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I have an offer for a Ph.D.-level research job from a top company. The compensation package is attractive, but I'm thinking about whether I should negotiate the job title.

From my research, roles that require similar qualifications and experience both outside and inside that company typically have "senior," if not "principal," in the title. Additionally, I would have easily met both the necessary and desired job requirements four years ago when I finished grad school. Now that I have another four years of experience, they're getting quite a lot more than their requirements.

Would it be reasonable to ask if they can change the title to include "senior," without any changes in compensation? And if this is not possible, at least get an explanation of the reason behind it? I'm trying to leave ego out of this and think purely in terms of career progression.

Thank you for your help!

  • May or may not be a big deal to agree upon for either party at this point, But it will make a huge difference when at some point you'll move on from this role/company. Good luck. – foo-baar Oct 17 at 2:29
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    Why not ask? It costs them nothing, as long as you have already agreed a salary & won't be asking more as a result of your new title – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 6:16
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    How long have you been working for? Often the title of senior is tied to a certain length of time working in a particular field (more so than experience I've found). I also doubt you would get principal unless you happen to be the Lead researcher. The titles do have some meaning after all. – Shadowzee Oct 17 at 6:20
  • If they don't have to give you extra cash, they'll be fine with it – David Oct 17 at 9:44
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    Anecdotally speaking: I know someone who did negotiate exactly this. It did work for him. – Ander Biguri Oct 17 at 12:51
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As is already mentioned. Just ask. Make sure they understand that it is not a secret way of getting even more money. You are just thinking about the title.

It could be though that it is coupled to you salary. Many companies job titles (although this is probably cultural) are coupled to certain salary scales. So that could be a reason for them not to agree.

In the end. Remember that it is the job and the salary that matter. You can always explain on a cv that you had all the responsibilities of a senior. A senior in one company does not mean the same in another company anyway so it matters not too much IMHO.

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    In the general job market, titles do not mean that much since they vary A LOT per company (concrete example: where I worked previously, a Group Manager has the same responsibilities as a Manager in my current employer and even sounds more important, and a Director has the same responsibilities as a Vice President and sounds less important, go figure). As a hiring manager, the lines after the title describing responsibilities and accomplishments are much more relevant than the job title when I'm looking for a person to fill my open job position. – Juliana Karasawa Souza Oct 17 at 12:57
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Of course you may negotiate your job title. Generally, it costs your future employer nothing to give you a title that reflects your level of responsibility. You certainly should ask.

If you'll deal with customers or the public, or submit papers to journals, a "higher" title can help your credibility. That's why banks have so many vice presidents.

Be sensitive though, to the possibility it does cost them something. Maybe a whole bunch of your future colleagues have the title without "senior" added on. In that case, if they give you "senior" they'll have to explain to the others why you have it and they don't.

Some big companies, and governments, have Byzantine compensation plans with titles tied to pay scales. Think vast spreadsheets with lots of pay ranges. For such a company it may be hard just to tweak your title to meet your need. But, at such a company you should push to have a "higher" title and be at the low end of the pay range for that title: It will be easier to get pay raises if they can do it without changing your title. (Careful with this: don't assume you understand their compensation plan. They probably don't. These things are really Byzantine.)

If your company does have a problem like this, they should be willing to explain it to you.

Also keep in mind that titles don't necessarily mean much. In its heyday Bell Labs employed Nobel-prize-winning scientists with the title "Member of the technical staff." Sometimes after the call from Stockholm they were promoted to "Distinguished member of the technical staff."

  • Thank you, very insightful and I love the anecdote about Bell Labs! – MGA Oct 17 at 14:31
  • Interestingly OP said that their research indicates that 'senior' and 'principal' titles already exist in that company so depending on what that 'research' consists of (e.g. is it publicly available information? inside information from someone they know who already works there? etc) it maybe worth finding out what the difference is between 'standard', 'senior' and 'principal' what the expected path is between these etc. It sounds like there already is a structure in place, even if it's unofficially/inconsistently applied. – seventyeightist Oct 17 at 19:01
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Would it be reasonable to ask if they can change the title to include "senior," without any changes in compensation?

You can attempt to negotiate anything that is important to you.

Your specific request is reasonable. But that doesn't mean the company will make the desired change. Some companies are very flexible with titles, others are very structured.

And if this is not possible, at least get an explanation of the reason behind it?

You can always ask for an explanation, although there is no requirement that the company actually grant one. "Because that's the standard title here" is a typical reply.

Be prepared with what you will do if the answer is "No, we can't change the title to include 'senior'". You could live with it and accept the position anyway, decline the offer and walk away, or ask about future promotion possibilities.

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