IT Employment

Inflated job titles: Employees and employers beware

Companies assign inflated job titles for a number of reasons. But there are better reasons for not following that practice.

This piece originally posted in April, 2012.

I've written before about how I hate inflated and obscure job titles. But, my personal preference aside, there are ways that an obscure job title can actually hurt you. (And I'm not talking about all those Directors of Inspiration, and other such rot, who may have been clubbed over the head.)

First of all, let's say I'm a hiring manager looking for a helpdesk worker. I'm working my way through resumes like they're a stack of Pringles and I come across "Investment development and research analyst" as a job description. Not only is that not going to trigger recognition but I'm not going to take the time to research it.

Of course, you can't help what title you are given in a corporation. I recommend just putting in parentheses what the weird title actually translates to. As much as it galls people to hear me say it, your job with a resume is to illustrate a picture of your talents and experience in a manner that is easiest to digest by the hiring manager.

(My title here at TechRepublic is not exactly ideal: Head Blogs Editor. Frankly, to me it sounds like an occupation that requires a hat. But I guess it's descriptive, on a basic level.)

The other way inflated job titles can hurt is that it can backfire on the company who assigns them. As stated on http://hr.blr.com, any mismatch between the job title and job functions "invites auditors from the state or federal level into your workplace to investigate. The auditors will ask you to hand over all your job descriptions, and they may go through them line by line. If you've updated them to match job titles, the auditors will find the holes-the functions that some jobholders can't perform. And if you change someone's job title but not his or her job description, you may be sunk."

The site also warns against title weirdness affecting exempt and non-exempt status: "Give someone a fancy title and you may be tempted to pronounce him or her exempt. Not only do you deprive the person of overtime but you could invite an investigation by the Department of Labor's Wage & Hour Division. Class action suits for misclassification of workers are at an all-time high and can be very expensive."

So keep a rein on the fancy schmancy job titles!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

128 comments
mjd420nova
mjd420nova

The F.S. department starts with a Field Service Representative. Kind of like the advance party to an assault. They decide if the job can be done, if we can do the job, or who can do the job. If we can do the job, the REP decides who in his service area, both field service engineers and field service techs can do the job and coodinate their arrival. The REP is the sales man, the engineer the supervisor and the tech the one who does the real work. Often one person fills all three jobs.

hewhobarksatdogs
hewhobarksatdogs

That's the job title as well as the job description. Anyone who is "HMFWIC" knows what I am talking about.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Inflated and fancy job titles is nothing knew; for instance: companies give any IT employee the title of “Engineer” without the person having taken one single and solitary course in college math, Physics, Chemistry. and engineering at the university level and without the university diploma which gives the person the title of engineer and they do it for several reasons. As an engineer, the employee is supposed to do everything under the sun and be a salary employee and hence not to get paid overtime as they always do in the IT arena: however, even salary employees are supposed to get overtime pay under Federal and State Law if the job the individual does meets a set of criteria under Labor Law. For instance, every computer system administrator, even with a university degree, should be hourly as they do not, as a general rule, design anything which requires a novel invention...everything has been already done and on the Internet for any one to just grab and use it. Also, companies want the individual to do everything they want the employee to do no questions asked and in the process burn the individual to the point of putting his/her health in jeopardy and they can care a less. So, beware of those requirements and if they are asking for an engineer to do systems administration... just pass it by and forget about it.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

I was behind a fire service vehicle and saw the title Battalion Chief on it, I thought it would be such a cool working title! Better than Director of Sales, BDM and all that other boring crap, and it would get some attention for sure. These standard titles employers use to entice people into applying for sh**ty jobs, as if they were entering C-Level roles, are a farce. Battalion Chief - love it!!!!

onlinejimk
onlinejimk

Hi Toni: Often enjoy your contributions to the "humanity" side of our technical lives. Given this topic, isn't your title one of the offenders? A "Head Blogs Editor" is someone who edits "Head Blogs"! Wouldn't "Head Editor For Blogs" be more accurate? Just sayin' :)

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

my title was "Area Manager" On my resume, that job is listed as "Technical Pre- sales" which is what it mostly was. The goal is to get into the situation where I explain what the duties actually were, and how that experience is relevant to the job I'm applying for

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

what Ed Norton used to call himself: "I work for the City" and, as Ralph said "I bive a druss"

outtaoffice
outtaoffice

Many companies such as mine get around the whole liability/job description thing by adding the line "Other duties as assigned" as the very last line in every job description in the company. It makes it a little difficult to say "NO" when a manager asks someone in Accounting to go clean the toilets.

fishcad
fishcad

HR is not my area, but I'm curious about why the state or feds would care about your job titles.

jevans4949
jevans4949

I understand that under UK law, if you declare a job redundant, you cannot re-use the title for some while. I once worked for company which was a division of a much larger company where our business was declining due to technology changes. It was decided that 2 of the 5 senior managers would take voluntary redundancy (quite willingly, given their entitlement), and some tasks would be re-shuffled. The original job titles fitted quite well, the new titles were somewhat clumsy and didn't accurately describe what they were doing.

david.lloydjones
david.lloydjones

"Head Blogs Editor. Frankly, to me it sounds like an occupation that requires a hat." I like it. -dlj.

philip_jones2003
philip_jones2003

A person that performs vasectomies is also a 'blank manager'?

Geordie Lad
Geordie Lad

IMHO, crap smells the same whatever you call it!

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Reports and Analysis Apprentice: Operate a key punch machine for 4 hours a day, spend 2 hours a day purging paper files, spend 2 hours a day manually figuring standard deviations, upper & lower control limits, and pasting thin colored tape on graphs, 2 hours a day every George job the military wants done. Vehicle Maintenance Controller and Analyst: All of the above, plus shuffle jobs from one shop board to another. Vehicle Maintenance Control and Analysis Supervisor: Lowest level of management, and do all of the above in your spare time. Security Manager: Watch the safe with classified documents in it each day. Figure the unit readiness reports, then distort them into an unrecognizable parody of reality based on parroting what the Commander wants it to say. Network Administrator: Do whatever it takes to keep the network and every PC in the company running. Here's the credit card. Oh, by the way, you get to be an Oracle DBA too. Senior System Administrator: Except there's nobody to be senior to, and you don't have DBA privileges for the system you're supposed to be administering, and half the time you're actually doing analytics. The funny thing is, those are actually better than a lot of other ones out there.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

I work for the Florida Department of Agriculture as a Distributed Computer Systems Analyst. Actually I'm a help desk operator, a hardware repairman, a software configurator(is that a real word?) and teacher, and general hand-holder for users who don't want to learn how to do things for themselves. Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I just say "Computer Tech." I have less than ten months to retirement, so I really don't have to worry about the title fitting the actual work, but it's still a bit irritating. Somewhat of a digression, but the best job title I ever ran into was "Deputy International Liaison Duty Officer."

MissDorkness
MissDorkness

I've always been bothered by anything using Engineer or Architect as anything other than what they really are. I've known some 'applications engineers' who hated their job titles because they felt their roles (of training and supporting software, not writing it) were nothing like what mechanical or electrical, etc engineers do and shouldn't sound even remotely alike. I've also seen the term Project Engineer, not referring to someone working in an engineering function, but, someone assisting the Project Manager with various resources. Extremely misleading, and potentially problematic down the road.

dnelson
dnelson

My favorite - General Operations Director...GOD.

mjfric
mjfric

I agree- it's like calling the guy who pumps gas a "Petroleum Transport Engineer"....

Datacommguy
Datacommguy

Too many times I was offered a "new and better" title since there was nothing left in the salary bucket. There were times when that had future prospects since the grade level went up with the new title, but often not. I've found that to be quite common. When there's no raises on the horizon, you've gotta do 'something' to recoginse performance... even if it's a new and better sounding title rather than a raise. And in response to others who've mentioned job titles which were defined as "exempt" I offer the the "Network Engineer" at one of the companies I worked with, where that guy's job was stringing cable and fiber - often with plenty of overtime and weekends but no overtime pay (or comp time). Of course, if he was a good boy, someday he might get to work on the equipment those wires connected to. Years ago, when GE was making and selling mainframes, they designated all their field computer techs as salaried-exempt. After a major court case, the field repair techs were determined to be similar to a skilled auto mechanic and reclassified as non-exempt. Those who'd kept track of their overtime and turned it in - even though they were advised it didn't make any difference - got paid for it; in some cases, with REALLY nice checks for years of overtime worked..

hochspeyer
hochspeyer

was Programmer Analyst. I did a bit of scripting (but no "real" programming) and absolutely no analysis.

Professor8
Professor8

Toni makes a good point, but, in addition to the obscure ones, there are problems with dishonest job titles that are deflated as well as inflated. Many managers were taught in B-school to hand out inflated titles or give out effusive compliments in lieu of actual compensation, and they believed that they could get away with that forever and still have enthusiastic employees. Countering that, though, is that when hiring, it's more difficult to get people to sign on to a title that's below their abilities and aims. I tend to put a title honestly descriptive of what I did (or training I completed, for that matter), and then the "official" versions in parens. (E.g. I did once receive a cert. as a "visionist" for churning out lots of creative alternatives, but, on the rare occasion when I do mention it, turn it into the more familiar "visionary"; and a class on operating system modification, configuration, installation and maintenance I usually refer to by the less clumsy and more famliar "sys admin". Lost the cert. for data-base tuning, so I don't usually mention it, but stil have the one for "information analysis" which is really ORM -- object-relational modeling, not "O-R mapping".) I still suspect that most "software engineers" don't really approach software design and dev in a way that's closely analogous to that of a mechanical engineer. OTOH, i only once ran across a bodyshop that actually used and abused "coders"; the CEO was very proud that he made all of the "software architecture" and design decisions and employed cheap "coders" who were not very knowledgeable or bright to implement, expecting his plans to work out essentially perfectly every time. Then again, most app and systems "analysts" I've known did spend a great deal of their effort in analyzing, and not every "consultant" or "contractor" is a body shopped.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

Toni, I have written in this blog before about managers and company policies being stupid. Now in the IT Industry everybody is an engineer without having a university degree; all they have is probably a two weeks certification and they become engineers; however, when is time to apply some engineering logic to solve problems they just cannot cut the mustard; believe me, I seen it several times. What you mention about audits regarding job descriptions is true; I am an engineer with a university degree but have been working as a UNIX administration for several years and the why is a long story; in the process I have worked with guys with no college at all and some with a certification and all they can do is to memorize a bunch of commands and do the trivial daily things; but, when it comes to solve problems they are zero to the left of the decimal point; however, they are engineers according to the company and there is a reason for it: the company gets away with not paying overtime as those guys work not less than ten hours almost daily plus the ???On Call??? duty which is not paid accordingly???so, companies get away with murder and make lots of coins in the process. I know this because I sue the company I was working for precisely for that reason and won the case. I also learned from a friend that the company he was working for was sue by one of the guys because the extra hours not being paid and he won the case and after that the company had to change the employees status from Exempt to Non-Exempt as workers must be paid overtime to comply with the ???Labor Law???; however, under ???Labor Law???, and specially California law, it does not matter if the person is a PhD in order to be recognized overtime pay???the key is ???what kind of job he/she is doing??? ; for example, if the person has a university degree and the job does not require "creativity", typical in the IT world, then that person should be paid hourly ( Job titles do not determine exempt status). To me, any certification can never be equivalent to a university engineering degree and as such those people are Non-Exempt workers and must be paid hourly and overtime; however, companies call them engineers and want them to do everything under the sun.

jamie
jamie

"Not only do you deprive the person of overtime..." As if that happens by accident.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Is the use of "engineer" with no degree in engineering; I need to make certain I am not guilty of that error. I once knew a manager who held the titles (concurrently) of CIO, CTO, CSO. Sadly, as Chief Information Officer he did not know how to find information; as Chief Technology Officer he had no idea how the technology functioned; as Chief Security Officer he claimed to be suffering from information overload and recommended using the same password on all systems.

GuyHarel
GuyHarel

I worked for a company with a very mediocre programmer. Really a guy who doesn't know anything. Very low salary. Got eventually slaked and managed to find another job. When I asked what he was doing now, the answer was "I am a business analyst for the international IT consulting firm XYZ". What ? Business analyst ! You ! Got my head spinning for quite a while. Not only this guy cannot be a business analyst of any kind, but I will never trust or hire any consultant from that firm. Nor do will I ever want to work for that firm.

prbennett
prbennett

It's new to me, that there's some kind of Kafkaesque audit in store if there's a mismatch between job title and duties. Who does the audits exactly? And why do they do them? - the author mentions them but there's no explanation...

MichP
MichP

When I started out, I was an Associate Training Engineer. When the company decided they shouldn't be calling people without engineering degrees "engineers," I became a Training Specialist. They couldn't call me what I was (a programmer that happened to write computer-based training courses) because their contract with a subcontractor (apparently) said that anyone with that title had to work for the subcontractor. It was even touch-and-go for a while that our group could be named "Computer-Based Training" without stepping on toes. We were graciously granted an exception. :P

gordon
gordon

For the last 6 years of my working career my job title was "I do stuff". By then, I knew how to do so much stuff it wasn't worth itemizing.

rmhesche
rmhesche

Is that a 4 or 6 year degree Or a garbage mn Or someone good at picking up after other peoples mistakes no matter the discipline? .

Matusko
Matusko

What is your take on the small company who has 60 employees or less with a CEO, a controller for accounting, 2 or 3 Senior Vice Presidents each managing a service line, 1 director, and then a handful project managers, contractors, and employees underneith? Under one SVP there is a director. When is SVP appropriate in a small business? And is this title inflated as VP may be more appropriate for the business line? SVP seems to over distance the executive from the project manager(s) and employees who report to them when there is not much girth to the org chart.

GSG
GSG

Business Analyst III. It's boring, but most people know what a business analyst does. Yes, I do that, but I do so much more. That's why I list my skills first, then merely list my place of employment, official title, and dates employed towards the bottom. So I have sections such as, Project Management, Interface Analyst, System and Applications Administration, Teaching, etc... then I give descriptions of what I've done under each, with concrete examples of problems solved. That gives a much better idea of what you can do than a boring old job title.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

From what I can see, it's actually a military title Head Military Figure What's In Charge or as they also break it down "Head Mother F*****r What's In Charge" Probably some knobhead boss looking for an ex military hire because he likes to have a wank while telling war stories at the range on weekends.

JohnBoyNC
JohnBoyNC

As an old retired sailor, to me "Head Blogs Editor" _could_ be a plumber with a toilet plunger .

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

.....when it gets to 3 days 'till your retirement. It ALWAYS goes wrong :)

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

It's like the many salary base websites. Just based on sample data.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Does a software engineer not spend time using specific knowledge to develop solutions for technical problems? Do applications engineer not use specific knowledge to develop solutions for technical problems? Engineer is a broad term, like technician. It doesn't just mean someone who drives a train, builds bridges or boats.

andrew232006
andrew232006

After a 4 year university program in software engineering, I still wouldn't call myself an engineer. The title implies membership in the engineering association which people worked very hard to earn.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Job title means nothing in the U.S. when determining whether an employee is exempt from overtime pay or not. One of the tests that must be passed to determine exempt status is supervisory duties. With very rare exceptions on the support side of IT, if you aren't a supervisor, you aren't exempt. That includes your "Network Engineer" stringing and terminating cable and fiber...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The National Labor Relations Board or the state labor commission. Under current US labor law, exempt/non-exempt from overtime is not determined by the job title or job description, but by the work performed. The audits check duties performed and payroll to see if any employees are being unfairly denied overtime pay.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

someone who designs feminine protection products. What? Just sayin', is all - you were all thinking it :) Excuse me while I go and look for my sense of taste and decency....

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I'd challenge that on the basis that most of our back office staff are Business Analyst grade 1 - 3. Our back office include administrators, receptionists, post room operators, finance administrators, data processing staff and other similar roles. Only our IT team and certain managers seem to know what a BA is and when this title should be used. The curse of the generic title strikes again.

MissDorkness
MissDorkness

Good call. When I was in college, we were redoing our resumes as part of a Business Writing class. The folks brought in to speak to us gave a lot of advice, but, one of the things that most changed my resume was the advice on the resume formatting. Since I was planning on changing careers and did not have direct experience in my target market, the focus was on the types of functions that would be applicable (I grouped mine by 1. Project Management, 2. Computer Skills, 3. Presentation, Leadership & Communication). That is a lot more informative and to the point than a Chronological listing of my projects and accomplishments in my last role, which have no correlation to tasks I'd encounter in the next one.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

You think that you haven' worked hard to earn your title? Civil, mechanical and marine engineers have similar trades skills as you do, don't sell yourself short. Engineering isn't an exclusive club, it's a title that illustrates a field of expertise,, like having an MBA or LL.M etc.

grayknight
grayknight

Someone who designs household cleaning products. :)

ittechexec
ittechexec

Hi...I don't like to say "never" but, in my experience as a technical resume writer, functional resumes almost never work. Don't get me wrong, I understand the thought process behind them. It makes sense that you want to highlight the skills relevant to a particular position. Unfortunately, reality is that most people handling hiring don't like to read (I should say scan) resumes that way. They want to see things in their chronological context. I'd suggest a chronological resume with some functional elements to it...kind of a hybrid approach so that you put it in the framework they expect but still communicate the most important information in a manner that stands out. Here's a blog post on the topic http://mdalums95.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/functional-resumes-why-they-dont-work/

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

I have coached hundreds of people in job hunting and once was a motivational speaker for job finding services. For me it was a piece of cake, when I was younger, before PC's were everywhere, I'd teach people how to pick up a phone book, write a pitch and pitch the boss. As the old saying goes in sales, never pitch the bitch (meaning avoid gatekeepers, secretaries, assistants etc). Over time, especially on TR, I've been told many times "My company wouldn't let you get around HR etc." I have yet to find a single one where you HAVE to deal with HR, it's just an assumption people have. Sure it might take 5 calls to chat with the boss, or a few visits to the office but you WILL get talk or face time. Pitch the boss, just as if you were selling a product, which you are...YOU! From there, even if the boss recommends HR, have him transfer you directly and directly send or deliver a resume to a specific HR person you can follow up with. When they get a calls passed on as a recommendation from the boss, your resume gets instant consideration. As a sales rep that works mainly with C-Level staff, I ALWAYS work from the top down. I never work from the bottom up, it's almost impossible to not get stuck with someone trying to do a job they aren't supposed to. The other KEY I have found is to ALWAYS ask the boss for a reference if he's not hiring. "Based on what we've discussed, do you know of anyone else who would benefit from someone with my skillset?" It's worked twice for me personally and several times for people I've coached. Really, and I can't stress this enough, finding a job is just a sales process. I'd never call a receptionist, ask for the boss and pitch her when she says he' snot available...unless she was a decision maker. No offense to the gatekeepers but they do tend to take on decisions as if they controlled the company, instead of being in charge of calls. On the rare occasion, that you ask who makes decisions and a gatekeeper says, he's not interested, then I'll pitch her instead. Obviously she feels she is in a position to make such decisions on the company's behalf. She'll then either admit she has no part in the process, in which case just ask again 'who does?', or she'll get frustrated and unable to answer your questions, passing you on. "Oh he's just got off the phone, I'll transfer you." If you get his voice mail, note the name and don't leave a message. Next time you call it's "Hi Veronica, James please" and you'll be in touch. If the receptionist says ALL applications are done online through our website or asks you to send it to general@ or info@, write it down and say thank you. Then again ask what the owner's name is. Eventually you'll get it, phones will ring, you'll be put on hold a few times but she'll give it to you. It's persistence that owners LOVE but gatekeepers hate, you WILL WIN! It is proven, countless times over several decades and though all these technological changes.

ittechexec
ittechexec

You're right...this is quite common. After going through the computerized screen (ATS systems), HR will typically give a 4-15 second review of the resume, checking chronology to weed out those with unexplained gaps or a history of job hopping. They'll look at education and certifications. Then compare keywords with the job posting. Then it goes to the hiring manager. I suggest networking and other job search strategies that get your resume directly in the hands of a decision maker so you can bypass the HR black hole!

MissDorkness
MissDorkness

Interesting, thank you. So, do you think HR people are actually looking at resumes these days? In my company, it's all computerized. While you can upload a resume, you're required to fill in precise information into their system according to their format, so, my assumption was that no one actually reads the resume itself, until the candidate passes the software's initial vetting and ends up in the hands of the hiring manager. Is this not as common as I'd been led to believe?

Editor's Picks