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Why Negotiating Your Job Title Matters to Your Career

March 01, 2018

  • Job titles help managers assess your competence
  • Only ask for a better title when you believe you’ve earned it
  • Think of negotiating a job title as an ongoing campaign
4 min read

What’s in a name? A lot, when it comes to your job title.

If you’re interested in moving up the corporate ladder, having a title that accurately reflects your status and experience is vital when it comes to your next promotion request or job search.

Why your job title matters

Job titles are one of the key ways hiring managers make their decisions, says Elizabeth Mattila, director of human resources for a biopharmaceutical industry consultant company.

A mismatched job title may undersell your skill set, causing you to lose out on a perfect job.

“When you’re interviewing for a job, the new company doesn’t yet know you and what you offer, so much of what they judge you on is your title,” she says. “If your experience is more advanced than your title suggests, right from the get-go you’re on a uphill climb convincing a new company of what you’d bring to the role.”

A mismatched job title may undersell your skill set, causing you to lose out on a perfect job.

Sometimes, companies may not have the budget to give raises for a given period of time, but if you’ve put in the effort to earn yourself a more prestigious job title, you should still request it.

This higher title will help when you do start sending out your resume, especially since employers often favor those who are already employed.

“Fair or not, there’s a direct correlation between title and pay,” says Matilla. “Some companies will say they have no titles because they want to get away from what they view as archaic hierarchical levels and put the focus on increasing responsibility as employees grow in their careers. But the reality is, if your title is ‘vice president’, you’re in a stronger salary negotiating position than if it’s ‘manager’.”

When to ask for a new title

But when should you ask—and how?

Toni Littlestone, a Bay Area career counselor with 30 years of experience, advises you to observe the workplace culture and negotiate your title accordingly.

You shouldn’t expect to be given a new title in your first year, even if you’re doing work that’s received praise. If coworkers who started at the same time you did suddenly have new titles, that’s worth noting.

Also, pay attention to titles within your company, as well as on job boards, Glassdoor and LinkedIn, so you know what’s realistic, says Littlestone.

Some people wait too long, hoping a boss will simply notice their diligence and bestow a new title—and possibly a raise—without being asked. While that may happen on rare occasions, it’s unlikely.

Instead, you’ll probably have to schedule a time to discuss the title you want with your manager. Your boss may need time to consider your request and negotiate with more senior staffers.

Littlestone advises you to do so “way in advance of when you want the new title.”

This is part of a long-term career strategy, not about immediate gratification.

“Getting both a new title and a raise are part of a campaign, in which you’re talking with your manager about your goals, how you’re doing, soliciting and following up on feedback, and letting your manager know what you’re hoping for within the year,” Littlestone says.

You can’t expect a title change to happen overnight, especially without knowing what’s expected of the role.

Don’t ask for a job you can’t handle

In contrast to those who are overly cautious in their requests, some people may ask for a new title too quickly, such as after only one year on the job. They may be enamored with the idea of moving up in their organization, even if they haven’t proven themselves yet.

This is unwise and risky, because even if you’re granted your request, you may find yourself in over your head.

Keep trying if you get turned down

If your first approach doesn’t succeed, don’t give up on ever getting that new title. Your manager may not think you’re qualified yet, or there may be internal staffing issues beyond your control.

Littlestone advises you to ask your boss what you can do to advance. Politely inquire whether any aspects of your work need improvement, if there are additional responsibilities you can take on, or skills or education you could acquire.

This shows you’re not just looking out for yourself, but also genuinely want to contribute to your workplace at a more advanced level. However, if you keep getting turned down after following their instructions, it may be time to move on to another job.

Make your case

If you believe the work you’re doing corresponds with a higher title, don’t be afraid to make your case. While those titles often come with commensurate salary raises, it’s still worth asking, even if they don’t. You’ll not only feel more respected, you’ll be in a stronger position to bargain, whether at your current workplace or a future one.

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By Rachel Kramer Bussell

Disclaimer: Rachel Kramer Bussell is a freelance writer. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Stash.

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