When asking for a promotion or accepting a new job, most people tend to focus on negotiating salary and benefit packages, thereby neglecting one of the most important aspects of the negotiation process: the job title.
Your job title carries weight. It signals years of growth and hard work, it’s tied to compensation, and it can make you more or less attractive in your job search. Dan Cable, a professor at London Business School, says your job title can also have a large impact on your day-to-day happiness and engagement. “It is a form of self-expression in the workplace. It is a symbolic representation of what you do and the value that you bring.”
So, how can you decide whether your title is worth negotiating? All your questions about why titles matter, why you should negotiate, and what to consider before negotiating are answered below.
Why do job titles matter?
In short, job titles are what helps you grow and reach your career goals. An accurate job title that reflects your expertise and unique responsibilities is absolutely crucial for your career development.
Not only is it validating for your own worth, but it’s what recruiters and other people use to form opinions and assumptions about your experience and evaluate your competencies when you’re networking or applying for new jobs. For example, if your title is 'software development manager,' then other people will probably come to the conclusion that you design and produce code and supervise a team of developers.
Career development consultant, recruiting expert, and lead coach at Allspring Dana Hundley says, “Even when you know your capabilities and value, job titles are still used by others to make quick, first impressions. Even in flat organizations, or internal cultures that don’t put too much emphasis on titles, externally having a title that speaks clearly to your role and authority can be beneficial.” This is because recruiters often search for specific job titles to find qualified candidates, and if your title doesn’t align with what you really do, you could inadvertently be excluded from new opportunities.
Hundley adds that correct job titles are “especially important for women who unfortunately can need a certain title to be taken seriously in email exchanges or introductions, meetings, promotion considerations, salary negotiations, job searches, etc.”
Why women should consider negotiating their job titles
Because women are already disadvantaged in the workplace—they’re paid less than men, passed over for promotions, subjected to discrimination and harassment, and often excluded from male-dominated fields—job titles are incredibly important when it comes to women’s careers.
Hundley says, “A job title can be a tool to help negotiate your place within your job function or industry, advocate for the appropriate role, responsibilities, and compensation, and support your ability to move fairly up whatever career ladder you see fit for yourself.” In other words, negotiating your job title can help you to be more recognizable to other professionals in your industry.
Arguably one of the most important reasons to negotiate your title, though, is because it directly relates to your salary. Hundley says that having a certain title, or matching your job duties and impact to certain titles, can help you benchmark salaries within your industry in order to aid your negotiations for leveraging more pay internally or when you’re starting a new job.
For example, in most scenarios, a ‘senior graphic designer’ earns a higher salary than a 'junior graphic designer' and a 'software engineer’ has more earning potential than a ‘software engineering associate.’ In order to secure a good salary, it’s important to advocate for yourself and request any necessary changes to your title to illustrate leadership and proficiency.
3 considerations to make when negotiating your job title
Finally seeing the worth in negotiating your title? Good. Consider these points when deciding how to approach the negotiation.
1. Learn how titles work within your organization
Are there certain criteria or core competencies tied to different titles and accompanying career levels? If you want to move into a different title, Hundley suggests either demonstrating your ability to carry out those competencies currently or showing that you have a concrete plan to hone your skills and master those competencies in the near future.
“If there isn’t a title philosophy or standard within the organization, use industry standards to help identify the skills and outcomes that best fit within that title and level. Industry data can help you make the case for a specific title,” she says. “In either case, you will benefit from being able to show what skills, outcomes, and deliverables are within your current scope of work and whether you have a plan to grow into what’s expected within that title.”
2. Keep your own aspirations in mind
After you’ve done your homework on identifying how titles in your company reflect expertise and responsibilities, you should also take a minute to consider what job title would make you feel most valued and empowered. Don’t be afraid to come up with a title that sounds a little more untraditional or out-of-the-box if it’s truly what will help take you where you want to go.
Cable says, “Think about why you’re effective. For instance, imagine that you’re a ‘senior analyst’ at a large consultancy, but what you’re really good at is visual presentations involving data. In this case, you might ask for ‘client artist’ to be added to your title, because that’s the area where you shine.”
3. Advocate for your experience and ask questions
If the job you’re interviewing for doesn’t align with the title as you understand it, take it as an opportunity to bridge the title negotiation conversation. “Sometimes companies consider candidates for roles that have different experience than they expected when they initially scoped the role and are open to different titles or scopes,” says Hundley. “You just need to make sure you’re advocating for yourself. Titles can, and should be, discussed in the same conversation as compensation.”
Hundley says that at the end of the day, “it’s important to ask questions to understand why a title was chosen and what internal title philosophies or standards exist, and then provide your reasoning and supporting data if you think a different title makes more sense.”
About our source
Dana P. Hundley works in people programs and writes about career transitions, talent programs, recruiting, and job searching. Her previous experience includes full-cycle recruiting and managing partnerships & communications; talent programs & career development consulting; and developing and growing internships programs, and she's currently lead coach at Allspring. In addition to writing for InHerSight, Dana has written for The Muse and has been included in various publications including Real Simple and Forbes.com.