An Inflated Corporate Job Title Isn’t Doing You Any Good

June 10, 2011

We’ve all been there before. Early in our career, we’re eager to move up the corporate ladder and make a name for ourselves.

Roof Ladder
Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula to make that happen. Yet as a recruiter, I’ve noticed that some people try to skirt the process anyway, giving themselves super cool and inflated job titles as a shortcut to the top of the aforementioned corporate ladder.

Rather than earning it, those people choose to award themselves a more prestigious (and totally undeserved) title upgrade. But here’s the truth: they’re not fooling anyone.

Recruiters and hiring managers will likely furrow their brow when they come across someone who’s two years removed from college and calling themselves a Vice President of Business Development. Unless that person is a prodigy, that’s a pretty rapid rise up the ladder.

With a little more research, we’re likely to discover that this supposed business guru is one of three people at their company. His partner happens to be the CEO, CFO and COO. Very impressive, indeed.

The bottom line is that a cool job title by itself isn’t a competitive advantage.

Pulling back the curtain

Although you might feel some sense of pride when you hand out a business card with a flashy title, you’re not doing yourself any favors unless you actually deserve it.

Do you really think you’ll be able to hold a conversation with a VP counterpart who approaches you? Of course not – you’ll be exposed and embarrassed immediately. And when recruiters are hunting for someone with your background and skill set, you will be overlooked.

Of course, inflated job titles aren’t always the fault of the person that has them. As an article at HR.BLR points out, companies often resort to handing out undeserved, important-sounding titles in place of actual compensation as a way to retain employees.

The problem? There are significant legal risks involved and it’s not really doing the employee or the company any good. In fact, it’s welcoming trouble.

As employment law expert John K. Skousen explains to “(Job title inflation) can become confusing, disorganizing and difficult when striving to maintain job classifications and proper salaries when the economy bounces back—including dealing with inaccurate job descriptions with misleading duties requirements, which can converge to cause difficulty separating exempt and non-exempt employees.

Skousen suggests adhering to these simple rules when choosing job titles:

  • Avoid negligent promotion: Employers are liable for their employees’ actions if they haven’t trained them properly or if they place them in control of functions they’re not capable of performing.
  • Don’t give overworked staff title changes: If a company consolidates two jobs into one and has that person do the work of two people — but with a fancier job title — it runs the risk of high turnover.
  • Shy away from playing the name game: Titles like “consultant” are thrown around far too often, even if they aren’t warranted. If you hand out titles (or give yourself one) that don’t accurately reflect that person’s capabilities, then you’re risking your reputation.
  • Ensure tax code accuracy: Misclassification of an employee’s exempt or non-exempt status opens the door to a potential lawsuit against the employer for unpaid overtime.

That should be more than enough to convince people (and their employers) to stick to an appropriate title.

Some job titles don’t translate

Steve Blank, an experienced entrepreneur and author, wrote a guest column for VentureBeat last year that detailed the importance of choosing the right job titles at the startup stage. The job role of a VP of Sales at an established Fortune 500 company, for example, is often very different from the same position at a startup.

As a result, young companies need to make sure they’re looking for — and assigning — the right job title when they hire new employees.

So what should you call yourself if you’re one of a few employees at a small startup? At the very worst, Mark Radoff at Liquid HR suggests calling yourself a manager of something. Over the years, the essence of the “manager” title has shifted. It no longer necessarily means someone who directly supervises other personnel. A manager could also simply refer to a task or project owner that includes no one but the manager themselves.

It’s important to note that genuine title discrepancies do exist and that can’t be helped. This is particularly true when comparing medium to large enterprises. Sometimes, a VP at an expansion stage or a medium-sized company is the equivalent to a Director at a large corporation.

But recruiters and hiring managers will likely take that into consideration when they review your resume. As a professional and potential candidate, all you have to worry about is being real with yourself and the rest will take care of itself.

Vic­tor Mahillon is a recruit­ing ana­lyst at Open­View Labs, where he is respon­si­ble for recruit­ment for the firm and its port­fo­lio com­pa­nies. You can fol­low him on Twit­ter @vmahillon.

Director of Recruiting

Victor Mahillon is the Director of Recruiting at <a href="">Kamcord</a>. Previously he was a Talent manager at OpenView.