I recently wrote about why recruiters think some candidates are "less desirable" than others. A job seeker reached out to me with an interesting observation and question:
"I am an individual contributor. Over the years, I've cared less about job titles and more about pay. I've even used it as a negotiation tool to get a salary increase. It seemed like managers loved that I wasn't hung up on the pomp and circumstance of what my job title was. But now, I'm in my forties and struggling to find my next gig. I read your post and am thinking this could be why. What can I do to fix it?"
It's true. Lots of people have opted not to care about appropriate job titles in their careers. As long as you get the pay and benefits you wanted, who cares what the job title is, right? Well, as this job seeker and many others are learning, you need to care about the optics too.
The 6-second scan is all you've got to prove your career has progressed.
Recruiters spend an average of six seconds skiming your resume. In that time, they look at the job titles. The longer you've been working, the more they expect you to grow in rank. Even individual contributors should show signs of growth. Getting that "Senior" or "Specialist" title helps a recruiter see you've been deemed someone with an advanced skill level. And, they'll assume a pay increase came with it. Conversely, when your job title stays the same for five years or longer the assumption is you are plateauing in your career. Or even worse, on the decline because you've "checked out" with respect to career ambition. Keep in mind, recruiters are looking for people who are focused on being the best in their industry, skill set, etc. A lack of advancement indicates to them someone is better at the job than you are.
Check with former bosses and see if they'll let you "retro" a job title.
If you're having trouble landing a new job and fear a lack of job title progression is part of the problem, consider connecting with old bosses and explaining the situation. See if they'll agree to recognize the fact that in the seven years you worked for them, four of those years were in a more senior role. By breaking out the job into two levels, you can create that career progression recruiters like to see. NOTE: It's important to check in and get this approval before changing it on your resume or LinkedIn profile. Why? If a potential employer contacts former managers as part of a reference check and asks about the career progression, you don't want them to be blindsided. It could make you end up looking like a liar and cost you the job!