You may have heard this one before. As you wait to interview for a new job, you hear the words, “The Director of First Impressions will be with you shortly.” Traditionally, job titles have served as a way to quickly express the nature of an individual’s work. However, companies have used more creative and grandiose titles in recent years in an effort to attract top talent, leading to job title inflation. As an example, you will often find inaccurate job titles on LinkedIn.
In most cases, it’s pretty obvious how it works. Perhaps a company is trying to retain talent by offering a higher title without providing the responsibilities and pay that should accompany it. After being frustrated by uncredited work, a job seeker may devise a creative way to describe their last gig.
Inflated job titles can affect your future career, regardless of the exact reason.
What is job title inflation?
A phenomenon known as “job title inflation” has risen over the last few years. This practice gives employees inflated titles that aren’t accurate. The result? Employees receive the job title but not necessarily the actual responsibilities.
The following are some examples:
- Calling receptionists “Directors of First Impressions.”
- The term “Customer Happiness Hero” refers to a customer service rep.
- Marketing managers are called digital prophets.
- An engineer who has only been in the job a few months is called a “senior engineer.”
“Everyone seems to have been ‘Head of Something,’” Hunter Walk, a partner at the seed-stage VC fund Homebrew, told Protocol. “If you’re hiring folks, you really need to dig into what this means on their resume, rather than just assuming it’s a meaningful role.”
The title “head of” is now often used between director and vice president roles among startups, according to Matt Birnbaum, talent partner at Pear VC.
“It’s a generic way of not giving somebody a VP-level title, especially at these earlier-stage startups,” Birnbaum said.
In the corporate world, this is beginning to catch on as well.
According to Datapeople’s Tech Hiring Report, the tech industry saw a 100% increase between 2019 and 2021 in job titles that included “Lead” or “Principal,” and a 25 percent increase in titles that included “Senior.”
Initially, titles are valuable, so founders should be careful about handing them out. In his advice to founders, Walk recommends starting with a “bland” title structure: “designer” or “engineer.” “A company’s culture might suffer from inflating titles, and strife can arise when hiring someone above them,” said Walk.
It’s okay for the first X people to refer to themselves as the ‘first engineer’ or the ‘founding team’,” Walk advised. However, avoid creating titles that suggest hierarchies.
Is there a reason for job title inflation?
It is possible to explain why job title inflation occurs in a few ways.
- Retaining and attracting talent. Companies use inflated job titles to make their jobs sound more appealing to potential candidates. This may be especially useful when there is a shortage of skilled workers in competitive industries.
- Legitimize an organization or company. To appear more credible, start-up companies or organizations may use inflated job titles. As a result, investors or clients may be enticed to invest in your business.
- Flattering employees. Employers sometimes give their employees inflated job titles to flatter them without actually giving them raises or more responsibilities. You can keep your employees motivated, happy, and productive.
- Keeping up with the competition. Job titles have become a sort of arms race in some industries. As a means of staying competitive, companies may offer inflated titles.
- Identify qualified candidates more efficiently. Using inflated job titles can help you find qualified candidates more quickly. For instance, if a company wants to hire a senior engineer, they may call the position “Principal Engineer.”
- To avoid paying higher salaries. Employers can avoid paying higher wages to employees if they give them inflated job titles.
As a result of title inflation, there are also some negative consequences.
- Misunderstandings and confusion can result. Inaccurate job titles can make it hard for employees, managers, and customers to understand what you’re doing. There is a risk of miscommunication and errors as a result.
- It makes it difficult to compare salaries. Salary comparisons can be difficult when job titles are inflated. The result can be underpaying or overpaying employees.
- Employee resentment can also be triggered by job title inflation. Employees who believe they receive inflated titles while others are not can feel unfair and inequitable at work. Ultimately, this can result in lower morale and higher turnover rates.
- Inflated job titles also discourage qualified candidates from applying. Most often, this happens to women, who only apply for jobs they believe they’re qualified for. The result can be a limited applicant pool and less diversity.
- It can devalue job titles. When job titles are inflated, they lose meaning. Because of this, people can have trouble understanding a job’s responsibilities, and they might have difficulty finding jobs that match their skills.
Job title inflation generally devalues a title and an employee, making securing a job difficult in the future. As a result, employees can stay at the company longer than they want, because they realize they are not qualified for a new position with a similar title.
In the long run, whether the company offers shoddy titles or the employees fabricate their LinkedIn profiles, it can hurt the company and its employees.
What you can do to prevent inflation of a title.
Is there anything we can do about job title inflation? Absolutely. Several methods can be used to prevent job title inflation. The following tips may help:
- Ensure that job titles follow a standard taxonomy. Many standard job title taxonomies exist, including those developed by SHRM and BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Job titles can be more consistent and accurate using a standard taxonomy.
- Identify the responsibilities and requirements of each job title. By doing so, the title will accurately reflect the amount of work involved.
- Match job titles to the organization’s structure. It is crucial to align job titles with the seniority levels in the organization. When posting a job opening, for example, don’t use the title “Senior Manager” if it doesn’t exist at the company.
- Pay ranges should be transparent. Therefore, candidates won’t be misled about salary levels. States such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, New York, and Washington have pay transparency laws. In order to counteract inflated titles, candidates might have access to salary ranges for open positions at the beginning of the candidate journey by knowing more about the experience, job responsibilities, and potential career paths at the company.
- Cooperate with other departments. Coordination with HR and Finance is important when creating a new job title to ensure that it follows the overall compensation structure of the company.
Employers can prevent job title inflation and ensure relevant and accurate job titles by following these tips. However, here are some other tips to avoid job title inflation:
- Write job titles clearly and concisely. Do not use unfamiliar jargon or acronyms.
- Avoid ambiguous or vague titles. Roles’ responsibilities and levels of seniority can become unclear.
- Use industry-standard job titles. Both job seekers and hiring managers will understand job titles this way.
- Keep your job titles consistent. By doing this, you will avoid confusion and ensure accurate job titles.
- Regularly review job titles. Periodically reviewing job titles is vital to ensure they remain accurate and consistent as the company grows.
In summary, job title inflation has become a significant problem in many industries, and it can adversely affect employees and employers. Companies, however, can increase fairness and efficiency within their organization by promoting transparency and honesty.