Should I Take a Job with a Reduced Title?

Last Updated Oct 4, 2010 7:14 PM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I recently interviewed for an assistant product marketing manager position and at the end of the interview, the recruiter told me that I was the only person currently in the running, but if they offered me the job, it would be for a lower title (marketing coordinator) given my work experience.
It feels very much like a bait and switch to me. I've been interviewing under the impression that I would be doing the work of an assistant product marketing manager, but because the previous assistant product marketing managers have had MBAs and more work experience, she can't justify giving me the same title. Is this typical? Is there any way to convince her I should still be given the higher title assuming I would be doing the same work even if it is with less work experience than what is typical?
I wouldn't call it bait and switch because she told you before you accepted the job. You can always choose to reject the job offer if it's made. And while the obvious questions are title and salary, there's a bigger question in my mind: authority.

When you start a new job, frequently the only thing people know about you is the title the powers that be have bestowed upon you. They use that title to determine how much they should listen to you, since they have no other information to go on. (Other than the perfunctory e-mail: "We'd like to welcome Jane Doe to our department. Previously she was blah blah blah at other company.") So, what's most important about your job title is the authority that it brings with it. If you're hired with a lower title, your new coworkers won't have as positive a bias toward your ideas as they would with a higher title.

There are some intangibles with job experience. It's hard to make a list of exactly what the differences are between experienced and inexperienced. But think about it this way: a 16 year old with a driver's license can safely drive down the road -- as long as everyone else is paying attention. But, when another driver is not paying attention, the 30 year old with 14 years of driving experience is more likely to be able to see the problem before it happens. What makes the experienced driver better here is hard to quantify. If we analyzed it, we might see why he put his foot on the break before the other driver swerved violently -- he noticed drifting, or a nodding head, or erratic speed control, and gave himself some distance. But he would most likely say, "I just had a feeling he was going to do something strange."

That same concept happens in the work place. So, it's possible that the recruiter is onto something when she says you don't have as much experience and education as your predecessors. And it could very well be those intangibles that the company feels they need in someone with the Assistant Product Marketing Manager title. But they like you. And they think you are qualified. So, be upfront with the recruiter and the hiring manager. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do you see are the differences between what I could do and what the previous people did? Note, this isn't a question about an MBA and 5 more years of experience. If they start back with, "Well Steve and Karen and Joy all had MBAs..." then you need to direct it back to, "Yes, but what could they do?"
  • With a different title, would my job responsibilities be different? How so?
  • What would it take to get promoted to the original position? How long do you anticipate that taking?
  • Are there meetings or projects that I would be excluded from with the lower title? This might seem silly, but I've been involved in situations where only people with certain titles or pay grades are invited to the big marketing meeting -- you don't want to be excluded.
When you have the answers to these questions, you can evaluate for yourself if you really want the job. In asking, you may be able to help them see that you will be doing the job as originally described. If they come back with, "well, the responsibilities won't really differ..." then ask straight out to be hired at the original title and pay grade.

If you do decide to take the job at a lower title and salary, then do so with your eyes open. Don't get upset when you don't get promoted next week or next month. Do the job you were hired to do, and make sure you wow them all. That will earn you the respect of your peers and superiors, no matter what your title is.

Photo by Ed Schipul, Flick cc 2.0