How to pick your next job title

Why title-chasing in your job title is a loser’s game, and what you should be focusing on instead when picking your next job title.

If you pick a title you’re not ready for, you’re hurting your future career options

If you pick a title that moves you up in the organization and fail, it’s a recipe for a huge career setback. Say you’re looking to make the move from a manager to a director. You’re already an experienced manager. The problem is, you don’t really know what it means to be a director, and you’re not sure you’re ready. You have a few options. You can:

  1. Pick another manager title at another company that has expanded responsibilities that will prepare you for a director role.
  2. Try to expand your responsibilities in your current role
  3. Become a director in your new role, with your new title

The problem with 3 is if you fail. When you go back to apply for manager roles, you’ll find that employers are much less likely to give you an interview. After all, why is a director applying for a manager role? In short, you’ve potentially cut yourself off from any role in the future with a lower title, thereby dramatically decreasing the number of opportunities you can pursue.

So you’re much better either expanding your responsibilities, or changing jobs with a similar title. And there’s gradients you can pick from in your job title you might be able to change, e.g maybe you can become a senior manager before you make the leap.

Job Titles mean completely different things in different contexts

Job Titles vary with company size

Future employers know that the organizational size matters a lot when they look at your job tile. A vice president at a 10,000 + person company is very different from a vice president at a 100 person company. The former will have multiple directors reporting up to them, and several layers of management. And will usually have a more rigid organizational structure with many processes built out. Whereas someone at a 100 person company will likely have less senior direct reports, looser organizational structure, and is expected to build new processes.

Some professions have job titles that don’t mean much

Take “data scientists” or “product managers”. They do a lot of different things depending on the organization you ask. So for professions like these the job title doesn’t really matter anyways.

Job titles are mainly a vanity metric for your career

What truly matters is your accomplishments, which are agnostic of your title or company size. Nobody cares about your job title really other than to compare themselves to you.

Beware the internal context of job titles when choosing your job

Your job title can help or hurt you right off the bat. A few examples:

  1. If you are insistent on picking a high-up title for your organization, it can create expectations you may not be able to reach: this generally happens when you don’t have full executive buy-in on your new title, which inevitably makes them want to dump expectations and responsibilities on you. Why? Because people like to prove themselves right, so they may try to test you or make you fail
  2. If you pick too low of a title, it can hurt your early influence: This is for organizations that think title carries a lot of weight in terms of who is allowed to influence what. E.g if you’re a manager in a room full of directors, and they all think place in org hierarchy = what you’re allowed to say, you could be in big trouble.

How to pick your job title, and why you’re asking the wrong question

Since we’ve established that job titles really vary a lot and don’t mean much, it’s much more important to think of other factors when looking at your next opportunity. A few examples of questions to ask yourself:

  1. What kind of impact are you going to have in your next role?
  2. Does your new role eventually set you up for your eventual desired title change?
  3. Are you thinking clearly about your job title criteria, or is it your ego talking to you?

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