Impact of Titles on Your Executive Career – Negotiating Job Titles and more!

By Robert Adelson on 27 May 24   Executive Employment

CEO World Magazine logoThis post was originally published in CEO World on May 23, 2024.

The saying goes “Don’t Judge a Book by the Cover” but the fact is we all do.  Perhaps a more accurate saying is “You only get one chance to make a good first impression,” so you should make the most of it.

That’s why, in your career as a C-level or senior executive or as one who aspires to the C-suite, selecting and then negotiating for the right job title can be so important.

This article discusses the importance of titles and offers suggestions from past experience to aid you in your own executive employment negotiations.  While my focus in this article, is on your executive job title, at the end of the article, two other areas are mentioned: executive consulting, and titles in contracts.   Each suggestion is intended to be part of the strategy to advance your executive career.

Your Executive Job Title’s Impact on Professional Identity, Career & Compensation

Your job title is often the first thing colleagues and industry peers notice, but even more important is executive recruiters and potential future employers notice. It shapes their perception of your authority, expertise, and influence within your organization and the industry. Let’s first take a look at how job titles can impact you professionally:

  • Perceived Status and Influence: Your job title reflects your level of authority and influence within the organization. A higher-ranking title can enhance your perceived status both internally among colleagues and externally with clients, partners, and stakeholders. A more impactful title can position you as a key decision-maker and strategic leader.
  • Career Trajectory and Succession Planning: Consistent, relevant titles will enhance your upward mobility. If you aspire to become a CEO, negotiate for a title that infers strategic responsibilities, such as Chief Strategy Officer or President. This can enhance your chances of being considered for the top role in future.
  • Market Perception and Recruitment: Job titles affect how potential employers and recruiters perceive your experience and expertise. Recruiters perform online searches and scans resumes for relevant job titles. A relevant title captures their attention and encourages them to delve deeper into your
  • Compensation and Benefits: Titles often correlate with compensation packages. Higher-ranking titles typically come with better pay, bonuses, and equally and sometimes more importantly, enhanced equity opportunities.
  • External Reputation and Networking: A prestigious title opens doors. As a C-level executive, you will not only be invited to more and better industry events and conferences, but you may as well be perceived as an industry expert or thought leader, and invited to speak on panels, deliver keynote addresses, or otherwise receive media coverage during those events. This visibility enhances your reputation and expands your network. You will also receive invitations to exclusive receptions, dinners, and private sessions that connect you with peers in a more intimate setting. Your high-ranking title will attract investors looking for talented leaders for their ventures, CEOs looking for successors or board members, other executives seeking partnerships and business deals, and much more.

Deciding on the Right Job Title

Effective titles balance clarity (for understanding) and appeal (to attract attention). C-level titles such as “CEO,” “CFO,” or “CTO” signal seniority and significant decision-making authority. Titles like “Chief Strategy Officer” or “Head of Innovation” imply strategic, organization-wide influence. If you are aspiring to be CFO, your resume should show a track record of jobs with progressive titles in corporate finance.

Commonly used titles such as “VP of Marketing” and “Director of Operations” resonate with recruiters and employers. They know what to expect. Using recognized titles also improves visibility in online job searches from an SEO perspective. On LinkedIn, a compelling headline in addition to the job title can help to grab attention.  If you had assumed duties earlier than the official naming to the new C-level position, put the earlier date as the date you begin the position.  That way, it shows you at the C-level for a longer period of time.

Certain titles carry negative connotations. For instance, “Interim President” can create doubts about your actual responsibilities in the role. Fancy job titles like “Chief Growth Ninja” may sound creative to startup employers but will fail to convey your expertise or experience to external stakeholders, recruiters and potential employers. On the other hand, progressive companies often adapt titles to reflect changing roles and industry trends such as Chief Digital Officer or Chief People Officer. If that’s the kind of role you are looking for, then use it!

Woman COO at her desk

Strategies to Negotiate the Job Title You Seek

Since job titles can have a significant impact on your career growth, it is important to use opportunities to advance your title and position.  Best opportunities are in negotiating a new job offer or a promotion, as well as during change of control or retention negotiations.

These negotiations are not about vanity, but obtaining a well-chosen title opens doors and sets the stage for new career heights!  In doing so, you are striking a balance between your aspirations, industry standards, and the company’s needs.  Strategies to consider in your negotiations include the following:

  • Research and Preparation: Research common job titles for your level and role within your industry. This knowledge will help you set realistic expectations.  Aim high but if your employer pushes back, be prepared to offer alternative titles if your first choice isn’t accepted. Be flexible and creative.
  • Link Title to Responsibilities: Show how the requested title accurately represents your role and expertise. Explain how the title impacts your ability to lead, influence, and drive results. Highlight how it aligns with industry standards. Use metrics or examples to demonstrate your contributions and why the title matters. A mismatch between title and duties can lead to frustration and hinder performance.
  • Know Your Worth and Leverage it: Understand your unique skills, experience, and contributions. Be prepared to articulate why you deserve a specific title. If the company can’t offer a better executive compensation package, put more emphasis on negotiating for a better title. Hopefully, the better title will aid you in landing a higher paid job down the road.
  • Company’s Culture and Size and Your Timing: Negotiating titles is often easier in startups or smaller companies where roles are loosely defined. Also, some organizations are more flexible than others. Negotiate before accepting the new job offer. Once you’ve agreed, it’s harder to change the title. In change of control situations, emphasize your value and the importance of an influential title for successful execution of your duties.

Naming Your Executive Consulting Business

If you are between CEO And C-level positions, you might do independent consulting.  This can be helpful to enhance deal flow, sharpen your skills and provide a visible and useful platform to find your next full-time position.

Titles can be important here as well.  You want to choose carefully the name for your consulting firm.  Rather than just calling your consulting business “Wilson & Associates”, choose a brand name like “InterimExecs” that suggests the service you offer and might be easier to remember for those who don’t already know you.  In picking the title, the name for your consultancy, you should pick a brand name, not already in use, for which you can get a web domain now and later trademark.

Contract Titles Can Impact Your Career Too!

Sometimes even the title of a contract can impact your career prospects. This may come as a surprise, but there are times when choosing the title for executive separation agreements can prevent damage to executive’s reputation and how their departure is perceived by external stakeholders, including future employers, clients, and industry peers.

In one of my cases, an executive was being forced out of his full-time S-level role but was still to continue as a consultant.  Because this executive was closely linked to the company’s lead products in the marketplace, there were fears that her abrupt termination might spark a sell off and decline in traded stock price.  This would harm my client as well who retained a large stock position.

In our negotiations, we got the company to accept the title of “Transition and Consulting Agreement” rather than “Separation Agreement and Release.”  Emphasis was placed on the separation and benefits were technical but the executive would continue as a consultant and not miss a beat.

In conclusion, job titles signify authority, expertise, and shape professional identity.  Thus, in your own negotiations, please do consider executive job titles with foresight, strategy, and an understanding of their role in achieving your own professional goals. By harnessing the power of effective job titles, this may aid you to enhance your visibility, credibility, and greater success in your career.