Before candidates decide if they are going to click apply, before they grow excited reading the job description, before their interest is sparked with that fantastic opening paragraph, they first glance at the job title.
The job title is what draws candidates in. It’s what makes the job stand out among the crowd as something worth investigating or not. It’s what’s used to determine if the candidate ever sees the job in a search result or receives it in an email or gets an exploratory note from a recruiter.
It all starts with the title.
Get the title wrong and the chain of events never has an opportunity to begin.
That’s a lot of pressure for so few words.
Bad titles won’t just limit the overall number of candidates that click, they can also limit who clicks.
Challenges of hidden messages
The right few words can send a powerful message.
For example, titles with ‘Chief’ or ‘Executive’ or ‘President’ usually convey power, authority, and leadership. Titles with ‘Manager’ or ‘Director’ convey responsibility and management. Titles with ‘Lead’, ‘Senior level’ or ‘Master’ convey mastery and a high level of subject matter expertise.
The wrong few words convey very different messages.
For example, titles with gender association like ‘salesman’ convey which gender should apply. Those with age connotations like ‘Junior’ or ‘Senior’ or energy connotations like “energetic” convey what age should apply. Those with cultural or personality concentrations like “Guru”, “Master”, “Ninja”, “Warrior” can alienate those who don’t identify with the associated personalities or see those reference as unwelcoming.
And the right words in the wrong industry can give the wrong message.
For example, one organization’s “coordinator” is another’s “director” or “administrator”. “Vice Presidents” in banks are very different then in the federal government. And a “logistics engineer” in one firm can be a “project manager” or a “customer services manager” in another.
Even well selected words can end up having a negative impact.
For example, higher-ranking titles and titles that imply a high-level of subject matter expertise can deter women and minority candidates from applying. It isn’t skill that holds them back, it is self-assessment and the inequitable access to promotions.
For every 100 men that are promoted, only 79 women are promoted. And for every 100 men only 60 women of color are promoted. That gap adds up as you move up the ranks resulting in women only making up 29% of VPs and only 4.8% of CEOs (in the Fortune 500s). This is not a gap in skill - It’s a reflection of biases, processes and other factors, and it means that fewer women will identify themselves for higher ranking positions even if they have all the right experience and ability.
So, with this added burden on these select few words, how can you make every one of them count?
Three tips for job titles
1. Remove biasing content
Remove all the demographic, personality, and cultural references.
This means leaving out the Gurus and Ninjas, replacing ‘Junior’ with age-neutral language such as ‘Associate’, and avoiding gender implications – that includes using titles for both genders such as ‘Saleswoman or salesman’ – just say ‘sales rep’. Don’t use ‘energetic’ or ‘go-getter’, and refrain from “killing”, “attacking”, “harmonizing” or other personality-soaked language.
Keep titles objectively accurate with details that are reflective of the role. Creative is good, but not at the expense of great candidates.
2. Use multiple titles
Post the job multiple times or rotate titles to draw in more talent.
Modify rank to help close in the gender and minority gap – switch from VP to director or use more ambiguous terms like ‘executive’ or ‘leader’.
Modify role language to resonate with tangential industries or those with transferable skills. Find out what other industries or organizations call your role and use that language. For example - ‘project manager’, 'program manager’, or ‘logistics officer’.
Remove acronyms. While most looking at your job will know what you mean by ‘VP’ or ‘COO’ they may not know what CAPA is or RMA. Spell it out to maximize transferable skill candidates.
3. Use clear, descriptive, and compelling language
Generic job titles will easily get lost in the crowd. Take the few words to give a little detail – what team will they be on or function will they have. A few extra words will convey a lot more information and draw in interested talent.
For example: “registered nurse” vs. “Emergency room and critical care nurse”.
For example: “Junior software engineer” vs. “Associate software engineer in the mobile application team”.