How Does a Job Title Affect Salary Negotiation?

What’s in a name?

When it comes to your salary, a name could be worth thousands of dollars.

Though inane, bizarre titles like, “Digital Overlord” (read: “Website Manager”) or “Wizard of Lightbulb Moments” (read: “Marketing Director”) are good for a couple laughs or showing the world you’re a unique snowflake, they do virtually nothing to reveal accurately what you do or how much experience you may have. And when it comes to salary and the progression of your career, having the right title can make a big difference.

Think of your job title like the cover of a book; it should quickly give you an accurate sense of the subject. In this case, the subject is you, and your title should roughly describe what you do and how experienced you are. Hiring managers and recruiters are often shuffling through dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes, and if your job title makes you look more junior than you are, or implies your area of expertise isn’t right for a specific role, that could mean a premature exit from the candidate pool.

With that in mind, having the wrong job title or not being diligent when asking for the title you want could have serious ramifications in regard to the evolution of your career. Does “Wizard of Lightbulb Moments” imply “Marketing Director?” To most hiring managers, probably not, particularly if that Director is trying to move into a more senior position. Yes, at the right company a weird title could go over great. But in general, it’s best to stick to a reliable formula.

Using myself as an example: I’m a Sr. Content Strategist here at PayScale, a job title I’ve held for about a year. I have roughly 13 years of experience working in marketing, journalism and copy writing. I specialize in creating content, and the major focus of my job is strategically planning PayScale’s B2C marketing content. Based on my title, you probably could have guessed as much after reading those three words, one of which is abbreviated.

As far as salary goes, depending on the market and the availability of talent, the difference between a Content Strategist and a Sr. Content Strategist could be thousands of dollars a year. And the “Sr.” in my title also indicates the next step in my career will likely be up to a more senior role. (I hope!)

“A title should reflect level of experience,” says PayScale Talent Acquisition Partner Caitlin Williams. “If someone’s a Senior Manager versus someone who’s merely a Manager, I’d expect there to be a measurable distance between the two jobs.”

When it comes to negotiating a title, just like negotiating salary, Williams insists candidates prepare thoroughly. “You’d better be coming to the table having done our homework,” she says. “Know what you want and why, and have concrete reasons for asking for a specific title.”

In the new economy, many people’s career paths are less-than-traditional. If you’re unsure of what your next title should be, a good place to start is PayScale’s Salary Survey, which will give you an idea of what people doing your job, with your experience level, in your area are making. The option “I’m evaluating a job offer,” is a great place to  experiment with different job titles, providing examples of the duties and responsibilities typically associated with each title, and letting you see if there’s any difference in salary when the title is changed.

But just in case you hit a wall when negotiating your job title, don’t forget it’s just part of the overall job negotiation process.

“Make sure you have a plan B,” says Williams. “If the hiring manager isn’t willing to compromise on title, maybe you can negotiate a bigger salary or better benefits in exchange.”

So don’t sweat it too hard if you can’t add “Director” or “VP” to your email signature just yet. When you’re negotiating, a “Sr. Manager” title plus a higher salary and extra week of vacation can be just as sweet.

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