Big Fish, Small Pond: Job Title Edition
September 1, 2015 9:33 PM   Subscribe

My job title is scaring off potential employers and I'm not sure what to do about it. Anywhere else the role I hold would be a executive level position that commands twice the salary I make (which is mid-level), but in my company I'm really more the equivalent a junior or senior contributor (plus some extras). How do I position my well-earned "executive" role so that hiring managers stop nixing me for junior-level positions because they think I'm expensive and/or overqualified?

I'm the "creative director" at a small company. I've held this role for a few years now and while I don't have any managerial power, I've made a positive impact on my company and its product line and I wouldn't have been able to do that without taking on this position. Because my company is so, so small, and given where I actually sit in the hierarchy, I'm really more of a junior/senior designer, so that's what I've been applying for at bigger companies. Most of the time I'm sort of overqualified for the junior roles but not ready at all for the senior positions because I don't have the managerial experience, so I don't know how to position myself correctly.

During interviews or chats with hiring managers I can say stuff like, "Yes, I hold the role of creative director but because my company is so small I'm really more like a junior or a senior designer. I love to learn and take direction, but since I've served as a director I'm also comfortable taking a project to completion by myself as needed." But somehow that never works when I put it in writing in a cover letter because it sounds like I'm dissing my company/job/self. Explaining that I'd really benefit from being a junior designer because my current mentors suck would be even more awkward.

How do I navigate this without cheapening the work that I do or the company I currently work for?
posted by Hermione Granger to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm applying for your role as "xxxx junior designer". While I have very much enjoyed my time at xxx, I am really excited to have a chance to work in a much larger company. Since MyCurrentCorp is a boutique, I've had a unique chance to explore all aspects of the designer's job. I love it, but I feel it's time to work as part of a team."

Personally, in your shoes I would apply for the senior designer roles, but be honest in the interview about where you lack experience-- particularly management. This is something which can be addressed with support or mentoring for a promising candidate. I'd rather take someone in for a just-slightly-too-big job who has potential, then hire someone for a role where I know they are overqualified.
posted by frumiousb at 10:02 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is a good place to use an objective line to explain how you'd like to expand from experience in a small organization to a junior role in an organization that provides more exposure and experience. You also may need to network a bit more.
posted by vunder at 10:02 PM on September 1, 2015

I would not address the title specifically in my cover letter. Instead, I'd say that I did YYZ for a small firm and I'm looking to move to a bigger firm with more opportunity for career growth.

I read a lot of resumes. Sure, I look at title, but I really closely read what you say you did. A small firm CIO or COO might be a Senior Manager in a big firm. If someone is applying I assume that they want the job. Having a big title at a small firm would not change whether I asked a candidate to interview.
posted by 26.2 at 10:15 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Consider simply changing the title on your resume to a description of the position. If you lie and say your title was Creative Director when you were really Junior Designer, that's resume inflation and it is very bad. If, on the other hand, you say you were a Designer, that's both true (that's what you did, even if it isn't what your title was) and not inflation, so people are less likely to care.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:21 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't call yourself a junior designer. Junior designer means you can show up most days and crank stuff out of photoshop. Everyone on my LinkedIn is calling themselves an Art Director and they all have senior designer positions. Call yourself a senior designer if you really want to downgrade yourself but know that no one else going out for that job is doing that. The company just wants to know that you know what you're doing. Going from creative director to junior designer doesn't look like someone who knows what they're doing.
posted by bleep at 11:30 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could add a qualifier to your title. For example: "Creative Director (Non-Managerial)"

You ARE dissing your company/self when you say "but it's just a teeny company" or "I'm much more junior than the title conveys." You need to leave out the negatives and concentrate on the qualifications only. Let the facts speak for themselves. For example you could call the company "boutique" or "niche" in your description of your responsibilities, or find a way to work in the total number of employees.

Have you tried applying for more senior positions as well? Like, just to see what happens? :) Roles at small companies are sometimes very broad compared to large companies, so you may actually have a broader experience than you think compared to a "typical senior designer".
posted by zennie at 7:50 AM on September 2, 2015

I do apply and get interviews for junior and senior level positions. Hiring managers in those interviews are perplexed when they see how much I do currently compared to what a junior designer does, but they're even more perplexed when they interview me for a senior level position because my managerial experience is at about 6 months. The industry I work in isn't big on training people -- they want you to drop in to a new role immediately.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:57 AM on September 2, 2015

Great advice here! My 2 cents: definitely don't sell yourself or your abilities short. The world is already sooo good at telling women that they are worth less than they are and to have lowered expectations or just be happy with what they have while leaving better opportunities on the table for the "big boys" who deserve them more than the ladies do. Don't buy into that mentality. So, nix applying the junior designer roles when the non-jr. designer roles are plentiful and within reach unless somehow those jr. roles really offer the best opportunities for growth and all the other aspects you're looking for in a company and an opportunity.

I think it's better to apply for a slightly aspirational role and have the slightly more grounded reality set in during the interviewing process, at which time you've already had the opportunity to leave a positive impression and extol your many wonderful virtues. This is when you discuss your level of prior responsibilities, or lack thereof, which you said you're already comfortable navigating. The application needs to be shiny enough to get you the interview - it's the interview(s) that get you the job.

So please, please, please, don't talk yourself out of a good opportunity by not applying or telling them you're not really qualified so why bother.. that's the companies job to figure out. You should be aiming for the best opportunities you are reasonably suited for.

The thing is, companies need to hire real people for these openings, not unicorns who match 100% of their listed requirements. The odds that they can find someone who is an exact fit for their listed opening and is available and interested is much greater than 1:100. Companies will hire the mostly qualified person they can find find in a reasonable amount of time because they simply can't afford to not hire just because it's not a 100% match.

In reality, if you're close enough to the requirements for the role, go for it. Figuring out the details and specifics is what the interview process is for. If you're interesting enough to be considered but may not be a great fit, they may have another role thats' more suitable for you that's worth discussing, now that you've got your foot in the door. Or, they may find what you bring to the table is close enough to what they need.

But once you've pegged yourself as a "jr." level role, it's that much harder to sell yourself to the company for what you're worth. Unless you come across the rare hiring manager who knows how to recognize a diamond in the rough and interview accordingly. You also may be finding yourself competing for those jr. roles with others who are much less qualified/experienced than you, and that can be demoralizing in itself.

Taking on a broad set of responsibilities at a smaller organization is a big plus for some companies. They recognize that you had to take on more initiative. This can be very valuable to companies who are looking for someone capable of taking on more, so again don't sell yourself short because you came from a smaller company! They'll probably also recognize you may not have all the experience that someone with a similar title who came up through a large organization has and adjust accordingly.

For context, I've taken roles "beneath" my experience level because I weighed the opportunity to transition to a new desirable field in a tough market and the likelihood my abilities would be recognized and I'd be able to "move up" on a timeline I was comfortable with. This happened at a small company. Small companies typically have the largest room for growth and opportunity advances, assuming they are doing well. Recognition and quick growth is much less likely in a larger established organization. They are more bureaucratic be design and by necessity, and the folks who have been there a couple of years or more are not going to be happy to see the new jr. designer move up quickly, and will likely actively prevent that from happening. This is also likely a personal bias of mine, as I've done better in smaller organizations than large ones, so that this with the appropriate grain of salt. I get impatient with bureaucracy and incompetence.

All that said, your resume/cover letter should be honest and speak for itself for what it is, always emphasizing the positive and best about you and your experiences and leaving out what is negative or simply extraneous information. This is neither hiding, inflating, or deflating. The goal of an application is to speak to your hard-earned qualities, experiences, skills and what you're eager to provide at the kind of organization you're looking for next. A qualified hiring manager will be able to suss out what you're capable of.

You can throw in clues about your level of seniority and responsibility without coming across as negative. As mentioned above, using language such as a "boutique firm" or a casual reference to team sizes or project budgets you were responsible for, if it seems helpful. You have to be careful, though. Sometimes too much information or brutally honest, unfiltered information will just hurt you. You may want to leave an impression of
your relative responsibilities, rather than admit you've never worked on a project with a budget above $1,000, as one example.

If you think the title "Creative Director" is not honest or that hiring managers are to lazy to read beyond that, though, as others have mentioned simplifying your title to Designer with your accomplishments in the role is also fine.

At the end of the day, this x1000: "I've made a positive impact on my company and its product line and I wouldn't have been able to do that without taking on this position. " This is valuable. Don't sell yourself short.

Good luck!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:05 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and the thing about mentors. They don't need to come from your workplace, and you may never have that luxury but you can still find mentors. If it's the mentorship you're looking for, and not a large company per se, then take steps to find a suitable mentor or mentors on your own through your various networks or via organizations that specifically offer mentoring for women and/or creatives. If you can't find a mentor in your specific niche, try broadening the pool of mentors you're looking for within a range you're comfortable with.

They may not be advertising themselves, but mentors are out there. They just take different forms sometimes. :)
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2015

Filling bigger boots by definition means taking on new things. Don't sell yourself short.

"My role at Company Zed has encompassed all aspects of design, including running projects from initiation through completion. At our boutique company direct report management has not been the focus of my job, although I have specific experiences X and Y. I would look forward to the opportunity to engage my design and process expertise and expand my management responsibilities at Company A-Plus"

(Eh, I'd end up editing that clunky wording, but you get the gist).

Also, if you have handled budgeting, costs, billing, expenses or anything else financial, include mention of that. Being able to understand costs and how client billings lead to paid salaries and firm profits is a key job skill that I think gets often under-represented by those who do it.
posted by meinvt at 9:52 AM on September 2, 2015

« Older Rehoming a cat with no network   |   Ideas for no-cook meals besides sandwiches? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.