If you’re looking for a job in the current environment, you need your resume to stand out from the pack. Unemployment is at record highs across the country due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While that can seem daunting, making sure you stand out from all other applicants is in fact always part of the job-search process. Applicant tracking systems scan to match key words and will reject your resume if a match isn’t found – and even human reviewers spend only a few seconds looking to see if there’s a fit between your qualifications and their opening.
Can You Change a Job Title on Your Resume?
Because of the emphasis on matching keywords and standing out in a quick scan, job-seekers may be tempted to change their job title when they update a resume. If you’re applying for a position as Director of Marketing and your last title was Marketing Manager, for example, you might be concerned about your resume’s being passed over if it doesn’t have a title closer to the one on the posting.
You may also feel that a higher title actually reflects your job duties more accurately than the title you had. This is especially true in several scenarios: if your duties expanded during your previous positions, say, or you wore many hats, so that you were in fact performing the responsibilities of a higher title. Some job-seekers, in addition, may have been promised a higher title that failed to materialize before a layoff.
All of these scenarios raise a complicated issue for job-seekers. If you’re tempted to change your job title, is it ever OK to do it?
Some Believe It’s Ok…
Surveys have actually been done on this issue. Somewhat surprisingly, more than half of hiring managers (54 percent) responded that it’s okay to change a title. A smaller percentage (43 percent) believe that lying is acceptable if the existing title doesn’t reflect your responsibilities accurately.
But it should be noted that the positive responses were only positive if the title modification was done for certain purposes. If prospective applicants changed their titles to highlight actual job responsibilities or to focus on their applicable skill set, it was acceptable. But if the reason was just to gain a higher title and a higher salary, the perception was more negative.
…But Many Don’t
Many experienced hiring managers and human resources professionals, however, don’t think it’s okay. It’s perceived as inflating your title unacceptably. More seriously, it’s perceived as lying. Both can kill your chances of getting hired. The action calls your trustworthiness into question – and it’s hard to make a case for hiring a candidate you don’t trust or perceive as honest.
Even if you interview with a hiring manager who accepts a change in your resume title (or is unaware of it), a check of your references or a background check might reveal the discrepancy. You run the risk of being dropped from consideration at that point, because you misrepresented your background on your resume. Some human resources departments may have policies against hiring applicants whose resumes aren’t accurate.
Chart a Path in the Middle
So what should job-seekers do when their titles don’t represent their duties or skills? The best policy is to chart a middle path.
What’s a middle path? First, don’t overtly change your title. You need to accurately represent the title your last company gave you. It is acceptable to put a more accurate, higher title in parentheses, however. Just don’t imply that an inaccurate title was your official title.
Second, use your achievements, qualifications, and skills to tell hiring managers and human resources departments what you’ve accomplished. Remember that your title only takes up a few words on your resume! The far more crucial part of any resume is highlighting your past achievements in a way that makes it clear what you can accomplish for a new organization.
Let’s say you spearheaded a marketing initiative that drove sales up by 18 percent last year, for example. Be sure to focus on specific figures. Companies want to see applicants who can be additive to their bottom line (or, in certain positions, cut costs). If you’re applying for a role as Marketing Director and were a Marketing Manager, leading a climb in sales figures is a far stronger argument for your hire than simply changing your title.
Similarly, if the role you’re applying for requires hiring personnel or team-building experience in a way your last position didn’t, highlight instances in which you were called on to perform similar functions. Were you part of the group that interviewed and trained interns, for example, or brainstormed team-building activities?
Third, plan to highlight your resume’s achievements and capabilities in your interview. Strategize specific examples of your achievements and how much they contributed to the bottom line or better functioning to discuss. Link these accomplishments firmly to what the current company needs and wants.
Fourth, if you’d like to place a higher title in parentheses, discuss it with your former manager first. You need to know their opinion and their feelings. If you were performing enough duties to warrant a different title, many managers may be comfortable agreeing speaking to that if called as a reference.
But be prepared: many managers also may not be comfortable. Misrepresenting your official title may cause discomfort or even be perceived as a reflection on their management or their company.
If they don’t seem on board with the idea, the most prudent step is to abandon it. Again, make sure your resume highlights your achievements – that’s the best way to land the interview, and a job!
While many hiring managers accept an applicant’s changing a job title if it more accurately represents what they did and their achievements, it’s a risky move. Many will view it as lying. Instead, highlight your achievements and skills on your resume, and stick with an accurate title.
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