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The Next Big Recruiting Challenge: Inflated Job Titles

Date Published: September 15, 2022 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Suraiya Sarwar
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We’ve been hearing a lot about consumer inflation all over the news lately, but another form of inflation has also crept into the corporate world: title inflation. With concerns of a recession on the rise coupled with U.S. job openings at a historic high, this unique situation has resulted in more and more employers leveraging title inflation as a method to recruit talent without overspending on compensation.

What is an Inflated Job Title?

An inflated job title is an elevated title that some companies choose to give candidates as a recruiting strategy. However, the job duties do not reflect the responsibilities of the title. Title inflation offers employers a unique edge in attracting competitive candidates. In a tight labor market, which has been the case for the past year and a half, an inflated title can be an excellent incentive for an employee looking to make their next move. It’s also a good way for employers to compensate for a lower salary. If the company can’t provide the proper compensation, it can leverage its offer to be more competitive with a flexible title.

A few examples are if a sales manager is offered the title of “Chief Revenue Officer” or a Marketing Coordinator leaves that role to take on a new position as a “Senior Marketing Manager.” Some companies get even more creative, with titles such as “Head of Innovation” or “Brand Evangelist’. For further context, take a look at a few of the most common job titles of 2019 from SHRM:

  • Director of first impressions (receptionist)
  • Brand warrior (marketing associate)
  • Digital prophet (marketing manager)
  • Customer happiness hero (customer service representative)
  • Sandwich artist (Subway restaurant employee)

This trend, widespread in startups, has taken the corporate world by storm in the last couple of years. Datapeople’s Tech Hiring Report found that between 2019 and 2021, the tech industry observed a 100% increase in the number of job titles that contained the word “Lead” or “Principal,” as well as a 25% increase in the number of titles that included the word “Senior.”

Title Inflation: The Good and the Bad

In certain instances, title inflation doesn’t always have to be bad. One potential benefit of using a title such as “loss prevention officer” instead of a “security officer” is that it can reframe the role more positively or remove gendered stereotypes and other biases. Some roles, such as a “sales development representative” instead of a “salesperson,” can better fit because the title emphasizes how the role represents overall business growth.

In most cases, however, title inflation can pose a problem for recruiters and candidates. Candidates with an inflated title may dig themselves into a deeper hole later if their past work experience doesn’t quite lend itself as a match for their future position. If this is the case and the employee has to leave the company for a lower-level title, it can be a bad look if you have to explain why your title is from “VP of Product” to “Product Associate.” In an alternate situation, let’s say you get recruited by another company for a position that has everything you’re looking for – with one kicker, the title. If this position pays more money, but the title is below your current title, you may be less inclined to take it.

As a recruiter or company eager to hire talent, you are better off not engaging in title inflation. Hiring an incoming VP of Operations whose prior experience aligns more with the title of “Operations Manager” can be dangerous if the candidate isn’t prepared with the right skill set.

Overcoming Challenges that Come with Title Inflation

 There are a few ways to overcome this challenge if you’re in the tricky situation of negotiating with a candidate or an employee who wants a higher title. For starters, emphasize the difference between their current role and the role you will be offering them, whether it’s the number of people being managed, responsibilities, or other job duties. Next, discuss the unique benefits your candidate will get out of their new role and how the opportunity provides more than just money and a fancy title.

While you may feel that title inflation could be of aid, especially in times of a tight labor market or large hiring quota, it’s only a short-term fix. Ultimately, your organization’s reputation and business growth could take a hit.

Most importantly, HR teams should spend their time and resources finding candidates who align with the company’s mission and values. An employee or candidate only interested in “rising through the ranks” or is after a specific title will likely leave for the next opportunity anyway.

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