While talking to a peer searching for a Director of Talent Acquisition, something funny happened when I asked about team size.
“How big is the team?” The typical question, right, especially since I noticed that the fintech startup was about 140 people deep and was established about five years ago.
There was a pause. “That’s the best part; this person will get to build the team!”
“Oh, cool-cool. So…” I paused and took a deep breath because I knew exactly where this was heading. “Where is comp on this?”
After muttering that they were looking for a “real up-and-comer,” I knew where compensation was. “Help me understand, is this an IC or a leadership role?”
“Both!” they exclaimed.
“Both? How can this be both?” I had to ask. After reiterating that this was a startup and that the ideal candidate would wear many hats, I got the picture: my friend was asking me to refer to them a recruiter who would be enamored with the title and the prospect of being a startup’s only recruiter at a salary well-below market.
Games, Games, Games
Are companies playing Monopoly with job titles?
You betcha! It’s the ultimate game of inflation and deception. Smaller companies with limited resources may use job titles creatively to attract and retain talent or make themselves look like a big deal. But let’s be real; the only IT guy at a company could be the CIO, but companies may use different titles to stretch their budget and make the most of their limited resources.
Additionally, companies may use more general or ambiguous job titles to avoid having to pay for higher-level positions. This can inflate job titles to create a better image of their company and to attract and retain top talent. Or to make the job sound more important or prestigious to attract top talent. But let’s face it, people are emotional and ego-driven, so if it’s a title that seals that deal, often, organizations might be willing to flex on titles.
Title inflation happens for perfectly understandable reasons. Businesses are now in cost-cutting mode. Corporate-title inflation has crept into the workplace and is rising precipitously. Layoffs, hiring freezes, and concerns about a recession are spooking C-suite executives
Employers — and recruiters — have a clear incentive to make titles sound more attractive. A loftier title can go a long way when they’re tapped out on compensation
Experts say that title inflation can usually crop up in a few ways. Vanity titles are common in the startup world, especially in companies that lack a clear organizational hierarchy. With fewer rungs on the corporate ladder, promotions might occur less often — but that doesn’t stop companies from offering title-only upgrades, where employees assume a more prestigious job title without a pay increase or added responsibilities.
It serves to solicit unqualified candidates. Excessive title inflation can hurt the reputations of companies and their recruiters and could even question how qualified existing teams are. I mean, can you imagine a finance team with a bunch of inflated, ridiculous titles? That would be a disaster! And let’s not forget about the bizarre titles like “customer happiness hero” or “office ninja”. These are just empty buzzwords that don’t give any information about the role. So, job title inflation is like trying to put whipped cream on a turd, it may look nicer, but it’s still a turd.
When money is tight, a bump in the title is a way of recognizing someone’s efforts cheaply. Job title inflation is the increasing number and size of grandiose job titles in corporations and organizations without a corresponding increase in pay or increased importance. For organizations looking to bring in new employees, an inflated job title may confuse and disappoint applications if the role turns out to be a lower-level position than they were expecting. Ultimately, that can waste time and money in the recruiting process.
The CIO who?
The CIO of the company, but don’t let my title fool you, I’m still just the only IT guy here.
Additionally, companies may use more general or ambiguous job titles to avoid having to pay for higher-level positions. Could companies inflate job titles to create a better image of their company and to attract and retain top talent? To make the job sound more important or prestigious to attract top talent?
Job titles are a key part of an employee’s currency on the labor market and can affect how someone’s career progresses, how much money they make, and even their status among peers and customers. And just like with any asset, a disconnect between the supposed value and the fundamental truth can end poorly.
Think about what’s happening in the world of Engineering recruiting. Title inflation for engineers is becoming more common, even in large companies. A senior software engineer at Uber, who spoke anonymously to Protocol, said she was promoted to senior engineer within three years of starting her first engineering job. This promotion allowed her to double her salary when Uber hired her and many of her peers are advancing at the same rate. The engineer said she expects her career to “plateau” a bit after climbing early.
So What’s the Harm to Recruiting?
Job title inflation can hurt recruiting efforts by making it difficult for companies to attract and retain top talent. When job titles are inflated, it can create confusion and mistrust among potential candidates and employees, as they may question the validity and value of their role within the company. Additionally, inflated job titles can also create unrealistic expectations and a lack of clear career progression within the company, leading to dissatisfaction and high turnover rates. Furthermore, when job titles are inflated, it can also make it harder for companies to compare and compete with other companies in terms of salary and benefits, which can also hurt recruiting efforts.
Also, consider the candidate and their future job prospects: job title inflation can make it difficult for candidates to stand out in the job market as their title may not accurately reflect their experience and expertise. It can also create confusion for recruiters and hiring managers as they may need help to distinguish between candidates with inflated titles and those with experience and qualifications. Additionally, candidates can struggle to negotiate salary and benefits as their inflated title may not align with their actual experience level. Overall, job title inflation can create a lack of trust and credibility for the candidate in the job market.
What’s Next with Job Title Inflation?
Inflating job titles is a growing trend in the workplace, particularly among smaller companies looking to attract and retain talent or make themselves appear larger than they are. Inflated titles can stretch budgets, make jobs sound more important or prestigious, or avoid paying for higher-level positions. However, this practice can harm the company and the individuals involved. It can create confusion, mistrust, and unrealistic expectations among employees and candidates, leading to dissatisfaction and high turnover rates. It can also make it difficult for companies to attract and retain top talent, compete with other companies in terms of salary and benefits, and for candidates to stand out in the job market. Therefore, recruiters should be aware of the potential pitfalls of inflated job titles and consider them when evaluating candidates and positions.
As a Talent Acquisition Partner at McAfee, Brian Fink enjoys bringing people together to solve complex problems, build great products, and get things done. In his recent book, Talk Tech to Me, Fink takes on the stress and strain of complex technology concepts and simplifies them for the modern recruiter to help you find, engage, and partner with professionals.
Weekly news and industry insights delivered straight to your inbox.