What’s In A Title? A Lot, Apparently

As a bunch of HR professionals spending our days talking to other HR professionals – both partnering to help add to their teams and assisting some with their next career move – we’ve noticed a trend. A trend of rebranding traditional titles with more creative ones, and frankly, we’ve seen some companies run into trouble as a result.

Let’s Look At An Example

Fantastic Company XYZ has decided to title their Director-level roles as “Team Lead”. Their Managers are now called “Team Supervisors”, and their senior associates? They’re called “Team Members”. This all sounds internally cohesive, right? But when Fantastic Company XYZ has one of their Team Leads (i.e. Directors) resign or retire, they need to backfill the position. No one internally is right for the role, so they post it externally. They get flooded with applicants – all with 2-3 years’ experience leading teams of 2-3 people – not Director level applicants at all. The title of the position matters.

So Fantastic Company XYZ realizes the issue, and repost the job as ‘Director of XYZ Division’. They get a more suitable round of applicants applying and select one for the job. The candidate gets the job offer and realizes their official title will be “Team Lead”, which gives them pause to consider if this is the best career move for them. Some might be fine with a non-traditional title, but some might not.

Why Title Matters

In both scenarios, the title chosen by the company has limited the talent pool in an already vicious job market. At first, the job posting likely doesn’t reach applicants who would be at the right level in their career to be considered. When someone is selected, the candidate might not want to take an objectively lesser-sounding title, for fear it could limit their future job options.

Creatively titling roles has its advantages – getting people to think differently about their role and their place in the company – but we can’t ignore the ramifications. We routinely help companies fill roles that have unusual titles, and for the right person, the title doesn’t matter – the nature of the work does. But the point remains – titles matter to many, and we can’t very well pretend they don’t.

What To Do About It

We aren’t arguing against creative titles, but we are arguing for a proactive approach to the hiring and talent acquisition process. That means creating a thoughtful and pragmatic plan before beginning a job search for a non-traditionally titled role. Sitting down with the team involved and deciding, for instance:

  1. Are we going to bend on the title for this role, for the right person?
  2. Are we going to externally title the role as its traditional title?
  3. When will we inform applicants of the internal non-traditional title?
  4. If we use the non-traditional title externally, how are we going to ensure we attract the right applicants?
  5. Is it necessary to take this search beyond job postings and into the realm of active headhunting? When we will make that call?

One international CPG company we recently met with has a policy of allowing its employees to externally use the titles that would be more commonly associated with their position, which is a fantastic compromise, although certainly not the only solution. Click here if you’re having a hard time filling a role because of difficult title and want some outside help – it’s what we do!