Earning

An extra word in your job title could boost your salary by thousands of dollars

Twenty/20

Your job title matters more than you might think. It can impact your professional opportunities down the line, and in turn, your future salary.

"It's important to be very conscious of job titles and the salary range that goes with them," Evelyn Murphy, president of The Wage Project, told Real Simple magazine this fall. "Program manager and program director might sound the same, but they can have very different salaries."

Your job title tells potential employers where you fall within an organization as well as your level of experience. And the job titles on your resume may determine whether or not you're called in for an interview in the first place.

That's why it's worth negotiating your title — even if you're not planning on switching jobs.

Jobs with keywords like "assistant," "lead," "senior," or "junior" in the title may involve similar responsibilities but the salary associated with them can vary greatly. For example, Glassdoor sets the average base pay of a financial advisor in New York City at $51,459 per year. But add "senior" to that job title and your base pay increases by $20,000.

Here are three steps you can take to negotiate for a stronger title:

1. Gather information

Before asking for a new job title, do your research so you can make a powerful case when you approach your employer.

Start by going through your resume and responsibilities to pinpoint where you fall within the structure at your company and what kinds of keywords might apply to your position. Sites like Salary.com, PayScale, and Glassdoor offer tools to help you estimate your worth as an employee and could give you a better idea as to how your current role compares to more senior positions.

How a job title affects your salary
Median difference in annual salary with a seniority keyword
Social chart title
Note: Based on a study of workers between 18 and 35.
kiersten schmidt/grow Earnest

Then use your personal network to figure out where you stand among your peers. If you're in a junior role and you learn that someone in a senior position has similar responsibilities, figure out what you already do and what else you could do to bump up to that senior role.

2. Make the ask

When you approach your employer about a title change, come prepared with a list of reasons the shift makes sense for you.

If you want a seniority keyword like "manager" or "lead" added to your title, explain how your responsibilities and actions merit that choice. For example, if you manage people but the word "manager" isn't in your title, you can point that out and say the new title would better reflect the job you do on a daily basis.

Then provide data that illustrates your positive contributions to your company. That can help you make a case for how you're already driving the results of a "lead" or "manager," and how making it official would benefit the whole team.

There's no need to get upset or argue, though. Approach the conversation professionally, and stay calm.

"When I first starting working, I imagined this conversation with an employer as the meeting where I storm in, bang the table, and demand a new title or raise, but I found that, with the way companies work, it's really a year-round conversation," says Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder of The Fiscal Femme.

If you do get a new title, you may also consider negotiating for a corresponding higher salary. Knowing how much your coworkers are earning can help you make a stronger argument for a pay raise. Wendy Brown, director at PayScale, suggests asking for salary ranges rather than exact numbers to minimize any discomfort.

"Transparency [when disclosing your salary] is a really good thing," says Brown. "It levels the playing field. It helps level things between men and women, between people of color. You're paying for the role and the qualifications, not for the person."

Even if your boss can't grant the change right away, starting a conversation about your situation makes them aware of your actual responsibilities and your desire to move up. That can lead to growth in the future.

3. Keep the conversation going

Gerstley suggests that having a meeting with your boss to discuss that next-level title is only the first step. If your employer denies your request, Brown says you should make sure to set a date with your employer in the future to revisit the idea.

"People have to advocate for themselves," says Brown. "It's great to have a manager that advocates for you, but it has to start with you putting together your case for where you want to go next."

It's great to have a manager that advocates for you, but it has to start with you putting together your case for where you want to go next.
Wendy Brown
director at PayScale

If don't get what you want the first time you ask for it, try taking the long view: If you don't get a "senior" keyword in your title, you could also negotiate to drop a title like "junior" or "assistant." That new title might catapult you to the next level when you do switch jobs and that, in turn, can help you negotiate a higher salary.

Experts agree that title negotiation is often about playing the long game. While a title change may not always signal an instant pay increase, it could set the stage for career and salary growth later in your career.

"We often think of negotiations as 'Who gets the most of the pie?'" says Gerstley, "but it's more about looking at them as conversations about wanting similar things as the other person, and realizing that we can actually just increase the size of the pie."

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