Finding the right person for a role starts with an effective job title. A title that’s confusing, vague, or inaccurate could keep your best candidates away. Here’s how to make your job titles stronger.
A good job title is a little like good marketing:The right words can entice the right audience. On the other hand, titles that are outdated, too broad, or too niche can give the wrong impression of the job and can get in the way of finding the talent you’re after.
“Job titles that don’t accurately reflect the role within the organization or are written to be cutting-edge will lead to prospective employees not searching for, or finding, an employment posting,” say Nonprofit HR’s Lori Kipnis, managing director of strategy and advisory, and Lisa McKeown, managing director of benefits and compensation.
Understanding how to better align job titles with the roles they’re meant to describe can give your association a leg up on finding talented people who fit the organization. But how do you know when a job title needs reworking? There are a few indicators, one being when there’s no correlation between compensation and title. For example, having a manager, an advisor, and a director on the same pay grade could indicate that your titles need an overhaul to more accurately reflect each job’s level of responsibility.
If prospective employees or staff members often ask for clarification on what a job entails, your job title may be too vague or complicated. And if certain tasks come as a surprise to those who apply, the title might not align with the job’s purpose.
Kipnis and McKeown recommend a few ways to take a closer look at your job titles:
- Connect with your recruiting team or staffing agency for insight on job titles.
- Search similar associations’ LinkedIn pages or websites to see what titles exist in their organizations.
- Participate in salary surveys conducted by a third-party organization. From there, that organization can point out discrepancies between job titles and compensation.
If you determine your titles need tweaking, use the following guidelines.
If your job titles are vague or unusual, candidates might never even see your listing, as they’ll be looking for more common descriptions. For example, the title “human resources director” will probably get more attention than “people champion,” even if the latter is more distinctive.
“In this instance, employers may not receive as many applicants, since candidates are more likely to search for ‘human resources director,’” Kipnis and McKeown say. “Save the cutting-edge titles for internal use, and align the job posting title to reflect the external market.”
Clever or whimsical titles—such as “number ninja” for an accountant or “data guru” for an IT position—might be eye-catching, but they could hurt you during the hiring process because they don’t provide a clear explanation of the job’s role, level, or responsibilities.
Avoid Industry Jargon
While titles need specificity, they should also be broad enough that they’re understood by those outside of your organization or industry. Kipnis and McKeown say a poor job title is one that uses technical or industry jargon, is abbreviated, or refers to specific project names.
Keep It Simple
You want your job title to describe the position accurately, but there’s no need for an overly long title that explains every detail of the position. Let your job description fill in the gaps. Research suggests that titles containing 50 to 60 characters generate more applications than titles outside that range. A good rule of thumb is to be as concise as possible, Kipnis and McKeown say.
It might be tempting to give a position a title that inflates the job’s importance or level of responsibility to generate more interest. Examples include adding “senior” to a title without increasing the role’s job responsibilities, or labeling someone a “manager” when the person won’t actually manage a team or project. When titles are misleading, prospective employees go into the application process, or even begin the job, with an inaccurate idea of where they stand in the organization.
“Often, titles are used to provide a sense of promotion when an opportunity may not be available at a higher level in an organization,” Kipnis and McKeown say. Don’t make that mistake.