Nowadays, there are some pretty crazy job titles, and even as someone who works in the career space I’ve yet to fully understand them all.
Then, of course, comes the issue of ambiguous titles. For example, I’m an editor—but I edit articles. In my office, there are other editors that edit copy or video, and yet we all share more or less the same title.
This got me thinking—if I can’t seem to decipher certain labels, how do hiring managers do it?
I spoke with Muse Career Coach and former corporate human resources adviser Jennifer McKay to get the quick answer—and it’s not a surprising one:
They might look to a job title to get a first impression of the level of autonomy and responsibility a role carries, but supporting information like a brief role description, accomplishments, and results will provide more specific information regarding the candidate’s experience and capabilities.
Basically, like me, most hiring managers don’t spend a heck of a lot of time trying to define a title, because that would probably take a while and a lot of guess work, but rather use context—your bullets, your cover letter, your interview—to understand further what your role means in the grand scheme of your team, company, and industry. When I asked McKay if she thought they spent any time trying to decipher it on their own, she told me:
I’m not sure that much effort is put in [deciphering job titles], but your question does highlight that more familiar titles (ones recognizable in their industry or frequently used in their company) might be more appealing to hiring managers. Managers tend to be very concerned with a person’s fit—the likelihood that a candidate will be able to navigate existing group dynamics and culture in a way that will foster their own success and the success of the department. Really crazy titles may be off-putting to some, but a well-written summary statement can head resume-reviewers off at the pass and steer the message to your favor.
What she highlights is important to note: If you find your title is just too complicated for any average reader to understand, make sure your application explains clearly what you actually did (and if you think it’s worth changing your title all together on your application, read this).
There are several ways you can do this. You can spin your bullets to reflect different qualities about yourself (and thus explain how your role helped you build specific skills). Or, you can write a cover letter for your resume (yes, this is a thing, and it’s worth doing).
Or, you can follow McKay’s advice:
In situations in which you have an uncommon title, it may be worth it to have a well-written and descriptive summary statement near the top of your resume. This will create context for hiring managers regarding who you are and what you’re bringing to the table. In addition, adding a short position summary under the title and before your bullets can provide more specific context. I would follow that same format on your resume with other titles as well just for consistency.
The last question, of course, is how important are job titles really? A.k.a., can they keep you from getting a job?
In short, no. That being said, titles usually do reflect your level, which means they can hold you back from applying for jobs out of your reach. If you’re an “associate,” for example, you’re less likely to be seen as an ideal candidate for a managing role against someone who has “director” or “manager” on their resume. (This article can help you work around this issue if you think you’re qualified to go after a role higher up than you are currently.)
Remember: You’re getting hired for the things you’ve done, not the titles you’ve held. Emphasize that, and there’s no doubt the hiring manager will be impressed.