A growing number of companies are posting job ads for roles with more senior-sounding titles — but they aren’t exactly looking for candidates with senior-level skills and experience, nor offering much higher pay.
It’s a phenomenon called job title inflation used by companies to better attract staff and retain and engage current ones without actually paying them more. But it can backfire and shrink applicant pools, dilute the meaning of such titles and give little more than a brief ego-boost to current staff. It can also cause confusion within an organization and make it difficult to know who is responsible for what.
Job listings with “lead” or “manager” in the title that required a maximum of two years of experience are up more than 50% in the U.K. and Ireland, according to a survey from staffing specialist Walters People.
Job titles are certainly more important in some industries than others, said Andy Challenger, senior vp at Chicago-based global outplacement and career transitioning firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
“Areas like finance, where job titles are a little bit more the same from institution to institution, they can mean a lot to people that are moving from one company to another,” he said. “If you get that director title, it stays with you forever,” he said.
Younger workers, especially those in Generation Z, may be prime targets for this practice as their expectations misalign with employers, according to that report.
Career advancement paths are looking different for Generation Z workers than those from previous generations, as most started working remotely during the pandemic. About 70% of employers think Gen Z workers lack critical soft skills, that survey found, while 40% of Gen Z workers believe their ideas are their strongest asset in the workplace.
More than half of Gen Z workers expect an annual promotion at work, the same report found, and if they don’t they’ll start looking elsewhere.
At the same time, many aren’t aspiring to climb the ladder and manage others, with about 47% of young workers saying they don’t view management roles as an indicator of seniority.
“The ability to drive high-level decisions is an important contribution to Gen Z’s feelings of worth to an organization,” Janine Blacksley, director of Walters People, said in an email.
On the hiring side, employers often lean on inflating job titles to make roles more appealing to candidates and to attract a large pool, especially in hard-to-fill roles. Though it can have the opposite effect and push away many who feel underqualified.
Another survey from New York City-based recruitment software company DataPeople found job postings that have ‘senior’ used incorrectly in the title can see a 39% decrease in applicants.
The tech sector in particular is rife with job title inflation as employers look to attract workers with those skills, and about 25% of jobs in the tech sector considered junior in 2019 carried senior titles in 2022, per the DataPeople survey. Junior jobs typically require less than four years of experience, while senior ones typically require 10 or more, according to that report.
Overall, the fact job title inflation is even taking place is in large part due to a values-shift among younger workers who care more about having their ideas and entrepreneurial mindsets valued, Blacksley said.
“This could very well symbolize the tip of the iceberg in a growing trend of individuality in the workplace, of which young professionals are at the helm,” she said.
It’s also worth mentioning that “bumping job titles up doesn’t always mean nothing,” Challenger said.
Some companies tie stock options or other more tangible benefits and forms of compensation to an employee’s title or level at the organizations, he said.
“Many companies have specific perks and benefits that you only get access to at a certain job title range,” he said.