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Is Your Job Title Making You Miserable at Work?

Topics: Career Advice
job title

Do you have title-envy at work? Your job title (or lack thereof) could be influencing your level of job satisfaction.

When you’re just starting out, having a job title that includes monikers like “junior,” “assistant” or “entry-level” is very common, and to be expected. As your career develops, however, you hope your title develops along with it, reflecting your skills and experience.

It’s not just that you want recognition. A good job title can help you move on to bigger and better things. A bad job title, on the other hand, can hamstring your career.

Do Job Titles “Mean” Anything?

When you can plug some words into a meme generator and find a job title that sounds pretty legitimate, you know you have a problem.

Before you get your resume out to apply for that Corporate Team Consultant or Direct Communications Executive job (both ones I just pulled out through said generator, which is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek time waster, BTW), you might consider how those titles describe the job duties involved.

Hint: they don’t. And neither do many real job titles, either.

What *Should* Your Job Title Be?

In your current job, you have a title. Do you think it accurately depicts what your daily duties are?

Think about what you were first hired to do, what your day consists of, and any expectations you are given for work. If you could reframe your title, would it be a step up or a step down? It’s important to see the growth potential at any job, so if you feel like you’re doing the work of someone up the chain, you should try to negotiate for an improved title as well.

Researching jobs is easy with PayScale’s Career Research Center. You can see your current job title and how it fits into a larger career path. Plus, you can research appropriate compensation for what you do and where you live. (Or: take PayScale’s Salary Survey, and get a salary range based on your full profile.)

Getting That New Job Title

Before you get hired, negotiating a job title that suits you is important as well. If you’ve spent the last three jobs at a “senior” level, you shouldn’t take a job that knocks your title down a notch (to “associate” for example), especially if the duties are more in line with your senior experiences.

Since many states have passed laws that an employer cannot ask for your salary history, “your title is a way for future employers to triangulate your expectations,” says Margaret Neale, author and professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, in the Harvard Business Review.

“Negotiating your title could be a way to tweak your job responsibilities to do more of what you love,” says London Business School professor Dan Cable, in the same article. “Think of it as an opportunity to customize the role more to your skills and interests.”

The Risk of a “Unique” Title

While having a job title that sounds a bit different or quirky might be interesting, or even commonplace in a startup setting, it has its drawbacks as you try to search for new work and recruiters or HR managers can’t figure out what your prior experience was based on your title.

If your title seems weird for weirdness’ sake, you might lobby to change it a bit to best reflect to others what you do here. Do a business card check — if you were to hand someone your card at a party, could they figure out what you do from it?

You Get a VP Title and You Get a VP Title!

The other side of the scale is when there’s no reasonable difference between titles in an organization. Entrepreneur Jurgen Appelo points out that in 2014, the European Commission had one president and a whopping eight vice presidents. Eight!

“It’s no wonder the European Union has trouble making decisions, having as many heads as the Lernaean Hydra,” Appelo writes. (Four years later, they’ve gone down to five VPs, including one “First Vice President.”) When everyone has the same title, there’s little sense of a) hierarchy and b) opportunity for personal growth.

Ultimately, the work you do should be motivating you even more than that first cup of coffee.

“No one gets out of bed in the morning, looks in the mirror, and thinks, ‘I’m the VP of Product.’ Titles don’t get us fired up; it’s envisioning achievement — ‘Today, my team will nail the customer interaction that gets more people to try our product.’ — that spurs us to action,” writes Marcela Sapone, CEO and co-founder of Hello Alfred.

When we work for our passion, and not just the box our title puts us in, we can achieve even more.

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