Inflated Job Titles

In recruitment, as with client servicing and many aspects of agency life, a large part of the job is about managing expectations.  Whilst I am all about career progression, aspiration, entrepreneurialism and generally being a go-getter, I've found myself wondering about agencies who are re-structuring their agency job-titles.  There is a lot of it around!

In the old days, you knew where you were with a job title.  An Account Executive would be from Grad through to a couple of years into agency life and conversely an Account Director would be more established with anything over 7 years in the industry.  Of course, there have always been anomalies but in general, you knew what level a title equated to and what the role and responsibilities would entail and whether the candidate was qualified for the role and therefore of interest to the client.

Of course, there will always be those who argue that the number of years in the industry shouldn't really impact on the job title and yes, of course, we also see plenty of 'early achievers' who have held positions with big responsibility reasonably early on in their careers.  However, something I hear time and again from my clients is that when it comes to agency life, the number of years does count when it comes to having experienced a number of client sectors, different client personalities, having gravitas and credibility with those clients and therefore building valuable and long-standing relationships with them.  Leadership skills also develop over time and so forgive me if I have a bit of cynicism when I see an Account Director with a couple of years agency experience. 

Increasingly, I am seeing a myriad of new job titles which never used to exist in addition to 'inflated' titles.  A recent Senior Account Director in a NW media agency was earning £36k which is much more Senior Account Manager (SAM) level.   Skills and responsibilities were also in line with a SAM...but the candidate said there had been an agency review of titles and this was now where it was at.  It seems bizarre and without much merit.  I won't be able to place the candidate in another Director level role purely because they are not at that level.  The candidate understood this but was unwilling to amend the title - on some level, employees generally will like a big title - (Think of all the American businesses with VP of this and that).   Cynical me thinks that this is all about ego and therefore might work to retain individuals in a tough hiring market. 

Other popular new titles are Client Partner, Digital Lead, Queen of Digital, Club Executive, VP, Digital Consultant.   I can work with all of these and I accept that it's a point of differentiation.  But each new title pretty much will sit alongside one of the old ones.  A quick Google search on 'psychology of job titles reveals that 'they (job titles) have the power to improve our sense of wellbeing  and control and prevent us from feeling socially snubbed' and 'job titles are few words that hold great power with significant impact on the employee's identity, creativity, behaviour and performance due to their psychological value'.   Hence job titles are not simple tags and that's why HR teams are using them to manage talent within their businesses. 

I suppose I do understand that - I am, after human and I can remember the buzz from my first business card with 'Marketing Assistant' on it.  The business was then taken over by an American Group and it was upgraded to VP Marketing - I felt a fraud even then - I was 18 months out of university and I wonder if that's led to a bit (ok a lot) of imposter syndrome along the way. An interesting consideration. 

Anyway, my point is more to do with salaries relating to the new job titles.  The salaries don't reflect the title and so when an employee is looking for a new role, if they feel that the new job title doesn't match up, it is increasingly becoming 'a thing'.  Even if the salary offered is higher than an existing one, individuals are very bothered by the title.   And because we have agencies all with different job titles and structures and less consistency than in the past, we're coming up against obstacles that never previously existed. 

So, it comes back to managing expectations of candidates and clients.  I do think that the problems are compounded by LinkedIn.  I'm sure that everyone at some point looks up people they have known in the past to see what they're doing and LinkedIn is a very visible marker of how successful someone has been in their career.  

But a note of caution.  This is where the 'years' do count.   A hiring manager will ultimately go back through the career history and make their own decision about where you sit in their business model. They will look at skills, leadership experience, management experience - all of it.  You can call yourself whatever you like but it will likely be very obvious where you are at!