Size Does Matter
Titles don’t necessarily reflect the same level of responsibility, nor do they mean the same thing across industries. The context of the positions you have held does/should make a difference to someone who is determining if you are a fit or not. More experience in one area doesn’t necessarily make up for a shortcoming in another. The following considerations need to be taken into account when filling a role, from the candidate’s perspective pursuing it as well as the employer’s perspective in setting realistic expectations for the new employee.
Large vs. small. Size does matter. In a large organization, a candidate’s level of responsibility is often greater than someone with the same or even higher-level title in a smaller organization. The evidence can be recognized by the number of reports they had and the size of budget they managed. As an example, a “manager” of a department of 50 could easily have more advanced skills/deeper experience than a “director” with only two reports and a smaller budget.
Multiple hats vs. specialized. The context of a candidate’s role in regard to the breadth of the responsibilities covered and how many people are impacted can also make a difference. In a small organization, a person could easily cover many areas that in a larger organization are covered by separate people or departments. As an example, in human resources, a “manager” in a small company may handle general issues related to benefits and compensation, some recruiting and some training, but the functions of managing benefits programs, payroll, recruiting or training materials development may be functions that are actually outsourced. In a large company, a manager of human resources may have separate staff for recruiting, benefits and payroll, and training could be handled by an entirely separate department.
Broad vs. deep. As I previously described, the actual functional areas a person covers can vary dramatically in many sectors. In accounting and finance, the role of “finance manager” can mean very different things. A small company may have a “controller” who handles everything from A/R, A/P and journal entries to payroll and taxes. In a large company, a “finance manager” could be someone who analyzes a very specific area of business to determine how to reduce costs or streamline operations. The skills of a “controller” in a small company, does not necessarily trump the skills or expertise of a “finance manager” in a larger company.
Senior vs. junior (years or skill level?). It’s interesting to see how the word “senior” added to a title reflects different years/levels of experience in different industries. There are some marketing roles that include “senior” and indicate the role requires 3 to 4 years of experience, where in many other sectors, 3 to 4 years of experience would be considered junior. Senior-level project managers can reflect anywhere from 5 to 15 years of experience, depending on their subject matter or project deliverables. In science, using “senior” may reflect 20+ years of experience for someone with an undergraduate degree, yet someone with a PhD and 8 years of experience may qualify for a “director-” level role (higher than senior scientist) that the “senior” with 20 years of experience will not be competitive for.
The examples I have described were intended to serve as a means of comparison and not absolutes. The point is to illustrate why titles do not necessarily reflect value to any given audience or employer. It is critical for candidates and employers to ask sound questions of each other. From the candidate’s perspective, being successful in a new role can pivot on whether you fully comprehend what is really expected of you. Asking enough questions in advance to learn what the employer’s expectations are will help set you up for success. From the employer’s perspective, it is critical to ask questions that require a candidate to articulate experiences that truly illustrate they can produce what you need. Understanding the context of what you’re getting or what is needed is critical to the success of the relationship.