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A recruiter contacted me for a senior position, but with a maximum salary that is mid-level at best. As far as I can tell, there is no added responsibility coming with the senior title.

Now, I want to raise this with the recruiter, first and foremost to establish why they call it "senior", and also casually mention that their salary range is below market standards, and if anything is being done to make up for it (other benefits).

I don't have a huge problem with the salary as such (although more would be nice even for mid-level), it just bugs me that it doesn't fit the title it comes with. If I decide to pursue this opportunity, and they decide to extend a formal offer, I am considering to ask them to omit the "senior" from the title.

On one hand, that gives me one more "advancement" in that company, which may itself come with a bump in salary.

On the other hand, if I take the offer as a "senior" and don't like it there, it would at least look pretty on my CV.

My question is, would it "hurt" my future career to turn down a senior title when it is offered? Do recruiters really care?

For the record, titles are completely unimportant to me – at least when they don't reflect the work being done.

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    I don't understand the "more 'advancement'" logic. You would take a lower position (based on title) and not expect an even lower salary only to later get promoted to senior level and still be underpaid? – user8365 Oct 17 '14 at 12:00
  • @JeffO If I was offered a position of "senior monkey" at 100 bananas/month, I would accept, tell them the salary is satisfactory, but I only want my title to be "monkey" (since there are no extra duties). Further down the road, we might establish that I've grown, or my responsibilities have increased, and a more senior title is appropriate. At that point, I could also negotiate a bump in salary to go with my new title. – Nix Oct 17 '14 at 12:06
  • Is this a startup company ? Their salaries tend to be lower that market standards, as far as I know. – Radu Murzea Jan 19 '15 at 15:45
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    @Nix this is not how you negotiate. Or rather, negotiating for a worse position is not the optimum way to get a better position. That you don't like the title is meaningless. I am struggling to define how mad this is. That is how mad it is. – bharal Jan 19 '15 at 16:37
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    I've seen companies use titles as a low-cost perk. After a salary freeze, they went crazy giving out titles. Everyone was a Senior something. We even had 'Team Leads' that managed nobody. They were just working on some regular sized piece of work, and were given a fancy title. 'Well Bob, we have a salary freeze, but we want you to know we appreciate you. We're promoting you to Senior Coffee Maker!' They also updated their job listing to reflect this. Recent Grads were Senior Developers. It was very silly, but it seemed like a lot of people liked it. – Rob P. Jan 20 '15 at 12:13
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it would at least look pretty on my CV.

My short answer is don't take a job, or push for a title just to prettify your C.V. In the long run it probably won't make you happy (judging from the nature of your question, there are some people that might prefer a title hoping path)

Long answer. This is more then a double edged sword. With multiple parties to consider:

  • Recruiters
  • HR
  • Prospective Interviewers
  • Peers

(When I say "recruiters" I am referring to "external/3rd party" agencies and when I say "HR" I am referring to internal HR people that are responsible for passing on details to the guys looking to filling a position.

The first 2 are using your C.V as a filter, deciding who will go into interview.

Recruiters: I personally find recruiters lazier then HR and will put you forward for any job that has the right buzzwords, of which senior might be one of them. (this is a generalization, there are recruiters that are much closer to companies H.R teams and less "lazy", these are the guys I stay on the phone to)

why they call it "senior"

Its always a good idea to ask questions like this, in the end of the day you are working out what is expected of you in interview and perhaps the job

HR: If the C.V has gone to someone internal (e.g. HR) they will apply a secondary filter, this is usually more aligned to the actual job spec and will most likely not take into account your current or previous titles. Now its slightly less "buzz words" and more "key features": years of experience, examples of responsibilities undertook, self management etc

Interview: Then comes interview, the guys there are using your C.V as a springboard and comparing the "person on the paper" to the real thing. If they see the "senior" title but don't see the "senior" key features. They will either directly or indirectly ask you whether you think you are a "senior". IMHO if you came across as someone who thought they were senior when they felt you weren't, they probably wouldn't hire you, but if you came across as someone who knew "what comes with senior" and didn't care what title they gave you, then they probably would. So I would say you win points for noticing:

there is no added responsibility coming with the senior title

Peers: Finally there are your peers, this is even trickier then interview in some respects and varies on a lot of factors. This is actually the foremost reason I would consider:

ask them to omit the "senior" from the title

I'll expand on that in a second. But basically you have to ask yourself, if you get the job, what do you want others to think your skill level is? And this depends a lot on company culture. For example, would a senior engineer ask another senior engineer for help? Would a Senior Engineer with +20 years experience be dis-respective of a senior engineer with +5? What does the company consider senior etc. (I once worked somewhere, where "senior" was given to a graduate after working 2 years, Seniors did look down on "non-seniors" but I highly, highly doubt they were able to use that "senior" title to get them a senior title anywhere else and frankly I am glad I wasn't there for 2+ years)

As Pepone mentions below, your company/culture/company culture might take Hierarchy more/less seriously. And as above, this is how a "title" may affect you day to day. (It might also make a difference in word-of-mouth job opportunities but again ask yourself, if you don't care about titles, do you want to be recommended by someone who does)

Basically adding senior to your C.V will get you more emails from recruiters. But frankly if your not looking for a job, do you care? and if you were looking do you really need more emails from recruiters for jobs that might not be suitable for you? (Or at least jobs that you wouldn't get past the second filter for?)

Adding senior to your email signature creates more expectation on you from your peers to know what you are doing but also a touch more scrutiny. Again in my opinion I imagine most people have more respect for a "software engineer" operating close to a "senior level" then a "senior engineer" operating below senior level. But frankly if someone doesn't want to give me more of their time/respect because I don't have "senior" in my title then I don't want it.

For the record, titles are completely unimportant to me

Good. Then chances are you will not stay in a place where titles have empty meaning but are important,

On one hand, that gives me one more "advancement" in that company, which may itself come with a bump in salary.

I used to think this, but my manager recently pointed something out when I asked if there was any point in getting a title bump without a pay bump.

When it comes to Pay Review time (most companies have them at least yearly), they will do a number of things including measuring your pay against others in the same "grade". So if you are a "senior" getting paid a lot less then other "seniors" there is a high chance they will bring that up be more aligned. If you are not senior, your getting paid more then other "Juniors" but they are thinking of increasing your pay, they might take that as a sign to promote you. You could argue all day which scenario leads to more pay. But I would say the first one is probably more likely to at least happen.

This of course again depends on company culture but its worth considering. If you say they are offering a senior position at a low pay grade there is a high chance that's roughly average what they are paying their senior engineers (or what they think they can get away with paying with this years budget). I would look up the company on a salary checking website like Glass Door

Last year I applied for a "Senior" role, that was above my pay grade because a recruiter had come across me on linked in and felt I might get it. When I went for the interview, I was honest and said (ok hinted) that although I was near-senior in my current role, I would accept a lower "title" and lower pay because I wanted the job (the work sounded very interesting). I am now in that job, I am not senior but there is now a development plan in place to get me there, I got paid 5k more then my old job, its a really nice place to work and most importantly: I am happy.

I would much rather be in the position I am in, then if I had stuck around to add "senior" to my title. It may have opened more doors, but they are doors I wouldn't have wanted to walk through.

In the end of the day, if the company wants to keep you, they want to make you "happy" and so you have to make it clear to them what will make you happy and listen to what they want from you in return. There are compromises of course, there is budgets and other staff to consider but this is why its important to talk about this stuff. Thats why I said above, if you "think" your senior and they dont, they won't hire you, because they will know right away it will be difficult to make you happy, and no one wants to hire someone who is going to leave.

Disclaimer: A lot of this is opinion based on the fact you sound a bit like me and are having "title" woes, which I had recently and I learned a lot from being honest and asking questions with the guys doing the hiring, my current manager and seeing it from there point of view.

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    Stellar answer. As you point out, the title might have gotten more emails in the future, but not nescesarilly for positions that are "better" for me. – Nix Jan 19 '15 at 15:13
  • well that's made my day, first "best answer" on stack exchange :), glad it helped Nix. Radu had a good point about start ups. Salaries and titles dont always match up, hence why I suggest glass door. I have been seen 40K for a junior before! but it was in Derby (so location considered more inconvenient) and required specialist skills that not everyone has / is interested in learning – chrispepper1989 Jan 19 '15 at 16:23
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    @Nix, exactly, as I mentioned I recently had some "title" woes because I wondered whether it was time to start playing the "climb the ladder game" and realized that you make your own rules in that game. Hands down best advice I got was from a friend who in summary said "tell them what you want, ask them how your going to get there, decide on a time to reach it, if you don't get there its either your fault or they broke promises, if they broke them, leave for a company that wont" – chrispepper1989 Jan 19 '15 at 16:35
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    And I think there are cultural aspects here the use of country specific jargon leads me to think that the op is from a culture where hierarchy is much more strictly valued – Pepone Jan 19 '15 at 23:46
  • @Pepone excellent point, I shall expand on my answer – chrispepper1989 Jan 20 '15 at 10:36
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My question is, would it "hurt" my future career to turn down a senior title when it is offered?

No.

Since the only one who will ever know the titles of all the positions you declined is you, it won't hurt your career.

Do recruiters really care?

No. Recruiters don't care what titles you turn down.

On the other hand, many recruiters match your title with the title of positions they are trying to fill. They often assume that if you are a Senior Framis Engineer at WidgetsAreUs, that you are qualified to be a Senior Framis Engineer at AnotherCompany.

Even though in many industries (like software) titles are basically meaningless across companies, many recruiters as well as others, act as if they matter.

In one company a Senior might be someone with 3 years experience, while at another it might require 8 years experience. What matters the most is what you actually do, and what you actually know.

  • +1 Senior at a 3 man start up is very different than Senior at multinational 10000+ person company. – Eric Jan 19 '15 at 19:16
  • Recruiters don't care what titles you turn down. But they definitely care what title you have. So if you are only Assistant Manager because you turned down Vice President, a recruiter is less likely to present you as a Vice President candidate. That does hurt your career. Your answer is like saying it doesn't hurt your career to turn down Harvard, because nobody knows you ever had the opportunity to go. Or that it doesn't hurt to turn down a raise. Illogical. – ExactaBox Jan 20 '15 at 2:11
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The title means nothing. If you claim "senior" on your resume, a prudent prospective employer will have you back up your claim through clearing technical interview hurdles, showing code samples(*) and describing some of the challenges that you took on. And make its own determination from there as to your capabilities.

My best guess is that recruiters don't really care about titles but they do care about the salary they can negotiate on your behalf because their commission is pro-rated on that salary. And of course, they can negotiate a better salary if they can point to either something you did or something you can do that matters to the client. Recruiters don't get paid extra simply because you have "senior" next to your name.

(*) Konerak points out that not everyone is a developer. If this is not the case, prospective employers will think of something else than code samples like "tell me of a tough issue you encountered and how you resolved it"

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    Why would you think Nix is talking about a position where code samples or techincal interviews are appropriate? It might be a senior sales position for all the question reveals? – Konerak Oct 17 '14 at 7:00
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    @Konerak Everyone who works is a programmer, didn't you get the memo? – Kevin Oct 17 '14 at 8:05
  • @Konerak I think, about 90% of askers are "developers". Once the OP mentioned the word "recruiter", my knee jerk reflex kicked in :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 17 '14 at 8:39
  • I am indeed a developer, but I left it out on purpose, in order to invite more general answers. :) – Nix Oct 17 '14 at 12:08
  • @Nix including the word "developer" is fine. Any question whose answer could be used by 3.6 million people is general enough computerworld.com/article/2483690/it-careers/… – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 17 '14 at 12:29
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Yes, absolutely. Especially in "soft" industries and positions (marketing, management, HR, etc.). A recruiter wants to fill the position with as little work as possible, and only wants to present candidates with whom the company will be comfortable.

MegaCorp needs a new VP of Marketing? Mr. Recruiter is most likely only going to present candidates who are already VP of Marketing somewhere else. They have already "proven" they can handle the role*, and MegaCorp can be confident they can do the job. Bringing in, say a Manager or Assistant VP, makes it harder on MegaCorp -- now they have to actually evaluate this person, have to decide whether he can step up, if he ends up not working out they will have to justify to MegaCorp's CEO. So Mr. Recruiter would prefer to poach an existing VP than present an up-and-coming Manager.

The idea that actual talent, skill, or ability has a major role in hiring is a fallacy. In most positions, there is no way to even measure it. Even in technical roles where an interview involves problem-solving or demonstrating domain knowledge, bad apples slip in and terrific candidates screw up and eliminate themselves. With patience, a person should be able to find their correct level. But for recruiters? Title is nearly everything.

*to be clear, Mr. Recruiter won't bring in the VP from an obviously failing company. But a mediocre one? Sure. Especially if it is large or well-known.

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