Making a Career Move? Don’t Judge a Job by Its Title

What’s in a name? When it comes to job titles, everything – and nothing. Titles are sexy. They signal your professional accomplishments, your status within your organization, and the amount of influence you wield. At least, that’s what most people think. Candidates often fixate on titles because they assume better titles equal career progression. But that’s not always the case. Job titles mean different things at different organizations. You can look at two accounting manager listings that have nothing in common in terms of their compensation packages and day-­to-­day responsibilities. The accounting manager at company A may be a mid­level position, while their counterpart at company B is at a significantly higher or lower level. Titles can be deceptive. If you want to compare positions, look at the salaries. Compensation is the best indicator of level of responsibility as titles are not necessarily equivalent between companies. A senior accountant position in the Bay Area might pay $110,000, while an accounting manager could make $100,000.
Compensation is the best indicator of level of responsibility as titles are not necessarily equivalent between companies.
At first glance, it seems that those salaries should be reversed. But think about where these employees work. The senior accountant is probably at a large corporation, while the manager works for a small shop. The titles differ, but they likely carry the same amount of responsibility. Titles can provide helpful jumping­-off points when you are sorting through listings, but don’t dismiss postings that are one level above or below what you are targeting. There’s a lot more to a job than the title, and ignoring the other factors puts you at risk of missing out on what could be your best opportunity. Ask these questions to determine whether a potential job suits your ambitions:

1. What Types of Jobs Interest Me?

People make assumptions when they hear titles such as “financial analyst,” “controller,” and “accounting manager.” But you will end up sorely disappointed with your new job if you don’t research whether your expectations align with what’s actually expected of you in that role. Before submitting your resumé, identify your ideal position. Do you want to do financial planning and analysis? Forecasting or reporting? Do you want to manage the close? Work on audits? Once you’ve determined the role that appeals most to you, dig into the job descriptions at different companies. All of those functions can fall under different titles, depending on where you’re applying.
Clearly define what you want to do and center your job search around the specifics of the position, not the title.
It’s especially important to be mindful of these discrepancies when you’re transitioning from accounting into finance. At many companies, particularly tech organizations, financial analysts actually spend most of their time on accounting tasks. I’ve seen accountants or auditors take jobs that they thought were in financial planning and analysis but were, in fact, similar to what they were already doing. Clearly define what you want to do and center your job search around the specifics of the position, not the title.

2. What are My Long­-term Goals?

When our team at BVOH Finance & Accounting Search meets with candidates, we ask a series of questions to find out what they want to achieve long-term. We find out what skills they’d like to develop, where their expertise lies, and what they hope to accomplish in their careers. Their answers determine which companies are a good fit, and we place them in positions that will lead them toward their goals.
It’s not about what’s on your business card; it’s about how well you perform on tasks that are relevant to your overarching plans.
Titles aren’t typically the biggest factor in those decisions. It’s not about what’s on your business card; it’s about how well you perform on tasks that are relevant to your overarching plans. Choose jobs and organizations that offer valuable opportunities, regardless of what you’re called in the company directory.

3. What Responsibilities and Prestige Does this Position Carry?

If you want to advance your career, don’t worry as much about titles. Focus on content and responsibilities instead. Also consider the compensation; higher salaries usually indicate more responsibility, and you want to make sure your responsibilities correlate to increased skills and influence. You can be a controller who takes home a low­-paying salary, depending on the size of the company and the complexity—or lack thereof—of the position. Or you can be a high-­paid controller who makes a strong impact within the organization and has a very challenging job. Educate yourself on the specifics of the job so you can make an informed decision about whether it’s going to boost your profile or stall your professional progression. You don’t need to ignore job titles entirely to conduct a productive job search. But remember that they only represent a fraction of the information you need to decide whether to take a job. Looking beyond titles allows you to find the right position—not just the one that sounds right.

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