In a job interview, you expect to have time to accurately represent your qualifications. You explain your job, your experience, and give a personal account of your professional achievements over time.
Before you get into the interview, though, you typically need your resume to pull some weight. Without being able to provide context in person, your resume has to paint a picture of who you are, where you’ve been, and where you have the potential to go in the future.
So which aspects of your resume are leaving the biggest impact on recruiters and hiring managers? The companies you’ve worked for? Your tenure? The degree(s) you earned in college? How about the job titles you’ve held in the past?
In an effort to understand how much job titles really matter, we surveyed more than 1,700 people, including employees and hiring managers, for an inside perspective on career growth and job hunting. Read on as we break down their responses on the importance of job titles, how much more money they expect to earn with a title change, how often we lie about our titles, and when a prestigious job title can hurt rather than help.
Assessing Their Worth
It has been suggested that your job title can act as a badge of authority. Beyond your formal job description and your day-to-day responsibilities, the title you hold at work can help define your responsibilities and the command you have to carry them out. The wrong job title can set you up for all kinds of failure, both in your current role and in jobs to come.
When asked if they believed their job titles mattered, roughly 30% of employees identified them as unimportant, and 26% said their job titles didn’t accurately describe the work they do. As we found, the gravity of titles increases significantly as company sizes grow. While less than half of employees (49%) working in companies with fewer than 10 employees believed their titles matter, nearly 3 in 4 people working in companies with 250 or more employees said the same.
Given their perceived importance by a majority of employees, 47% of those surveyed admitted “title fluffing” happens in their workplace, while 11% were unsure. In some cases, title fluffing or inflating can happen among employees looking to exaggerate their roles and responsibilities on a resume. Title fluffing can be perpetuated by companies themselves looking to attract talent with the allure of a more prestigious title for less-than-glamorous entry-level positions.
According to our survey, title fluffing was more common in midsize or large companies, likely because employees at larger companies thought titles were more important than employees at smaller companies.
In the professional world, perception can be reality, and your job title is more than just a name. It has the potential to signal your skills and qualifications both internally and externally. More unique or creative job titles may help you feel less stressed about the work you do, but they may also create negative connotations when you need to define your responsibilities or apply for another job.
Either when they were hired or after they accepted a position, nearly 1 in 4 employees acknowledged having attempted to negotiate a better job title for their roles. Of those who tried to amend their titles, fewer than half (45%) were successful, including 46% of men and 42% of women.
Job titles typically aren’t insignificant to the employees who hold them, and those we polled indicated the average raise for a title change should be nearly $3,500. Job titles can be so important that more than 1 in 3 employees (35%) would quit their current place of work for a better title elsewhere, and more than 1 in 10 anticipated quitting if they didn’t receive a title change in the next six months.
On your resume, no lie is little if you get caught in it. Whether it’s embellishing your experiences or inflating your previous titles, omissions and falsifications can lead to impossible expectations that could ultimately cost you your job and your reputation (it could even trigger legal action).
Nearly 13% of respondents admitted to lying about their job titles, 38% of whom were caught doing so. In most cases, employees lied to their friends, strangers, and extended family using social media and their resumes. Among the most common reasons for lying about their job titles, respondents indicated they wanted to increase their chances of getting a different job and create a title that more accurately described their day-to-day responsibilities.
A Positive Impact
Not every employee polled expressed the same belief that job titles matter or that they’re an important aspect of the working environment, but employees who did believe their titles were important were more likely to be satisfied with various aspects of their careers.
Compared to 45% of employees who said they don’t believe job titles matter, 58% of those who said they do were satisfied with their career paths. Another 69% of employees who saw value in their titles were satisfied with their jobs overall, and 78% were satisfied with their salaries (compared to 62% who said they don’t see titles as important).
More than 56% of employees agreed the modern worker wears a number of different hats, and 44% acknowledged job titles matter for career advancement. Roughly 43% said job titles matter to clients, and 36% believed job titles matter to their colleagues. Nearly 17% of employees said their current job title was misleading.
Fudging the Facts
When your day-to-day responsibilities are wildly diverse and you feel like your job title doesn’t accurately represent what you do, you might feel compelled to slightly alter the facts. Sixty-one percent of hiring managers agreed job titles are important during the hiring process, and 47% suggested it’s acceptable in some cases to modify your job title on a resume.
Knowing when it’s OK to tweak the wording of your title can be tricky, though. Roughly 45% of hiring managers said it’s never OK to modify the titles on your resume, and 43% of hiring managers had caught applicants lying about their titles in the past.
Most commonly, 43% of hiring managers said changing (and lying about) a job title is acceptable when the real title doesn’t reflect daily responsibilities. Additionally, being recognized by automated hiring systems (34%), landing an interview (20%), and increasing the chances of earning a job (15%) were also reasons hiring managers indicated it was acceptable to lie about a job title. Because 38% of hiring managers used automated systems to filter out applicants, adjusting the exact wording of your title can be crucial to getting noticed in more competitive fields.
From the organization chart to your LinkedIn profile, job titles signal different expectations and responsibilities depending on the audience. Many employees we polled indicated having attempted to negotiate a “better” title at some point in their careers, but having a major prestigious position on paper may not always play in your favor.
While more than half of hiring managers had no concerns over hiring an applicant who’d held a more distinguished title in their previous employment, 41% of hiring managers said they’d be apprehensive. More than 27% of uneasy hiring managers were worried the applicants would be overqualified, and another 24% said they were worried the applicants would be unwilling to do tasks they deemed beneath them. Another 22% worried the company wouldn’t be able to afford them.
Building a Better Resume
Making sure your job title accurately reflects the work you do is important both internally among your existing employer and externally if you want to consider new job opportunities in the future. And while employees working in smaller companies are sometimes less likely to see job titles as relevant, those who recognize their value are often more likely to be happy with their jobs and their compensation.
At MyPerfectResume, we believe in taking the stress and hassle out of crafting the perfect job-ready resume. With templates recruiters love to read and cover letter samples that take the guesswork out of landing the best first impression, we help hundreds of people get hired every day. Whether you’re looking for our resume builder services, automatic cover letters, or professional and customized support, we have the tools you need to put your best foot forward. Visit us online at MyPerfectResume.com today to learn more.
Methodology and Limitations
For this analysis, we administered online surveys to 1,707 employed people via Amazon Mechanical Turk. Of the 1,707 respondents polled, 895 indicated involvement in the hiring process, while the remaining 812 were full-time employees. 47.1% of the sample were female, 52.6% were male, and 0.3% identified as neither male nor female. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 76 with an average of 38 and a standard deviation of 11. We used attention-check questions to identify and disqualify respondents who failed to read questions and answers fully. As with all surveys, the main limitation of this study is the reliance on self-report. Self-reported data are faced with a variety of issues, such as attribution, exaggeration, telescoping, and recency bias. An effort was made to minimize bias throughout the survey.
Fair Use Statement
No need to embellish your resume on our account. If you want to share the results of this study with your readers for any noncommercial use, we welcome the added conversation with a link back to this page as recognition to our team of contributors for their work.