Job Titles In PR Are Worthless, Experience Is What Matters

Titles don't matter. Results do.

It always amazes me when I hear people complain that they are not happy with their job title.

Why do so many of us become obsessed with this? Shouldn’t we care more about the opportunities that exist (or don’t exist) at our job? Wouldn’t you rather make more money vs. battling management for a title?

So as you prepare for an upcoming review, or a spontaneous meeting where you wish to make demands of your boss, consider these tips:

1. There’s only so many times you can go back to the well. In other words, don’t make it a habit of knocking on your boss’s door and asking for something. This goes for job titles, money, or a better cubicle. The bottomline is that job titles only get us so far. It’s the work that we do and the experiences we’re given that will help take us far in our careers.

2. Before getting all worked up that Suzie down the hall is a senior executive and you’re a junior executive, look at the big picture. Maybe Suzie has been at your agency longer than you? Maybe it took Suzie an extended amount of time to get that title? Don’t get worked up over things you can’t control. Focus on yourself.

3. Other than a fancier title to put on a business card, what does a new title get you? If you want a new title simply because you think it will help you on the job market, I guarantee you will not get a job offer somewhere else because you are now the senior executive of coolness at your agency. Your experience and results is what will matter. When’s the last time someone hired someone else because of a title?

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23 comments on “Job Titles In PR Are Worthless, Experience Is What Matters

  1. Great points Andrew. I’d also add that if you’re at the agency for the betterment of your company, titles are just titles. Focusing on contributing the bottom line with your daily contributions will go farther than any title on a business card. The better your agency does, the better you will do. Make it “we vs me” and everyone wins!

    • Absolutely. Do great work, showcase the results to your boss, and good things will happen. If someone gets a raise, but not the title they want to go along with it, who cares? Go out and buy yourself a present! Money > job title.

  2. I agree with the overall point that titles are not everything, but sorry to break it to you man, but people do judge by titles.

    No, not everyone does so and no I’m not saying it is the right way to make an evaluation, but make no mistake it does happen.

    Yes, people notice titles and yes, your title matters in the hiring process too.

    • It’s a major flaw in the system, and though I’m not a veteran worker by any means, it seems very old school to evaluate people based on titles. What I was really trying to accomplish in this post is that there are many things much more important that people should be concerned about. Personally, I’d rather get recognized with more compensation than a fancy job title. But you’re right, it’s sad that people looking for jobs will almost get turned down immediately if they don’t have the proper titles in their resume.

  3. Thanks for writing on this topic, Andrew! It’s easy to get wrapped up in titles if you think they will get you ahead. I agree with your sentiment here–it’s the quality of the work you do and the real results you land that will go much further than a simple title in this day and age. And if a potential employer can’t look beyond your titles on your resume and see those results, then that’s not the employer for you.

    • Make no mistake, that some employers will turn you down if you don’t have the preferred job title. But take that as a challenge. If you present your case well, then you may be able to circumvent the job title issues that may come up during an interview.

  4. I completely agree that experience and how you translate your skills on paper and in results is much more important than a title. But I would say, coming from the nonprofit industry, titles don’t translate well. In the nonprofit world, people who are doing the work of an account executive in an agency or marketing director in-house, don’t have those same-level titles because most organizations are run very flat and lean. In my org, for example, you’re a “manager” if you are actually “managing” other staff in the programs – not “managing” multiple projects with multiple deadlines, interns, relationships, audiences, etc. So when I go out and make my next career move, my resume may automatically be sifted out. This is where the argument for making sure your skills and responsibilities are clear in your cover letter and past job descriptions comes in.

    So, basically, there is a place where titles are important, in my experience a very specific one, but these situations are not insurmountable.

  5. Having been on the job market in the last two years, my experience is that job titles matter a great deal. If you’ve gained a “senior” title, no one will ever consider you for a more junior position – even if you’re looking to move in to a new industry, or a different type of PR role. If you haven’t gained progressive promotions, hiring authorities will wonder what’s the matter with you that your employers haven’t trusted you with more responsibility.

    Additionally, let’s not forget that most resumes have to pass through the filter of a recruiter or an HR professional before getting to the hiring manager. Also, for organizations with a small in-house marketing team, a PR position may report to the head of marketing – who may or may not have an in-depth understanding PR. Those are all reasons why certain position requirements often times are necessary (we want someone with a minimum of 3 years experience at X level or above, but won’t consider someone at Y level.)

    • You make some valid points. Given some of the challenges we may face, we should think of some ways to get around them to ensure a better chance that we make it to the next round of a job interview. Consider how you present your resume (make it stand out), and prepare for the questions you anticipate about the job titles (perhaps reference this in your cover letter). It can certainly be an uphill battle, but it’s not impossible.

      • Interestingly, a recruiter told me that cover letters usually only get looked at *after* your resume is looked at. Thing is, there are so many obstacles – HR/recruiters who eliminate a candidate because they don’t meet all of the 15 requirements, software that automatically filters out resumes – that’s it’s probably a good idea to do what you can to find out who the actual hiring manager is, and send your resume to that person directly. Networking is key!

        Certainly this is all a reflection of the current job market, and I have no doubt it will eventually change.

  6. I’ve worked at an agency that had no titles and a horizontal organizational structure as well as traditional agencies with the standard hierarchy. I have to say, it was incredibly difficult to transition back to a traditional agency at the appropriate level. It was two years after I had left the title of SAE, but no one would consider me for a director level and barely gave me the opportunity to come back as an account supervisor. So, I can personally attest that titles DO matter in the job market… but I agree with the purpose of your post. Do great work, get results, focus on the things you CAN control, and the other things will naturally come around 9 times out of ten. When you have to make a big ask, make it for what matters most to you: money, title, or perks like better office space or company-expensed mobile, etc.

    • It stinks that titles mean so much at some places, and mean little at others. Either way, when you are lucky enough to have a job, fight for more money and better opportunities, don’t stress on having a new, fancy title.
      Thanks for the feedback, Emily!

  7. Nice column. As an agency vet and one who has managed many people at all levels over the years, I can tell you that your perspective on titles is for the most part right on. The bottom line is the bottom line. Have a direct impact on increased revenues and your personal revenue will increase. Do this consistently, and you will be treated well, like Suzie down the hall. If you do not do this, don’t complain that Suzie has only been here three weeks and has been promoted twice. If that’s the case, chances are Suzie brought in more money than you, or she may have a family relationship/personal friendship with someone in the firm, and in that area, you cannot compete.

    Titles only matter in that they provide a reflection of what you do earn, so if your title is not as high as Suzie’s chances are she’s making more money than you. If you want the title, make the money for the firm, and the firm will reward you with money and title. If the firm tries to bribe you with title but no money (after you’ve brought more money in on a consistent basis), get your resume out there and change jobs.

    I should clarify on the money thing. Being billable is not making money. Selling and winning business so that others can be billiable is how you make money. You must be able to sell and do so every single day.

    • “If the firm tries to bribe you with title but no money (after you’ve brought more money in on a consistent basis), get your resume out there and change jobs.”

      Absolutely right

  8. Emily’s point about the PR firm that brags that it has a “title-less” culture. Take that to mean, “We treat everyone as equals in the pay department, too. Everyone is paid less than they should be.”

    I’ve been a part of great teams with excellent camaraderie. Many lasting personal friendships resulted. Titles existed and never got in the way. Don’t let agency chiefs spew that garbage about being different. Eschewing traditional titles is BS and only serves the needs of the owners. Usually, that’s one title the agency heads retain.

  9. I have to say, I agree with Mandi. I’ve worked in the public sector most of my career (higher ed, transportation agencies, associations), and titles are a big thing. In higher ed and gov’t/quasi-gov’t agencies, they generally follow a system of titles created by a Hay study (or similar salary/title study). And unfortunately, being a manager doesn’t always equate to managing projects. Same goes for jobs at the director level. You may feel well qualified to be a director because of accomplishments demonstrated through various projects, but if you haven’t supervised a large staff (versus one or two), then you could be overlooked. In the nonprofit world where PR offices are generally one-man offices, you acquire skills, knowledge and accomplishments much faster because you are doing everything — you’re the designer, spokesperson, writer, crisis manager, etc. And unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate well to the corporate or agency world It’s definitely not a fair system, but if you work in the public sector, it is one that you have to learn to navigate.

      • It may sound like a no-brainer, but read the job description thoroughly, especially if the position is in higher ed or gov’t agency. The job descriptions tend to be very long and detailed. Use their phrasing when describing your experience. If you don’t have direct supervisory experience, look at other ways you may have had a “overseeing” role, e.g., leading a committee or project team, training co-workers, managing the agency relationship, etc. Project management has become very popular in gov’t agencies, so have a clear understanding of how it works — get the certification if there is a program nearby. Higher ed and gov’t agencies tend to receive resumes electronically, which get dumped into a resume bank, only to be seen first by the HR department. Get as many specifics about the department that is hiring. Reach out via email as a follow-up to HR process, letting the director know you’ve submitted the job and why you’re interested. And, I have to say, a lot of times in these settings, it’s about who you know, so use your contacts where possible.

  10. Titles shouldn’t matter, experience should trump all but that’s not the way it works. There’s an expectation that with the title comes the experience and ultimately the knowledge to get a, or in most cases, the job done. That’s not to say though that the “title” is the end all be all. There should be more focus on the results and less on the new business card. For those wanting to be taken seriously at the next level, as a former colleague once counselled, “act and be the position you want and it will happen. Keep talking about it, and it won’t.”

  11. Pingback: Job Titles In PR Are Worthless, Experience Is What Matters (via PR at Sunrise) « Lauren Gillaspey

  12. Pingback: Graduation Proclamation: 5 Things Every PR Grad Should Understand « PR at Sunrise

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