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NextGen Magazine


Use of Inflated Job Titles for Younger Workers Surges

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Feb 7, 2023

Why do so many younger workers have inflated titles that seem disproportionate to their actual skills, knowledge and experience? One reason is that it is cheap and easy, but that is not all, Business Insider reported.

Since 2019, employers have tripled their use of the word "lead" in early-career tech jobs, increased their use of "principal" by 57 percent, and reduced their use of the word "junior" by half, according to a new analysis of 2.4 million job postings by recruiting site Datapeople.

The analysis breaks the phenomenon down into four factors.

Federal law requires employers to pay overtime to workers for their overtime hours, unless they are classified as salaried managers. So, changing someone’s classification by making him or her a manager avoids having to pay overtime. This tactic saved companies $4 billion in overtime pay, the analysis estimated.

Title inflation is also a cheap and easy way to recruit and retain professionals. It can attract better candidates—and making someone an “executive” or a “senior” something is a cost-free alternative to providing higher pay and better benefits. Business Insider noted that  this practice was in wide use during the Great Resignation, when companies were trying to keep employees from leaving.

Clients and customers may balk when being serviced by someone perceived to be a junior-level contact, so bestowing a grander job title on someone makes everyone feel better. Last year, Ernst & Young changed the titles of 679 associate partners to partner in the United Kingdom, hoping it would help them win more business, according to Business Insider. (The move did not apply in the United States, where regulatory restrictions exist on who may be called a partner). The Financial Times reported at the time that EY had promoted these employees to “partner” without offering them a share of the firm's profits, in "a further dilution of a role once seen as the financial pinnacle of the profession."

As might be expected, Gen Z-ers are blamed or credited, depending on one’s viewpoint, to some extent. Younger employees expect to get promoted more frequently, which fuels title inflation titles even faster. JobSage, an employer-review site, reported in a September 2022 survey, “1 in 3 Employees Have Had Job Titles That Overstate Their Skills,” that 58 percent of this cohort expected to be promoted every 18 months, compared with 27 percent of Gen X-ers and 20 percent of baby boomers. The survey also found that Gen Z workers estimated that it takes a mere three to six years to become a vice president, as opposed to boomers, who thought that it should take a decade or more of experience.

"If you want to call someone a chief happiness officer internally, by all means," said Maryam Jahanshahi, the head of research and development at Datapeople. "But externally to the world, you've got to use industry-specific titles that match the seniority of the role. Otherwise no one's going to find that job—unless someone on Twitter decides to make it a meme."