Are job titles really that important?
It’s the headline, the very first thing that people associate with what you do. The importance people place on their job title can vary greatly. But does it actually have much impact on attracting and retaining talent?
Most job titles are pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes, organisations like to get creative. Yahoo, have their “Paranoid in Chief” because Chief Information and Security Officer just doesn’t cut it. The technology market does have the wackiest job titles but we have seen an increase in more elaborate and lengthy job titles across the board.
Transport, Infrastructure and the Built Environment tend to be slightly more traditional in their titling, but we still see some unusual ones cropping up every now and then, “Senior Vice President for Global Transformation & Organisational Effectiveness” is a tough one to fit on a business card for example.
To see what companies and employees value in a job title, we took a look at our database and noticed some trends…
1. Most variation
Where we noticed the freest reign on job title was within Human Resources. There are apparently a staggering number of ways to say “Human Resources Director” – Chief People Officer, Talent Management Director, Talent Development Director, People Director, Personnel Director and everything in between. A personal favourite being Human Capital Director, which somehow makes a very people focused job sound quite impersonal.
2. On the up
With the increased focus towards environmental and corporate social responsibility, “sustainability” now features in many titles. Similarly, most Health and Safety Directors are now Health, Safety, Quality and Environment Directors. Within contractors “Work Winning” has replaced Bids, Pre-Contract, Proposals and Tendering in many job titles.
Strategy is another term that seems to be thrown in for good measure to many roles “Head of Fleet Strategy”, “Head of Corporate Strategy and Planning”, “Head of Operations Strategy”, or the trendiest of all job titles “Head of Innovation & Strategy”. For some it’s a way of adding kudos; similar to the addition of Group or Senior before the title. For other organisations it reflects their decision to split a broader functional role into the “Strategy” and the “Delivery” aspects.
Again, due to the change in priorities for lots of business, we are seeing much more of customer focus, meaning that Marketing Directors are becoming customer champions and job titles are reflecting that, TfL just moved their Marketing Director to the newly created Customer Director role who will also have two newly-created Chief Customer Officers. Equally “Customer Experience” has replaced “Customer Services” in most b2c companies.
3. On the out
TfL being the exception, we are noticing a significant decline in the number of “Chief’s” in post. Perhaps viewed as a slightly more old fashioned title, it’s far less common in recent years. Likewise, with the decline in the number of Partnerships (as they are bought up by plcs), we have seen a marked drop in the amount of “Partners” being appointed.
4. Cultural trends
American and Canadian owned companies are all about Presidents; Vice President, Senior Vice President, Executive Vice Presidents and then top of the tree President. With the number of UK consulting firms being acquired by North American groups we will see VP replacing Director in job titles at a number of businesses.
How can a job title attract the best talent?
The crux of it is, that job titles cost the business absolutely nothing, but they are a significant negotiating tool when attracting and retaining top talent.
From our experience, if a “Head of” role can be labelled as a Director, it will attract more candidates. If you had two identical positions available, compensation, location, role all being the same but one is called a “Head of” and one is a Director, you are much more likely to secure your preferred candidate with the latter. There will always be some candidate who place a high emphasis on this and we have seen candidates decline interest in a role purely based on the job title.
Likewise, if a role is P&L responsible for a sizeable division or business unit, naming it a Managing Director will be more appealing than Operations Director or Divisional Director. Job titles are a status symbol and hold an intrinsic value to most employees. The responsibilities, challenge and salary are all important, but that’s not what’s being printed on the business card or hung on the office door.
That being said, it is a balancing act. Job titles are there for a reason and need to convey to clients, suppliers, partners and internally what it is the individual does and where they sit in the organisation’s hierarchy. Some companies love handing out Director job titles like sweeties, which makes for a confusing structure. The benefit to being selective is that you get clear lines of authority – Manager – Head of – Director – Managing Director. In our experience candidates in Transport & Infrastructure tend to like shorter, straight forward and less contrived job titles, and the more senior it sounds the better.
According to Forbes magazine, millennials think that job titles “only add restraints” to their lives and place more emphasis on finding a role that aligns with their values than prestigious labels. So perhaps in 20 years job titles will be a thing of the past and we can let the candidates name themselves.
In the meantime, If you’ve got a new role and you’re pondering what job title should come with it, give me a call on 0203 026 3871 to discuss some ideas.