Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Titles Don’t Pay Bills
January 6, 2009, 10:00 pm
Filed under: Career Advice, Public Relations, Recruiting

All throughout my research career, one of the things I’ve consistently had to do is to look for individuals who possess a certain title level for whatever job I happen to be researching. This is always interesting because depending on the size of the company, the titles change for various levels of experience. For example: an employee at a 5 person company with the title of “Vice President” would almost certainly not be suited for a “Vice President” position at a company employing 500 people. At the same time, a person who is a group manager at a 10,000 person company would most likely be well suited to be a managing director or a VP for a 100 person organization.

Having an elevated title can be both a blessing and a curse. Achieving the next level in your career quicker than normal can be exciting – but at the same time, it can also potentially hurt your hire-ability elsewhere. There is certainly something to be said for earning your promotion – but if you’ve gotten a title boost without having really earned it, you might be in a tough situation should you ever decide (or be forced) to leave your current place of employment.

Let’s take a look at this scenario: a PR professional with roughly 3 years’ experience joins a company and is given the title of Account Manager.

Now, let’s back up a second and take a look at the title system in the world of PR. Public Relations is an ideal industry to use as an example, particularly in the agency setting, because titles are pretty universal. Entry level positions are Account Coordinator (AC) and Assistant Account Executive (AAE). From there, you get promoted to Account Executive (AE), Senior Account Executive (SAE), and then to Account Supervisor (AS) or Account Manager (AM), both of which are around the same level depending on which company you are with. Then, it goes to Senior Account Manager (SAM), Account Director (AD), and on to the various levels of Vice Presidency and Executive titles. There is a natural progression from one level to the next which is pretty universally accepted.

Back to our scenario: at 3 years’ experience, it’s pretty certain that an individual would not in actuality be at an Account Manager level in their career. Nevertheless, this individual is excited about having this title and accepts it. However, if this person ever wants to switch companies, they are going to run into some problems:

  1. Once you have a title of Account Manager, it is highly unlikely that you are going to want to take a step back. (hey, I wouldn’t want to either!)
  2. Other companies will see 3 years’ experience and will almost certainly not be willing to compensate at the Account Manager level for that amount of experience.

Is it possible for you to earn experience and be promoted quickly? Absolutely – companies call this fast-tracking. But it’s not for everyone. Just keep this in mind as you do your career planning. You do have a career path mapped for yourself, right? If not, this is something you should begin immediately.

When you are progressing through your career, this is something to think about very seriously. It is especially important for folks who are just starting out their careers. Be wary of taking positions that offer elevated or inflated titles with no exchange of earned experience. Titles will not pay your bills. Earn your experience – and your promotion to higher levels.

A good friend of mine has a great saying that I think fits perfectly with this important topic: “You can feed your ego, or you can feed your family.” Titles are not going to feed your family, so make sure that you aren’t hurting your earning potential by taking an elevated title too early in your career simply for the aesthetic pleasure of it.


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