I have an extremely ambiguous position and non fitting job title. And I’m looking for a new job. I read in a previous post that it’s your company policy to only disclose title and dates. Due to this, issue I am altering my title to reflect the tasks applicable to the job I am applying for. (interactive marketing specialist when applying for an interactive marketing role). I don’t lie about the actual role or what I accomplished, but just the title. I don’t want to talk to HR or my boss about changing it, because I fear that they will see no real need for me and fire me.

1. Is this a common practice? What is the law on HR disclosing information about previous employees?
2. If a potential employer finds out about this, what are the chances that I will have a chance to explain?

Thank you!

p.s. I love the blog. It’s insanely informative!

Titles are a funny thing. I once had the title, Functional Lead. What in the heck does that mean? Really. I could never place it on salary surveys. I hated putting it on my resume because it meant nothing.

On the other hand, when my husband was only 1.5 years out of school he got a job offer with an advertising agency. His proposed title? AVP. Wow, you are all saying, impressive to be an Assistant Vice President only 1.5 years out of school! Except that because it was an advertising agency everyone’s title was inflated because clients don’t want to meet with a junior person.

When I worked for a very small company the Sr. Vice Presidents all made between $60,000 and $70,000 per year. Now that I work for a Fortune 500 company the Sr. Vice Presidents make—well, lets just say a lot more than that.

My point on all of this? Titles don’t matter as much as you think they do. Granted, it’s an easy way to figure out what someone did at a quick glance but any competent recruiter will know to look beyond title.

My standard reply is don’t lie. It can only lead to trouble.

However, titles in systems (what a call to HR would verify) are not necessarily what is on your business card. For instance, 3 people may have the identical title of Director, Marketing. Those three people may have on their business cards, Director, New Product Marketing; Director, Market Research; and Director, Marketing Acquisitions. It would not be lying for these three to put this title on their resumes.

The question to ask yourself is, “if they called my current boss to verify my title and they read off what I have on my resume, would he say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If it’s no, then don’t do it.

You said, as an example that you used the title “interactive marketing specialist,” but you didn’t specify what your true title was. If it’s “marketing specialist” then you are okay. If it’s “specialist” then it’s okay. If it’s “Accountant”, then you are not okay. If it is “Accountant,” I would write on your resume. Accountant (interactive marketing specialist) 2003-Present.

Now, as to answer the explicit questions you asked.

1. There is no law saying what can and cannot be disclosed, but there are things most companies will and will not do. SHRM encourages companies to relay information about the person’s performance–things that are documented that is. And while most companies have explicit policies on what can and cannot be shared by HR, most reference checkers are going to be calling your former boss anyway and it’s doubtful he cares what the rules are.

2. Anytime you need to ask the question “what bad thing will happen if I do this?” you should rethink doing it. If I feel like you’ve lied you won’t get the job and you’ll probably get fired.

Unless your boss and HR are extremely vindictive and looking out for a reason to fire you, I don’t understand why going to them about a potential title change would result in ill feelings. I would approach it this way. “Bob, you know, my title is Accountant and I haven’t done any accounting in years. I’m really more of an interactive marketing specialist. Would it be possible to update my title to reflect that?”

If you really feel like you’d get fired for that, then don’t, but otherwise, what do you have to lose?

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5 thoughts on “Title Mania

  1. In our HR dept, we have a running bet on how many jobtitles we’ll add in a year (on an exempt population of about 400.)

    In some cases, the dept head tries to fit the entire job description into the title (sorry, only 30 characters).
    As our ex-CEO told me–titles are cheap. 🙂

    My bet is 40.

  2. I’m actually a fan of the generic system title: manager, supervisor, director, consultant, blah, blah blah. Let them put the detail in the business card.

    There are problems that come with that as well.

    And for the record, Evil HRIS Guy is not a member of my evil family. Although I used to be an HRIS manager.

  3. True, I forgot my disclaimer–I am not personally acquainted with the evil Hr lady–just a reader/fan and new to the whole blogosphere

    I am, however, evil.

  4. Well of course you are evil. You’re in HR!

    We’re all evil. Well, except for maybe Deb who is nice, but everyone else is evil.

  5. Evil HRIS – my other favorite is when people try to use the title field in an HRIS system to track managers – as in leading the title with the name of a manager. Obviously a pretty small company (or a really weak HR person) if that is accepted as a solution…

    I think managers and up have a better shot and getting the title of their dreams. Once you get to the hourly side, the issue starts getting a lot firmer. I riffed on some of the reasons to give an inflated title here – http://www.hrcapitalist.com/2007/06/title_inflation.html.

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