A Job Title Is Just a Starting Point

You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

A Job Title Is Just a Starting Point

important Titles matter so much and also not at all. During the job search, titles help you align your understanding of how your experience, career stage, and existing leveling might transition into an open role. Similarly, the titles on your resume will help others understand how they might work with you. Some companies will use industry or functional standards for their titles and others will have bespoke titles because the job doesn’t exist somewhere else. Companies may also label the same or similar work in distinct, unique, or seemingly contrary ways, even within their organization! A director at a Fortune 100 is quite senior within the organization and often deep into their career, whereas a director at a startup might run a function and have seniority within the company early on. Their experience and expertise is unlikely to be the same, though the value that each brings to their organization can be significant.

Occasionally during the recruiting process a title evolves or changes because the team learns more about what they are actually looking for and makes a more precise commitment to a level or framing. Perhaps the original title wasn’t attracting the right talent or the right talent changed the context for the role, and subsequently the best way to label it. In other scenarios, the team is testing titles—putting out the same or similar job descriptions under separate titles to see what attracts the people they’re looking to hire.

The variability, the evolution, the testing are all possible scenarios. What’s most important is for you to understand what the label represents and determine if it matches your expectations and aspirations. If the title doesn’t, but everything else lines up, it might be worth doing some research on how comparable organizations title similar roles in order to start a dialogue with the hiring team about whether a change is possible (note, I’d only do this at the late to final stages—it could be too disruptive to the process early on).

How should you think about titles? Titles are chapter labels in the career story but not indicative of the identity or value of the person who has them. After all, we don’t normally get to pick our titles, someone else does or some structure sets them for us. Titles are signals, but we still have to help others cut through the noise. Find ways to understand the “what,” “how” and “to what impact” when you’re learning more about a particular role and calibrate your experience to their frame of reference. Through it all, don’t let titles, your own or those on the job description, limit you. As you do your research and preparation, expanding your search criteria and focusing on what is highlighted within the responsibilities and qualifications section will open up new roles that may be a match for what you’re looking for. Your current title, or the one at the top of the posting, should not be limiting factors into the positions you consider applying to. Working with the right people, on the right problems, toward a meaningful purpose at an appropriate pay rate will mean more now, and over time, than a word or two on your resume or LinkedIn profile.

Activity: Assess the Landscape

In order to find the right opportunities to pursue, you need to expand your search and become aware of the broader landscape of opportunities that could be available to you. This exercise will bring you from the starting point of a single title to a more comprehensive view of the type of roles that encompass the type of skills and abilities you possess (with any number of different titles!).

Find the activity in this Google Doc!

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