What to do when your job title sounds better than it really is

Impressive-sounding roles may look good on the CV, but they can be a double-edged sword. Just ask Andrea Leadsom.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2020

Everyone dresses up their CV to some extent. The whole process of applying for a job encourages you to present yourself and your experience in the best possible light.

Of course you’re going to say you were ‘instrumental in your team hitting its targets, under budget, for five years in a row’.

It sounds an awful lot better when you miss out the fact that you were always ahead of budget because you had an overly generous finance director (it happens...) and that the team actually would have done even better without you.

Exaggerating too much on a CV carries obvious dangers – no one likes a liar. But what do you do when the exaggeration isn’t really of your own making?

Job titles are a particularly thorny area in this regard. After all, you don’t normally choose your title, and it’s a humble soul indeed who’d ask their boss for a business card that looks less impressive. But when you allow people to believe the role was bigger than it was, it can catch you out.

The curious case of Andrea Leadsom

Angela Leadsom is in a political storm over allegations she did just that. A former colleague dismissed claims by the Conservative leadership candidate’s backers that she ran large teams and managed billions of pounds as ‘senior investment officer and head of corporate governance’ at Invesco Perpetual.

‘As I understand it she had no-one reporting to her in either role, so the words Senior and Head are, one might say, superfluous,’ wrote Robert Stephens in Reaction.

As Leadsom has used her City credentials as evidence of her qualification to be prime minister, this is quite an allegation. Though they admitted the titles could be ‘misleading’, the MP’s team nonetheless published her CV today in response, saying it ‘comprehensively disproves’ Stephens’s assertions.

But all it contained was a list of job titles and dates, which of course doesn’t address Stephens’s central claim that those titles implied far greater responsibility than the jobs actually involved.

The fact is, job titles are entirely insufficient as indicators of how appropriate someone would be for a particular position.

Consider the following ‘titles’ and what they actually mean:

  • Chief front line external relations officer (receptionist)
  • SVP EMEA logistics (mail boy)
  • Interim refreshments manager (intern)

These (fictional) examples of job title inflation may be enough to make even an Apprentice finalist wince, but you get the point. On their own, they’re useless.  

What employers want to know is how much value you’ve added in the past and whether you’ll continue to add value if you worked for them. Job titles on your CV that erroneously imply the answer to the latter question is ‘yes’ are entirely counter-productive for everyone involved.

How to ace a competency-based interview

The chances are you’ll get caught out at interview. Even if you do somehow blag your way into a position you’re not ready for, it will only result in failure – and being booted out after two months doesn’t look good on anyone’s CV.

So if you do have a role that makes you sound a bit big for your boots, just make sure you’re clear to explain what you actually did, and let your legitimate experience speak for itself. 

Photo credit: Department of Energy and Climate Change


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