field.”

  52. pcake*

    I’ve worked for a very small company for over 14 years where we didn’t have titles although we each had our own jobs to do and almost complete autonomy. Then one of our small team wanted prestige and asked for a title; he received one as a manager. Considering there were a max of 7 of us including the owner, and I was not under anyone and was actually manager over most of the rest, I wasn’t sure who he was managing, but he was very happy with his title.

    As a result, the owner wanted me to have a title, too. He felt that having a title might make the vendors and others I dealt treat me with more respect and as a higher up person in the company, which I felt was odd since I’m well-known in our industry. People outside the company treated me well and spoke highly of me, and they never went to the owner as they know I had the authority needed to make deals and get things done, and those I managed treated me like a manager long before the titles. So I got a title that didn’t matter to me, and everyone treated me exactly the same :D

  53. Corporate Betty*

    I found the first sentence of the question interesting—it claims that titles are jot important, but the job responsibilities are.

    Not to point out the obvious here, but a job title is just a shorthand way of communicating what someone’s job responsibilities are. It saves me time when working with others when I can determine who to approach rather than having to survey and quiz everyone in their duties. If someone is very junior I may bypass them for certain requests. It’s efficient.

    I could compare this to mailing a letter using the full street address rather than just a zip code.

    When bosses tell me job titles aren’t important, I translate this as YOU are not important enough for us to bother to take the time to think through an appropriate way to describe what you contribution consists of.

  54. Cait Sith*

    It’s like this at my current company – I work in a different country to where I come from, so my boss has made the argument that job titles aren’t important “here” and I can just describe my role on my CV. Since both countries have the 1-page CV, I am sure this is not true.

    They have argued that they want uniformity of roles, which is dumb because that’s the point: my colleague should be senior because she has been there way longer than the rest of us; I spend half my time doing something completely unrelated to mu job title.

    Needless to say, the C-suite are known as such, despite it being a tiny company. I have no doubt staying there will harm my career development in tbe long run so I am moving on in 2 months.

    1. Cait Sith*

      Oh, and also title creep is absolutely a thing at my current place. One of my poor colleagues resigned with nothing lined up because she was being asked to be a translator, project manager and events/freelancer coordinator at the same time and understandably couldn’t handle the workload.

    2. Magenta*

      “my colleague should be senior because she has been there way longer than the rest of us”

      But does she *do* anything different to the rest of you? I feel like titles need to be linked to achievements/responsibilities not length of service, otherwise she is just getting a different title because she has not left or been fired.

  55. Stained Glass Cannon*

    Titles absolutely matter. In one of my previous jobs, the boss one day slapped the title “Painter” on me in an all-staff meeting, and then declared it would be formalized in the organization structure. Which was horrendous, because in the context of that industry, “Painter” was an entry-level job description, considered a low-value role that was associated with doing all the odd jobs and miscellaneous support work. I was already mid-level at that time, doing some pretty specialized work, and I found it seriously insulting. Granted, boss meant no harm because he was almost completely ignorant of contemporary industry norms. But everyone else at that meeting interpreted boss’s declaration to mean I had been effectively demoted!

    I still hadn’t managed to clear things up before I left. And there is no way I can put that title on my resume and be taken seriously – everyone who saw it would be questioning why I took a job that was such a big step down from the one directly before. To this day I list it as “Teapot Painting Specialist”, which is a more industry-accurate description of the role and more in line with my resume progression.

    OP, it’s not just lack of recognition from within the company you should be worrying about. It’s your ability to match industry norms, and the implications on your career progression.

  56. Going Anonymous for this one*

    I’m a technical writer…started as a plain old TW, went to senior. But here the next step is management, in which I have little interest other than workflow & writing standards. For project managenent & editorial consistency across reorganized groups, it turns out a title really makes it easier to get buy-in from other departments. The diff from TW2 to TW3 was immediate. Since I’ve been here 20 years, I’d been laying groundwork for a title change to Technical Editor. Then they hired an entry level person in another location and gave her that title, because they needed something below junior tech writer.

  57. Magenta*

    My small UK company has been taken over by a much larger, much more corporate, US firm. It is hard enough dealing with all the cultural differences, but the job titles are baffling. We are currently going through a whole load of title changes and it all makes no sense to us, the job titles don’t seem to have any correlation with pay scales, responsibility, management roles, or duties.

    Most of the people in the team I manage had “executive” in their title, in the UK this indicates an entry level position, so a “Marketing Executive” would likely be the least senior position in the marketing department. The new US HR department majorly flipped out when I wanted to recruit a new “Xyz Executive” for my team and before I could do anything I had to change the whole team’s titles to “Xyz Analyst” which makes no sense because they are not analysing any data.

    I’ve now been told that now some of my team will have to change their titles to Junior Analysts, some will be Analysts and others Senior Analysts, one will be some kind of Associate, but I’m not sure what she is associated with. The job titles seem to be based on length of service rather than duties or ability, which seems to reward people for staying in the role and not progressing. My job title will also change, I am currently “Head of Xyz” I manage a department and line manage a team, but I will probably become a “Senior Associate” which is the same job title as a lot of people with vastly different duties and no management responsibilities. I don’t care what my title is from a personal status point of view, I would just like to understand what any of it means.

    1. CM*

      “The job titles seem to be based on length of service rather than duties or ability, which seems to reward people for staying in the role and not progressing.”

      This is so pure. I wish I had it within me to be confused by the idea that people would get higher status titles just because they’ve sat in their chairs longer than other people, but I’m kind of resigned to it by now. You’re right that it makes no sense.

  58. Betsy S*

    Funny/sad story – when he was younger, my ex-husband worked for a large ISP doing phone support. He came in with no technical background but he was a good writer, and started writing articles for the support team. He was promoted to develop and administer the collection full-time , which lived in some sort of knowledge database. They gave him the title: “Database Administrator”.

    Fast-forward a year, the company is sold, new management sees his job title and demands that he administer their Oracle Database and doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

  59. (Former) HR Expat*

    I worked at a large company where titles were very structured. External hires would routinely have titles of Sr Manager or Director in their old jobs and become manager or senior HR Generalist. I was a Sr HR Generalist when I left. In my new job, my title is HR Director. And I’m doing about a third of the work as I did when I was an HR Generalist. I would actually call my role an HR Manager (because I have a direct report) or an HR Generalist, because the work is a lower level than I was doing when I started out in my career 8 years ago. But I’ll gladly take the title bump when I leave!

  60. bovitz*

    in our IT org the title are so generic that they’re basically meaningless. they do indicate progression, but they actually have a “key” in our market compensation data that converts our bullshit titles to standard titles. i encourage my employees to use whatever title makes sense on LinkedIn, etc.

  61. Titles Matter*

    For 6 years my ex-employer kept me at an ‘analyst’ job title. However I was a project manager, program manager, and product owner; I also managed people. Instead of title promotions I got raises and more responsibilities. I was told there was no structure for promotion, we were a flat organization. My job search started, and I realized that I was gaining little traction when attempting to move into official managerial roles outside of my organization.

    I changed my job title on my resume to match my responsibilities, and got a couple of offers. On applications and for background checks I would put my actual job title, as not to lie. Both of those offers got rescinded because my title did not match what I presented on my resume. Luckily, I found an employer that overlooked that fact, operated on references, and I’ve been happily managing ever since.

    My vote – Titles matter.

  62. Lauren*

    I dare someone to introduce the owner to a client / vendor / customer as the ‘Office Manager’ and casually say how he/she manages the entire office. Watch how quickly the founder suddenly cares about titles when he think his is diminished.

  63. Lauren*

    Being a woman and trying to move on to a Director role even that I have all the experience they are asking and still the response I get before I even have a chance to interview is ‘Sorry, we are really looking for someone who has been a director before’. My associate director title isn’t good enough.

    Women have prove themselves and had the title already to be considered, but I check back and almost every time a man is hired and they didn’t have the director title.

    Even If I get past the 1st screen and interview well and they tell me an offer will be forth coming within a week and I’m asking for the low end of salary – someone higher up always cuts me because I didn’t already have the title. Its very common in my industry for this to happen to women in my area. So I’m making a play for the title where I am. I’m asking for only the title change, and my boss (a woman) yelled at me not to take a title change without money because the money will never materialize later. I’m realizing I should have taken jobs with the title in my 20s vs. the money without as I’m further behind and can’t move up now. I can’t go further without the title, so I know I’ll have to take a paycut to get the title if it doesn’t happen here.

  64. NEWBIEMD19*

    Does anyone else remember the episode of that old show “Cheers” where Rebecca talked Woody into thinking that just anyone could get a raise but it takes a really special employee to get a new title? That’s what it kind of reminds me of.

  65. Seat Sat*

    This comment section is super interesting to me, because titles are really really important in my industry. You can have the same job responsibilities as a coworker with a different level of title and it would absolutely be considered during another hiring process.

  66. CM*

    My story of being haunted by a title: A few years ago, I had a job where there was confusion about my title and half of my paperwork said it was the same level as everyone else while half of my paperwork said it was one level lower. I wanted to think of myself as being super chill about it, and reasoned that it didn’t matter as long as I was getting paid the same as everyone else (which, as far as I could verify, I was).

    Well, to this day, I end up having to write junior whatever on job applications because I never pressed the issue, and I don’t want someone to call their HR department and get told that I had a worse title than I said I did. If I could go back in time, I would have straightened it out right away.

    1. Nancy Rodriguez*

      I’m a believer that the title of your role should be aligned with your job description. Often an employee may be taking on more responsibilities and managing others, but yet their title may not reflect a title of manager. Especially if moving to another organization the new employer may not be able to recognized the candidate was actually a manager and not an associate. Great post!

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