Not long ago, I met a woman who told me she waited to start looking for a new job until after she got a promotion and title change (from associate editor to editor). At the time that we were speaking, she’d lined up her first interview. While not terribly unhappy in her current role, she was ready to move on. “I probably would’ve done it sooner,” she confided, “but I was embarrassed by my job title.”
I nodded eagerly as she explained that she wasn’t comfortable applying to roles as long as associate was a part of her title, and so stayed put. Now, promotion in hand—or on paper as it were—she was prepared to look forward and embrace a new opportunity, having ditched the label that she believed made her sound too junior for roles she felt qualified for.
I was fascinated. It made perfect sense, of course. How can you move on and up if your current title suggests that you don’t have the qualifications for that next step, even if, say, you have years of experience and could very well have a “higher” level title if not for extenuating circumstances such as your company’s budget or team structure? Is your only option to wait with bated breath for the promotion before you can start exploring other opportunities?
No, definitely not. You always have options, and if you’re in this situation, you’ve likely asked yourself the following questions: Can you fudge your title on your resume? Embellish your role to be viewed as a more desirable candidate? Take pains to explain your position to the hiring manager? I reached out to Master Career Coach Bruce Eckfeldt, who had some terrific words of wisdom on what you can and cannot do.
If you’re at the point in your career when you could easily have the next title up, whatever that may be in your industry or field, Eckfeldt encourages you to clarify your position on your resume. So maybe you’ve been working as a production assistant for three years, but the truth is, you are the production team at your company.
You report to the director, yes, but you coordinate all of the in-house production, and you’ve moved so far beyond assisting anyone that it’s not even funny. But, for whatever lame reason, you’re stuck with the entry-level title you came in with (even though your salary has most definitely not stayed the same), and you’re worried that if you put that junior-sounding role on your resume, you’re only going to be eligible for roles that were appropriate when you were first starting out. You’ve learned so much since then and are far more qualified than your actual title suggests.
There’s a really great way to navigate this challenging situation without being dishonest. Instead of putting production assistant on your resume, you put “Name of Company – Production Team – 3 Years.” “You can always edit for clarity and communication so long as you're not misleading or misrepresenting your background or experience,” Eckfeldt explains.
If that type of clarification gets you an interview, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to explain how you started at the company, how the role and responsibilities evolved, and that because of the organization’s budget/protocol/whatever you never actually received a title change during your tenure there. In your resume, “focus on the responsibilities and accomplishments and de-emphasize the titles,” advises Eckfeldt. And remember that your resume is only one part of the job-search process.
That said, because it’s an important one, you do want to err on the side of caution with the information you include. If a company’s human resources department calls your current or former employers for confirmation of your work history, it’s generally looking for two things: your dates of employment and your title, making it a pretty bad idea to put down a position name that wasn’t actually bestowed on you.
Instead, make your resume about what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing—avoid highlighting your actual title if you’re worried it’s going to knock you out of the running before you even have a chance to get dressed for the race.
But, to avoid dealing with this issue altogether, remember that there’s more to negotiating than money. And there’s more to an annual review than a big fat raise. While getting offered a promotion in the way of title and nothing in salary can be demoralizing, think about how the elevated title could help you move onto bigger and better things.
And if your annual performance review rolls around and you get a small raise but nothing else (again!), don’t be shy about seeking a title that more accurately describes what you’re doing, especially if it’s one you’re going to be proud of and not embarrassed by.