Job titles are to HR folks like water is to a fish: omnipresent, all around us every day, and so common that it rarely merits a second thought.
On email signatures, in org charts, on office doors, in meeting invitations, on LinkedIn profiles and of course at the top of every job ad – there they are.
As a HR professional you probably already know that making a small change to a job title when you advertise a job can make a huge difference to the type and volume of applicants that you get. Here at EthicalJobs.com.au, we’ve experienced this phenomenon regularly.
And that’s just one of many reasons why making sure that every role in your organisation has the right job title is essential to attracting the right people and aligning your team with your organisation’s mission and goals.
So before you click ‘submit’ on advertising your next job ad, pause and consider whether the job title you’re using is right for the person you’re trying to attract to the role.
What are job titles for?
It sounds like an incredibly obvious question, but actually job titles serve a larger variety of purposes in an organisation than at first glance.
Here are some examples taken direct from jobs on EthicalJobs.com.au:
1. Show the person’s position within your organisation’s hierarchy, for example:
- Board Member
- Executive Director
- Head of Department
- Team Leader
2. Clarify the work being done:
- Disability Support Worker
- Case Manager
- Recruitment Specialist
- Data Analyst
3. Do both at the same time, such as:
- Head of People & Culture
- Occupational Therapy Team Leader
- Marketing Coordinator
- General Manager, Education and Training
- Senior Administration Officer
4. Clarify the impact, purpose or geographic focus of the role, like:
- First Nations Housing Support Officer
- Lead Industrial Officer – QLD
- Program Facilitator – AOD Treatment Services
- NDIS Coordinator – Tennant Creek
- Program Manager – Nature Conservation
- Child Protection Caseworker – Intensive Support Services
Four things to consider when you’re creating a job title
In addition to those purposes, job titles influence recruitment and broader organisational dynamics in a variety of ways.
So whether you’re recruiting a brand new role, or just looking for a fresh way to advertise an existing one, here are four things you should consider when choosing a job title:
1. Recruitment and candidate attraction
First and probably foremost, crafting the right job title is the first step in attracting the right candidates. The language, tone, and mission alignment of a job title needs to resonate with the experience, values and interests of your ideal candidates.
Having the “right” title will help draw in candidates who are qualified but also those who are genuinely interested in the purpose and responsibilities of the role.
Use the wrong job title – or even just one that fails to resonate with the right candidates – and you’ll find yourself wasting hours reading through piles of irrelevant CVs.
For example: Digital Marketing Manager may draw in more candidates who are at home in the digital/online world than simply Marketing Manager; while Communications & Marketing Manager is likely to draw in more writers or those with writing/editing experience; and Fundraising & Marketing Manager may draw in more commercially focused candidates.
2. Compensation management
There’s no escaping the fact that job titles imply a certain level of compensation. That’s the case within an organisation, where people with the same or similar job titles may expect the same or similar compensation.
But it’s also also the case when you’re advertising a job, where – whether you’re open about the salary or not – jobseekers are likely to use tools like Payscale to set their own pay expectations for compensation based on the job title alone.
For example: Recruiting a fundraiser may be super-simple or incredibly difficult depending on how well the compensation matches the job title. Consider the different pay expectations that candidates will have – and different levels of experience they will need – for roles ranging from Fundraising Intern, Fundraising Assistant or Fundraising Coordinator, to Fundraising Manager, Head of Fundraising or Chief Fundraising Officer.
3. Organisational Culture and Engagement
Job titles also contribute to organisational culture. Titles that emphasise empowerment, impact and teamwork can foster a sense of purpose among employees. An employee with a title like Indigenous Youth Engagement Team Member might feel more engaged with their team than if their job title was simply Social Worker.
On the other hand, the wrong job title can negatively impact culture and engagement in a team.
For example: Giving a new or existing team member the title ‘Senior’ may seem like a small change, but if it’s seen by others in their team as unearned or if that person’s responsibilities are substantially the same as more ‘junior’ team members, it’s a recipe for division and conflict within a team.
4. Career growth, status and employee turnover
For good or ill, status is a significant driver when it comes to careers, and job titles can also signify status, career progression and growth opportunities within the organisation or team.
Research has found that giving an employee a more senior title can actually change how they act by making them feel happier at work.
Professor Jeffrey W. Lucas, Director of Research in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland has investigated “the impact of a high-status job title on the satisfaction, commitment, performance, and turnover of subjects who believed they were high performers on work teams.”
His research found that employees who were
“led to believe that they were high performers and were then assigned titles indicating high status . . . displayed greater satisfaction, commitment, and performance and lower turnover intentions than did high performers not given a high-status assignment.”
For example: Creating clear pathways from titles like “Assistant” to “Coordinator” to “Manager”, or from “Junior” to “Senior” to “Principal” may motivate employees to strive for advancement, improve in their roles or stay with your organisation longer – as long as those titles have clear responsibilities or competencies associated with them. “Fancy titles that people perceive as being nothing more than just that would be unlikely to have positive consequences”, according to Professor Lucas.
Crafting job titles that are clear, purpose-driven, and aligned with the organisation’s mission is essential for effectively attracting the right people and fostering a culture of commitment and impact.
Remember that job titles are more than just words; they shape perceptions, inspire action, and influence career trajectories. By harnessing the power of job titles effectively both in your job ads and also more broadly in your organisation, you can build a dedicated team that grows and continues to contribute to your organisation’s impact.
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