23

Situation

In a job offer a job title is specified. This may be something which likely appears everywhere - whether company email address books or your email signature or on your resume.

From my experience, your title can oftentimes affect how receptive and prompt other employees are to helping you or answering your requests (for example "Engineer" vs "Manufacturing Engineer" vs "Senior Engineer" vs "Development Program Engineer" or even "Intern" vs "Product Engineering Intern" etc). This effect can easily affect your overall ability to add to the company's value and subsequent career path.

Additionally, a title becomes part of your personal brand for better or worse, considering how often the title is associated with your name.

Questions

  1. Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?
  2. Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?
  3. Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?
  4. Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?
  • 5
    Once, after I had accepted an offer and given notice to my current employer, I got an email with the subject line, "problem with your offer." I opened the email in a panic to see that the problem was that the offer had my title as "X" rather than "Senior X" and exhaled. – JohnMcG Aug 21 '12 at 16:25
  • 3
    the only thing i could think of while reading this question was Dogbert's Management Handbook. Basically, emplopyees who fuss and want to feel special are given the 'team leader' title, which doesn't mean jack. Titles are rarely important. What you bring to the company, and what you do/your work ethic/quality is what's important. – acolyte Aug 21 '12 at 17:40
13
+50

Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?

Here's the thing to understand about negotiations: You need to have something to negotiate with. Always ask yourself "What do I have that I can offer to get what I want or take away if I don't get what I want?"

If the answer is nothing then understand that nothing is negotiable.

As you are talking about an entry-level position at a large company, that is probably your situation. You want them a lot more than they want you.

If that isn't the case, if you are in a position to negotiate, then you need to figure out how much and that depends very much on the company. Some companies build their entire system around job titles and with those you are going to need a lot of negotiating power to convince them to give you anything outside of their standard structure.

Other companies really don't care about job titles. They will probably be stunned that YOU care, but they'll give you whatever title you want.

Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?

I am really not sure what problem you're foreseeing here. Do you really think that when you try to do your job, people will ask for your job title, and then hinder you if it's not up to scratch, or if it doesn't specifically state that this is your role?

Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?

That can cut both ways.

In one company, you'll be able to say "Hey, I'm not paid enough for my job title." But in that company, they'll probably respond "Hold on, you insisted on that title in the first place."

In another company, you are better off having a lesser title. You can then say "Hey, take a look at my job description and take a look at what I do. Do you not think I'm worth a promotion?"

Of course those are both categories of company who care about job title. If you had one of those who didn't care very much when you negotiated your title, they're probably also not going to care much when you negotiate your wage based on your job title. Those companies care a lot more about what you're offering the company in return for what they're paying you.

Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?

Again, it can cut both ways or have no effect at all. More often than not, recruiters look more at what you've done than what your title was. But if your title also indicates what you've done then it can work in your favour ... unless the recruiter is looking for something else entirely.

Let's say for example that I'm looking for a Senior Software Developer to work on my application's UI. If you put Senior Software Developer as your title and talked about the front-end work you've done, I'm going to be more interested than if you've said you're working on back-end web services.

If you've called yourself a Senior Front-End Developer, I'm also going to think "This person's trying to sell themselves as a front-end developer, so obviously that's more of interest to them." And that might get my attention but, honestly, I'm still more interested in what that means to you, so I'll still read the description.

But here's the kicker. If you've said Senior Front-End Developer and I want someone to work back-end web services, you've lost me. If, on the other hand, that's just part of your description of what you did in your last job, I might stick with you.

I would suggest that being more specific in your job title is more likely to go against you, unless you're SURE that's what your new employer wants.

One more thing to bear in mind: Some people, myself included, do scan back to your earlier jobs to see how quickly you progressed. If I see that you've listed yourself as a Senior in your first job, which you only had for a couple of years, I'm going to be very suspicious of your self-perception.

I even downgrade the title I had when I left my first job because it was truly ridiculous for the experience I had.

  • Can you downgrade your rank ethically? Obviously you should not inflate your rank but as you are probably not attempting to gain a larger salary can you omit the "senior" any easier than a "junior"? – kleineg Jul 21 '14 at 19:18
  • 1
    @kleineg: No one here can tell you what's ethical or not. That's a matter of opinion. Both yours and the person employing you. I can tell you that I wouldn't find it unethical, in either position. – pdr Jul 22 '14 at 21:30
  • scan back to your earlier jobs to see how quickly you progressed This always worried me, because in a couple of the companies I have worked for (which were both very small) I worked quite a long time, and while I received pay increases every year, I never really had an official title that changed. And, how do you measure whether you are really "moving up" when there isn't a big ladder to climb? This always left me wondering how to express how I actually did progress. – Michael Jul 29 '15 at 2:07
  • @Michael: That's a tricky one that we all have to keep an eye out for. There's a difference between 20 years of experience and the same year of experience 20 times. If you feel like you're living the latter, I advise doing something about that. – pdr Jul 29 '15 at 12:22
7

Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?

This is specific to the company and hiring manager. Large companies go through a lot of trouble to set these up and HR isn't just going to create a new position so you can feel good about yourself. A startup will call you Guru if it makes you feel better.

Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?

Everyone will know anyway. At a massive company, it could get in the way, but otherwise everyone knows you're new.

Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?

Yes, if the company is lock-step with titles/levels and compensation. Chances are, they also have stringent requirements (e.g. Sr level must have over 5 yrs of experience)

Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?

This could impact the initial review of your resume. Skill set and job experience will have more weight. If anything you may have to answer some questions why your title doesn't match the requirements and achievments at that job. "It says here your title was Jr. Programmer, but you indicated you lead a team that designed and built an eCommerce website that gets 100,000 hits/day." You have some explaining to do.

5

So - I know the target here was entry-level, but some of these questions go far beyond that first position in a career path, so I'm going to try to hit this from both a current and future perspective.

It's important to start with the "it depends" factor here - the question is specifically larger companies, which tend to have a more formulaic approach to job titles. The really open ended, really creative titles tend to happen in smaller, more loosely structured companies, as when a company expands to the larger scope, they need a way to organize people and for people to identify themselves without too much ambiguity. It's a fair statement, that where the money gets paid out is the crux of the issue - no company will pay more for someone who offers less -- regardless of title, and in a bigger company there is often more link between title and pay.

To set the scene, at least in the tech industry, job titles tend to be composed of:

  • what you do - engineer, administrator, staff member, developer, researcher, etc - which describes the basic function of the job. Change this and you change both the qualifications and the type of work you will do day to day.

  • technical discipline - refers to your training and also the area you work in - "network engineer", "security engineer", "software engineer", "electrial engineer" - all may be doing the same kinds of work (say, making a product) but they make different things, and have different training.

  • seniority - what is your depth of experience in the field? Assistant, Junior, Senior, Principle, Level I, II, III, IV - all shows a progression in experience, wisdom, independant work capability/level of supervision required, and pay.

Add ons - like your division, or the specific component in which you work may get tacked on there, but these can be a lot less industry-wide.

Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?

For entry level - probably not. When roles get into the more ambiguous level of "senior" or other add-on descriptors of seniority, it can be much looser and negotiable. But for a college grad, or someone in those first 1-3 years, it's hard to sell that you are experienced enough to bump up the ladder. Sometimes corporations even have a separate HR branch for college recruiting, which is specifically limited to entry level titles. You may be able to sift through alternate disciplines, particularly if your background is one that may apply to multiple areas - for example, defense contracting often has a "software" track and a "systems" track - software is specialized, systems tends to be more generalized - if you have strong writing skills and strong software skills - you may qualify for either one, so if you have more interest in a given area - you may be able to highlight that. Keep in mind - you have to be able to back it up. Trying to negotiate may end up restarting your interview cycle as they didn't necessarily research your skills in the alternate area.

Frequently at a post-entry level opening, this may occur. I've had this debate in recent interviews, after 10 years in my chosen industry. Having already earned a certain seniority for subject matter expertise, I'm not willing to consider roles that don't involve a certain degree of technical leadership. I'm usually less concerned with what they call me, since if they gave me some goofy title on my next job I'm articulate enough to say that the goofy title equates to a standard industry title and I can easily explain why and what I've done to deserve it.

Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?

Sometimes. Truth is, you don't really know what title will be most useful for getting your job done. For all you know, the really powerful sounding title is held only by ineffective jerks in the new company, so being branded that way will make it very hard to get anything done.

Yes - in some cases a title can make a difference - particularly in cases where you have decision making authority/responsibility - you may need to be titled in such a way that people get that you have the power on the first meeting. In an individual contributor role, this tends to be less of a factor.

Keep in mind, however, that influence and title are not a 1:1 relationship. Most people with higher level titles earned them by proving to someone that they could influence and inspire others regardless of the title. Titles are often given in recognition of hard work and demonstrated skills, not to make hard work possible. If you have a good boss, the granting of influence will roll along naturally - as the boss trusts your leadership, you'll get this influence naturally as he empowers you with more clout.

At a senior level, I'm more likely to look at the organization's power structure - who do I report to? Does everyone at my level have the same title? Why/why not? These ARE questions I ask in the interview process. I won't take a job where I feel that I'm being set up to fail - if I can't report to the person who needs to know my information, and if I can't have the same respect that my peers get - then I don't want the job. Sometimes that's title, but more often that's responsibility and the organizational structure. This is not something I would see coming up at entry level, unless your version of entry level is having just graduated from an executive preparation program and you expect to be placing into a C-level position. :)

Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?

Probably not. In a large company, consider that the title/salary calculation has been figured out in such a way that it is unlikely you can weasel through the system. As mentioned in other answers - they will pay you for what work you can accomplish and how efficient you can be while doing it.

One Caveat - in some government jobs, there is a VERY fixed pay to salary ratio. There are usually also VERY fixed job requirements. In this one case, if you happen to qualify for multiple titles, it may be possible to increase salary by proving that you qualify for the better paying title. In these circumstances, you are likely to also have to work in a different job, with a different group. These cases are usually HIGHLY regimented, so there's not a lot of mix and match opportunity.

In jobs were the title/salary/work is less tightly linked, it's also more likely that they considered you on the first go round for all applicable titles, and made a decision about where they think you'd fit best - both in terms of your expressed career goals and you're qualifications - so if you start trying to get a salary change based on a title change, you may add confusion in that you had previously stated goals that you are now changing.

Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?

Usually - IMO - a negative. When you go to look for that next job, you'll most likely want a job that is different than the job you currently have. In some cases, you may be looking for the same job at a better company, but many times, people look for a change in role. So having a very tightly defined job title may limit the interest you receive as you will seem very specialized.

Similarly - higher rankings can be a double edged sword - while it speaks well of you that you have a senior title, there are more opportunities in many fields at the bottom rung of the ladder, competition is more fierce at the top... so being high up early on in a career can raise the stakes later. It's very hard to convince a company that you are willing to take a salary/title cut when the market is lean, as most are afraid you'll leave when you get the better offer that you rightfully deserve.

1

Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?

I don't recall too many situations in my career where an entry level candidate even considered negotiating a job title, and I applaud your confidence. However, if any of my candidates ever asked me to negotiate job title, I would strongly advise them against it.

Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?

Do you have firm evidence that this title will genuinely hinder your efforts, or is this just something you fear is possible? If the job title reflects a development/training program, you are obviously being hired for this program. What you should try to negotiate, in this case, is a different role and title. If you are in a training program where you may have limited authority, the problem for you seems to be the lack of responsibility (having your efforts hindered) more so than the title. If you truly care about hindered efforts, negotiate a different role.

Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?

Big companies do tend to have specific pay bands for specific titles, but without the specifics of this company it is hard to tell how flexible they could be. I think, again, that the title isn't the issue here as much as the role/level you are being hired into. It may be difficult to negotiate a higher salary at a specific level hire. Sometimes a title may have multiple bands/levels where there would be room to negotiate within a job title, but for entry level it's doubtful.

Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?

Titles don't matter that much. A unique title could be a positive or a negative, but generally it is neither. Titles don't transfer well between jobs. Some companies use titles like "Software Engineer III", some say "Senior Software Engineer" and others might use "Staff Engineer" - all could potentially apply to the same person.

Words of advice: if you are good at what you do, don't worry about the job title of an entry level position. Trying to negotiate a title at your career level will potentially damage your reputation at the company with no real benefit to you in the long term. If you try to negotiate just a title (not role or compensation, bu just title), if you take the job you will be known as the entry level hire who tried to negotiate your entry level job title. Trust me, it's not worth it.

1

First I'll answer your specific points, and then I'll give my own take at the end.

[The title] likely appears everywhere - whether company email address books or your email signature or on your resume.

Regarding corporate address books and emails -- depends on the company. Some might specify only your offical title, others might let you put whatever you want. Your resume, however, is your own. You can put whatever title you want. If your official title was "Member of Technical Staff" but your role was actually being a project lead, go ahead and put "Project Lead" on your resume.

From my experience, your title can oftentimes affect how receptive and prompt other employees are to helping you or answering your requests (for example "Engineer" vs "Manufacturing Engineer" vs "Senior Engineer" vs "Development Program Engineer" or even "Intern" vs "Product Engineering Intern" etc).

This depends highly on the industry, the company, and the person to whom you are talking. The banking industry has a highly stratified pecking order, of vice presidents no less. There are Junior VPs, Assistant VPs, Associate VPs, VPs, Senior VPs, and Executive VPs. (I think those are in order. I might have missed a few.) What's more, people at different banks seem to care whether they're talking to an SVP or EVP. On the other hand, in high tech, titles are commonly "Engineer I", "II", "III", "IV" and so forth, and nobody really cares.

How receptive others are to your requests depends on a myriad of factors. I think that the title is in the noise. Furthermore, providing a puffed-up title is likely to be counterproductive. If somebody comes to me and throws their title around, I'm more likely to think, "What's this guy full of?" (But that might just be me.)

Additionally, a title becomes part of your personal brand for better or worse, considering how often the title is associated with your name.

I really don't see this. At big companies the title is usually assigned, and usually nobody cares. If they do care, it's because the title is an indication of one's rank (such as in the banking industry) but not one's brand.

I know a guy who puts "Evil Genius" on his business cards. It's pretty funny, and he's a funny guy, and that's part of his brand. But in no way is that his official title, either. Your personal branding comes from things other than your title.

1: Is a job title a negotiable element of an entry level position at larger companies?

Mostly not. The title is often linked to pay grade, and if you're entry level, pay grade is tied pretty closely to education level and work experience. If you have reason to believe you're being placed at the wrong pay grade based on education and experience (e.g., all the Bachelor's degree holders are Engineer I, and you're offered Engineer I, even though you have a Master's) then you should negotiate your pay grade on that basis, not the title.

2: Should you attempt to negotiate a title when the title may hinder your efforts at the company, such as indicating you are in a development/training program?

If you don't want to be in a development/training role, then you should decline the offer or ask to be placed elsewhere. If you're accepting a development/training role but you're objecting that your title has "intern" in it, well, that seems misplaced. If someone is introduced to me who has "intern" in their title, I'm more likely to help out, educate, and mentor that person than otherwise. I can see how some people might decide they don't need to pay attention to an intern. If your title doesn't have intern, though, they'd pretty quickly size you up and decide you didn't deserve the attention anyway. It's the person you're dealing with, not your title.

3: Can negotiating a title be a way around a "we only pay $X for new engineering employees with title Y" or simply allow better salary negotiation?

No. See answer to #1. Title follows from pay grade.

4: Is having a unique/more specific title a positive or negative, assuming the title has meaning outside the company as well?

If the industry has generally recognized titles (such as VPs in banking) then you're best off having one of the standardized titles. If the industry doesn't have titles that apply across companies, they're mostly meaningless and can even be the opposite at another company. For example, at one (high tech) company I'm familiar with, basically everybody was Member of Technical Staff. (There were several grades of MTS.) At a different company, the grades/titles were Engineer I, II, III, IV, but only when one got promoted beyond Engineer IV did one become Member Of Technical Staff. So, if the industry doesn't have generally recognized titles, they're pretty much meaningless across companies, regardless of whether yours is unique or more specific.


In summary, it sounds to me like you're placing too much importance on the job title. Far more important is what your role actually is. Is it interesting? Will the experience enhance your career? Is there opportunity for advancement? These are a lot more important to your career than a title.

There's no Permanent Record somewhere of your official job title. Most are bland, and generically descriptive. As such, nobody cares much about them. In some industries a title is an indication of rank, but if you don't have the rank, you don't get the title. In other industries (high tech? software only?) some companies allow one to choose one's own title. This is usually played for laughs. ("Evil Genius")

If you're having difficulties dealing with other departments, it's almost certainly not because of your title. It could be a political struggle between the department directors; it could be something about your communication style that's not conducive to eliciting the desired response; it could be that the other department is just so busy that they don't have time to respond to anyone, not just you. Some of these issues you can do something about, and some you can't. Either way, worrying about your title won't affect anything.

1

To be honest if you don't ask, you simply won't get. If it's something that means a lot to you then what have you got to lose by asking for a different title? Just remember that the job title should be reflective of your jobs and the tasks that you carry out, and it also should not be deceptive.

Furthermore, I do agree with the point that a better sounding title means that you are taken more seriously.

In a company, there is always room for negotiation, just ensure that you are assertive and not rude!

0

They can give me any job title including "dog" and "cat" as long as the money is good, and the job description is strong enough to generate attention from the next employer - When I take on a job offer, I always ask myself how I will justify to a successor employer why I took that job. If I can't even come up with "I took the offer because I needed money to pay the bills but at the same time I was hoping that things would work out better than they did", that's a problem. I am not picky about titles but I'll puke at any title that includes the word "entry-level" - To me, that's where I draw the line and it's an absolute no-no to me :)

I wouldn't be concerned if I were to come in as a "junior" despite my status as "senior" within my current company, as long as I can say that I elected to come in as "junior" because I needed to become familiar with not only the new employer's setup but the new employer's industry.

The only caveat I can think of about having a lousy title is that it raises avoidable misunderstandings and communication problems. At my first employer, I constantly ran into newly hired seniors who thought that anything I said was optional - it wasn't - because I had the same rank as them, newly hired managers who thought they could ignore me and the IT policies I set for the firm because my title was below theirs and service providers who, when I turned their proposals down, thought that the could go over my head and get better results. Looking back, I should have raised the issue of a weak job title hampering the discharge of strong responsibilities with my higher ups.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.