Executive Centre

Inflated job titles: Why should you resist

With the ever increasing demand for talent in almost every other sector, employers, especially smaller companies are trying every possible way (besides compensation) to retain their best people. One tool which has become popular almost suddenly is doling out fancy job titles. It is well understood that it is a title which most often than not determines status, within the company & externally & is as significant as money itself which has been the king for a while in India.

In some functions or businesses, title inflation may be genuinely called for & traditionally such titles have existed in such companies. For example- in Banking & I banking, it is important to carry weight on your card while interacting with large clients or prospecting for such clients. It is hard to spot someone titled an ‘Associate’ trying to open or close a client deal.

For companies in high attrition sectors like IT & ITES, this strategy seems to be working well from a company’s perspective as a retention tool, especially for smaller companies or privately managed (owner driven set ups, however large) as the employer is able to mitigate the fancy title (which does not cost anything by the way) against possibly a lower rise than what it would have needed to retain the employee. It does not really matter even if out of a total strength of only 100 employees, 12 are titled Directors!

However, from an employee’s perspective, it is not as harmless as it seems, the egotestical effects are only momentary. There are adverse medium to long term implications which are often ignored.

A direct fallout of an inflated title is that it makes you to a great extent- unemployable & as a corollary, it makes hiring harder. When people have an inflated title, they typically aren’t up to the same ‘role span’ or handle similar responsibilities as the ones with un-inflated titles in larger companies. This problem will get compounded if one has had many or all previous titles inflated, there is no recourse at that stage. For example, it should not be hard to digest that one may be considered by almost every large company for a Senior Manager title, (despite the fact that one has been a "vice president" three times over) because all the vice president roles were with very small companies.

Recently, this is what an IIT graduate with about 8 years of experience found hard to believe & seemingly still hasn’t recovered from it. He was titled SVP in his last job, with a Thailand based small IT consultancy outfit. March 06 this person resigned, got back to India & had his eyes set on independently running a business/P&L for a tier I IT company for their domestic/ South Asian business. The challenge is that the total revenues of his ex employer were in the region of 8-10 crores & most tier I companies have domestic revenues in multiples of the same.

Expectations on the role front were matched on the title as well- He is unable to come terms with why would a company not want to offer him a comparable designation or given the internal structure, offer a newly crafted title to accommodate him?!

There are still more title- related issues that can crop up. One can end up accepting a position from a prospective employer say that of a "chief evangelist" or "Head- Product fulfillment", only to get frustrated & realize a month down the line that the job content is nothing to write home about. For such roles, it is hard to be able to clearly identify the deliverables from the assignment at the interview stage or from the job description which usually turn out to be marketing spiels for such assignments.

Here’s an advice to such job seekers plagued with inflated titles- it is better to retroactively be positioned appropriate to the role, responsibility & business size handled. Your title has to clarify the job you did & appropriately so. If your boss says that the next title is a real huge jump, get him to explain why. Only if you are thoroughly convinced should you accept the title being offered, not merely taking it up since it sounds fancy.

A title should communicate the essence of what one does, people need to understand their core role from the title. When properly concocted, titles alert the immediate world, in and out of the company, to the job holder's function. A Business development manager should do just that; a Director of Purchasing should head a team of purchasing managers. With this, there would be a lot less confusion on your actual role. But if titles are less accurate, miscommunication and confusion are simply the beginning of uncalled for fallouts.