Why context matters
The context of the positions you’ve held does/should make a difference to you and to someone who is determining if you are a fit or not. Titles don’t necessarily reflect the same level of responsibility, nor do they mean the same thing across industries. There are contextual elements employers need to include in job descriptions to set clear expectations. And, in the same vein, candidates need to be transparent about what they have done and able to demonstrate the same contextual elements to ensure their success in a new role.
The following are a few key points to consider when you’re creating your resume or if you’re an employer considering a candidate:
Size does matter.
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. Indicators are in the number of reports they had and the size of the 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 small budget.
Although it’s a popular practice, a small company awarding an advanced title in lieu of higher compensation doesn’t really help anyone. If you can’t provide examples of the extent of your responsibility in a way that fits a larger company’s scenario, then you aren’t fooling anyone. It may look good on paper, but understanding the contextual differences between a small company and a large one is critical to ensuring you can fill the needs of that large company you want to impress once you move on.
Do the functions match the role?
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 covered by separate people or departments in a larger organization. As an example, in human resources, a “manager” or “director” 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 the development of training materials may be functions that are often outsourced. In contrast, a manager of human resources in a larger company may have several individual reports who separately handle each of these functions. In a very large company, a director oversees the functions of entirely separate departments for each of these functions.
Unique skills may not necessarily transfer.
Broad vs. deep. As I previously described, the actual functional areas a person covers can vary dramatically in many sectors. More experience in one area doesn’t necessarily make up for a shortcoming in another. 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. They may each possess unique skills that do not necessarily transfer.
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. As an example, you might find that a senior marketing role requires 3 to 4 years of experience, but senior project managers may be required to have 6 to 10 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 scientist” with 20 years of experience (but no PhD) will not be competitive for.
Titles do not describe deliverables.
The scenarios I’ve described are only examples. There are no absolutes. My point is to illustrate why titles don’t necessarily reflect value to any given audience or employer. Titles do not describe deliverables. Candidates and employers need to ask comprehensive questions of each other and avoid making assumptions. Both parties’ understanding of the job is fundamental to a productive employment relationship. Your success in a new role can hinge on your full comprehension of the employer’s expectations. Asking enough questions in advance to learn what the employer’s true expectations are will help set you up for success.
For more career advice, check out my webinar on Unbeatable Interviewing Techniques and my blog “Delusions about entitlement will not lead you to a job offer” and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.