What’s in a name? Why employers should worry less about job titles

November 14, 2018  |  Future of HR

We’ve all craved a better job title at some point in our career: more authoritative, commensurate with the hours we put in and the expertise we have to offer. So choosing the appropriate title when recruiting can be valuable when it comes to attracting the best applicants for any given role — but it’s only a very small piece of the jigsaw.

With brand new roles and functions being created just as quickly as new technologies and innovations, companies need to offer much more than a glitzy title if they are to compete for the best talent. Advertising for a ‘Director of First Impressions’ or a ‘Marketing Rockstar’ might catch the eye, but what if the title jars with the company culture, or fails to reflect the true nature of the role? If you’re not looking for a transformational marketing person, don’t brand it as such.

Instead, focus on the skills needed to do the job and be transparent about what is expected of an employee in that role by offering a carefully considered and tightly written job description. You might be thinking that sounds obvious. In fact, companies large and small fall into a number of common traps here.

First, employers often rigidly specify a certain number of years of experience, or mandate sectoral expertise, failing to account for the skills and experiences which make a candidate unique. This disproportionately damages the chances of diverse applicants — meaning people with great potential can slip through your fingers.

All too often, companies find themselves fixating on hierarchies as a way to attract and retain people. This doesn’t necessarily follow. Take a good look at your organisational structure and ask yourself whether job titles and existing structures impede or facilitate attraction and performance.

Hierarchy can breed yet another problem — valuing prospective and current employees based on their job titles, rather than their individual contributions. Organisations with deeply ingrained hierarchies will tend to have a significant proportion of demotivated staff, frustrated at their lack of career development, at every single level. High stress and low morale are the inevitable consequences.

Fourth and finally, it is worth remembering this: just as job titles do little to attract the brightest and best, they have equally minimal impact on retention. The old adage that most people leave or stay with a company for one of four main reasons — their career development, sense of leadership, level of autonomy, and compensation — still holds true. How many people have you heard say, “I left because I was no longer satisfied with my job title”?

There are clear lessons for employers here. Think more deeply about your organisational design. Consider the shape of the roles themselves. Look carefully at the way people are valued and recognised for the work they do. And spend a lot less time agonising about what their job titles should be.

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