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I and many others at my workplace currently hold subject matter experts as part of their job title. These are separate from senior engineers and part of the proposed career progression prior to this change in operating procedure. The company now wants to align all of these job titles into a single “engineer” title.

Progression has looked like this in the past:

Engineer -> senior engineer -> SME Engineer -> Senior SME engineer

Where SME could be iOS, JavaScript, Java, etc

If you were a prospective employer and saw that an employee had gone from being a senior SME Engineer to “engineer” at the same workplace would that raise alarm bells on a prospective job application? I am seeking third party advice from a legal standpoint via ACAS as to whether the company can do this but have yet to hear back but just wanted to hear what other people think about this.

Am I overreacting? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

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  • No they would be promoted to a subject matter expert which was held in higher esteem such as iOS Engineer. You could go Engineer -> iOS Engineer -> Senior iOS engineer. You wouldn’t be able to go from Engineer to Senior SME engineer for example.
    – Mopsfeh
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 16:10
  • Just realised my use of gt and lt symbols have been stripped from my original message. I’ve fixed this now
    – Mopsfeh
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 16:17
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    What is the new career progression? Are you effectively in a position of lower seniority as a result?
    – steve v
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 17:07
  • I don't believe I've ever made a hiring decision based on some other companies choice of job titles. I care what you have done/can do, not what your company calls you. BTW, unless you are in a union, I can't imagine any legal basis for blocking a companies ability to define/modify job titles.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:17

5 Answers 5

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I am seeking third party advice from a legal standpoint via ACAS as to whether the company can do this but have yet to hear back but just wanted to hear what other people think about this.

Am I overreacting?

Yes, I think you are seriously overreacting.

The description of your duties on your resume is far more important than the title.

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  • I agree with you, titles don't mean anything... For example, 'Senior Engineer' At some companies a Senior engineer is someone who has 2+ years of experience. Also called as an Engineer 2. At others a Senior engineer is someone who has presented the equivalent of doctoral thesis to a bunch of other Senior Engineers, all of whom have a minimum of 15 years in the field and is the equivalent of an Engineer 5... Same 'title' different meaning.
    – Questor
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 16:08
  • if there's one place where titles mean next to nothing it's software development
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 17:31
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    Within the same company, the title change could matter. If everyone who had progressed to Senior SME Engineer is now in the same category as Engineers then that seems like a material change to the progression and seniority system that would be a detriment to SME engineers who had already progressed. Without direct familiarity by someone who closely works with a former senior SME who has "actual" seniority it could complicate or negatively affect someone whose title was just merged from "most senior" to "everyone is the same."
    – steve v
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 18:25
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    In some fields, SME is a bit of a minefield. In my last job (with one of the big 4 consulting companies) we were only allowed to use "Subject Matter Professional" as the term 'Expert' had legal ramifications in many jurisdictions should lawsuits ever come in to play. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 15:48
  • @Questor Comparing titles between different companies is fairly pointless. But if I see a CV where someone progressed at the same company from Engineer to Senior Engineer to SME Engineer and then back to Engineer I would by quite suspicious and assume something fairly bad happened.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 9:29
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There are two separate issues regarding this reorganization of career path.

  1. You current job
  2. Future jobs

The future job issue is done by making sure your resume focuses on what skills you have and what you accomplished while working for the company. Remember titles don't translate outside the company. While you might not be including SME in the job title there is no reason why you can't use that term in the paragraph.

The current job situation is more troubling. They combined two steps in the ladder into one.

You need to determine how this impacts the requirements for each job title. It would be bad if you thought that in a year or two you could be promoted to the next step, only to now find yourself 10 years away.

You need to know how it impacts the salary range. It would be a bad thing to go from the lower third of the old range to the top of the new range without an increase of pay. That would mean your raise next year will be very small.

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I agree with Joe Strazzere on this one. You're over-reacting. When you give a resume to an employer, you list your last job title. They don't go back to the old employer and ask for all the titles you've held.

The employer has chosen to take "subject matter expert" out of your official title. If you're an expert, you don't stop being an expert because of a title change. (Geesh, engineers!) Your expertise will prove itself on your resume and in interviews.

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Remember that careers in software development tend to have non-standard job titles, there is only a loose amount of uniformity between companies. I worked at one company that had senior developers as a job title who were also SME (not part of job title), and at my current job I've never head the word SME uttered once by anyone.

Don't overcomplicate your resume, especially if you aren't offically promoted/demoted and you job duties don't change. List yourself as (Junior/Intermediate/Senior/Level99) Engineer. If you are considered a SME, on the first line of describing the position describe what areas you are a SME in and how you contributed as a SME.

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Going to disagree with the existing comments - you are not overreacting. Many, if not most, companies use some form of automatic resume reviewing/filtering. If you want to apply for another SME position in the future and cannot put it on your resume anymore, then it could hurt your ability to apply for those positions if the companies are only looking at resumes that say "SME" or "Subject Matter Expert" on them. You could still put that on your resume, but then you're risking that if the company is called and asked if you worked as a SME, and the HR person answering looks you up in the system and just sees "Engineer - IOS", then they would be all they could tell the company calling them.

  • Obviously if you made it to interviews, you can explain everything and show your expertise in person. But this would make it less likely to get to that point.
  • It would obviously not matter for companies that don't ask for references, or if you think you can get by with omitting them in your applications.
  • You can try to spin things to limit the risk - for example, break your time at the company into two positions, one under each title. Going from SME to Senior Engineer doesn't necessarily mean a demotion, it could just mean you went to a different project. That would improve your odds of buying the time to explain things in an in-person interview.
  • It's not guaranteed that this would happen. Maybe the companies you apply to wouldn't need references, or wouldn't actually call them. But there is a risk they do, and that risk is the penalty you're taking with the title change.

I would make it clear to your management that your loss of title represents a loss of value or compensation for you. I don't think you would be able to change the whole system to be able to retain the title, but maybe they can make an exception for you, or at the very least throw you some extra cash your way as compensation for the title (cheaper than finding someone with SME experience by far). I don't think you have any legal recourse, though. If you think that you will run into issues applying once you no longer technically hold the title of SME in company systems, then it might be worth applying to other companies now while you still do.

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    I don't particularly how companies use filtering but excluding subject matter experts because they don't happen to have a job title with "SME" in it seems particularly idiotic Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 17:07
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    I'm not sure why you're getting downvoted for this, I think it is a very relevant point - other than bringing it up with management, that's not going to result in any positive resolution. But resume screens and hiring managers will absolutely skip over a resume if job title is "engineer" and not "senior engineer." I think listing Senior Engineer as your current title anyway or at least as a prior title at that job is the best path forward.
    – InBedded16
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 17:45
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    @InBedded16 - If the other users are like myself they disagree with the answer and consider it not to be helpful.
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 21:23
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    if there are automatic filters in play, a simple "2001 - 2003 Engineer: Worked in the dongle division as a Subject Matter Expert in dongling" should be recognized. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:33

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