What to do when my job title doesn't match my skill-level?
June 25, 2016 7:34 PM   Subscribe

I have the title Marketing Manager, but I only have three years basic experience and have never worked in a Marketing department or under an actual Marketing Manager. My experience is limited, and now I'm finding my job options are. How can I fix this?

I am 25, from the UK, and I work in Marketing.

I joined this company three years ago, pretty much at graduate level. I had completed an undergraduate degree in Advertising and Journalism (so, similar to Marketing, but not technically trained in Marketing), and had completed two short internships (both three months long). One was for a magazine, another was at an agency doing some online content and back-office stuff. Though helpful, neither really gave me too much practical Marketing experience.

I landed my current job three years ago. The role was "Digital Marketing Executive". Sounded fancy, but I was really just there to help update social media accounts, write some industry relevant online content and blogs, and use my design experience (from uni) to do their graphic design work (posters, leaflets, online graphics etc.). It suited me perfect, was varied, and not too stressful.

Well, over the three years, the job has changed incredibly. When the slightly more senior executive moved on, I was left running the show. My manager is not a Marketing Manager - just our Operations Manager. The know very little about Marketing as an organisation and for the most part trust my judgement. That's fine, to a point. I can definitely advise them on the things I do know about as they are very clueless. But when it comes to overall strategy, I am expected to know what I am talking about with very little training and experience, and having never in my life worked in a real Marketing department or under an actual Marketing Manager. I have never learned any Marketing from anyone. They do try their best to help me - but of course funds are limited as is their understanding of what I should know, and what should be happening. I muddle along, learn what I can, and do my best. I work damn hard, but the role is now is very different to when I started, and incredibly stressful.

On the whole, my management have been impressed with the changes and improvements since I started. This is because I have done my absolute best to do what I can with what I know. As a result, I have been given two big promotions in three short years. Once to a senior executive, and again to Marketing Manager. My duties did not change when I got promoted to Manager - other than I was line management for the two junior members of staff we brought on to help with workload. This was more out of necessity than anything else - I am more of a team leader than a manager.

I desperately need to move on. Both for professional reasons and for personal reasons. I dislike working there - there are senior members of staff who don't fully understand my situation and see my job title and expect too much from me. I often try my best, and fail to meet expectations - due to my lack of industry experience, management experience, and general lack of support. I am only three years into my career! My manager does help the best they can - but this is not something that can be fixed internally. In short - I really needed to join a marketing department with people who I can learn from and actually understand the industry before I ran a department myself and claimed a Manager title. Whilst this is great for my ego - clearly I have impressed and worked hard - it does not feel great for my career options.

I now feel backed into a corner, with a job title perhaps two levels higher than my actual skill-level and experience. I am paid more than I expect someone with three years experience generally gets, but of course much less than a real Marketing Manager would get (a title I would expect someone to get after at least 6-8 years in the industry). I have learned a lot of valuable skills in my three years in such a challenging and changing role. Skills I am glad to have developed. But I am lacking in some basic ones that job descriptions seem to expect from much lower-level marketing positions that are forcing me to be ruled out of applications. These are things like working with budgets, strategy, planning, analytics and even using CRM systems. My role is very reactive, and these things are only learned on the job. You generally can't just go on a course to learn them - at least not in a way to implement them well.

I am finding it hard to get interviews, or even find roles that are suitable. This is because I know I can't lie about my job title, but it definitely confuses/puts off interviewers. I am absolutely happy to take what some would consider to be a "step back". I understand that sometimes you need to do that to progress. I would happily lose line management responsibility, and some autonomy if it meant I could learn and develop. I would also happily take a small pay cut for the same reasons. I am not too precious about this.

I guess, then, that these are my questions:

1) How do i market myself, or structure my CV and job titles, to make it clear what level I am working at, without me looking like I've messed up somewhere?

2) How do I justify myself at interview, if I get that far, without it seeming like I'm just saying what they want to hear? Will I be judged for wanting to take a step back?

3) How is this going to look on my CV going forward?

4) What could I do in the meantime to make my life easier? (Training isn't an option really, and I know that I want to leave this company as it isn't a very pleasant place to work)

Thanks in advance for any advice.
posted by littlepeeo to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe things work different in the UK - I'm in the US - but it's not lying to put a slightly different title on your CV that more accurately describes what you do to outsiders. Be sure to be very descriptive about your actual tasks and have your years of experience on there. Also be sure you're applying to jobs that match your desired skill entry level. Many people write their resume to reflect the skillset for the position they're applying for.

For example internally I've been "[specific internally relevant service] manager and social media coordinator" which on my resume turned into "Marketing Services and Social Media Manager" which accurately describes my role to outsiders. This was confirmed by my manager when I left.

I had an internship that turned into a paid position in which I was "Director of Client Marketing" internally and to clients while still in college with 1 year of experience because it was about a 5 person business. But my resume says "Online Marketing Coordinator" because it more accurately described my job and experience for applying for positions.

What are the job titles of the jobs you want? Would those still be relevant to describe your current position? If so, use that. Be sure that the details of the position are clear in terms of your experience.

Then, if you're lacking certain skills start working on them on your own. Start learning them as much as you can on your own and put them in a "skills" section on your CV.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Given your fortunate (and unfortunate) title, if it was me I would take marketing classes on evenings and weekends or possibly even a part time MBA so that you can move laterally in your next position as a "real" marketing manager. Use some of that "extra" pay to cover tuition. I suspect that in a year's time you could make significant strides in your Marketing Expertise. You may even be able to get your current job to cover some of the tuition or give you paid time off for some of the classes.
posted by saradarlin at 7:47 PM on June 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

"This is because I know I can't lie about my job title, but it definitely confuses/puts off interviewers."

You absolutely can lie about your title. You can lie about anything, you just have to balance the risk/reward of doing so. Considering you're not having any luck/believe you're being held back by your "real" job title, maybe it's time to try something new?

What's the worst that can happen?

Remember, there are facts and then there's the truth. Tell the truth but don't necessarily rely on facts to do so.
posted by paulcole at 8:51 PM on June 25, 2016

I don't live in the UK, but "marketing manager" here is commonly associated with jobs where you are project managing, as opposed to managing direct reports. It usually has a different pay level, but not always. 25 doesn't seem out of sorts to me for that.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:46 PM on June 25, 2016

I worked for two years as the UK marketing manager for a small European tech company. In my experience there and subsequently job searching for similar positions, marketing manager can literally mean anything. It could be an internship/entry level position updating social media accounts, or it could be a top position responsible for an entire department and huge budgets. It's all in the description, and it would not look strange to me on your CV.

I would also say it's not unusual in the startup/tech scene for inexperienced workers to be managing things. Sometimes people really are just making it up as they go along. In companies with lots of young people and high turnover, the team is always changing, leaving others to fill missing gaps without really being trained. It think the key is to teach yourself as you go as much as possible, and focusing on the channels where you would like to improve. The rest is just faking it.

I'll also say that bigger, established companies will usually have more formalized training and more accurate job descriptions. There's more hierarchy and less room for upward movement, but the tradeoff is more stability and clearer expectations.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 12:49 AM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have been a marketing manager at three different companies (in two differentry industries) and I agree with those who are saying that a "manager" title doesn't necessarily mean managing people - I would not be surprised to meet someone in their first or second job with less than five years experience with the title marketing manager. I never managed anyone other than an intern as a manager. I did manage a lot of projects, and even directed strategy, but people didnt come along until i got a director title. The title itself is a red herring. If you don't feel you have the training you need, go get yourself some training. And maybe look up imposter syndrome - many, many (most?) people feel underqualified for their jobs but it's not an accurate reflection of their capabilities. Good luck to you.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:35 AM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I see a lot of resumes from senior managers across a variety of industries (but mostly in the US), and wouldn't think it odd if you chose a less misleading job title for your resume, as long as you also indicated your actual job title. Honestly, almost all small and young companies (and many others as well) inflate job titles anyway so yours is not an unusual case.

When you interview, explain the specifics of your situation if they inquire. They will probably be concerned that you won't take direction well because you're accustomed to being in charge, even if they don't say so in so many words. You can turn that to a positive by describing how overwhelmed you feel having nobody to guide you, and you're looking forward to being able to learn from people who know more than you do so you can continue to grow.
posted by DrGail at 8:13 AM on June 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work in one of the bigger, established consulting companies the likes that exquisite_deluxe mentions. Mine was founded and is based in France, but has offices throughout Europe and in the US. I've noticed smaller/more volatile consultancies do this quick promotion to management thing too, so yes, it's understandable. The important thing is to describe yourself in a way with which you feel comfortable and for the type of position you want. There are people who are more than happy to scramble up quickly and "teach themselves" along the way; I will say this from a viewpoint of 20 year's work experience however: they tend to go up quickly and either get stuck (because they missed out on a lot of foundational stuff) or... they go down just as quickly. There is also a third possibility, which is somewhat more rare but happens enough that we see it regularly: they get taken advantage of and used as scapegoats. Management will bring out the trope "we thought we saw an up-and-comer and realized our mistake too late." If you are a woman or a minority, this is much more likely to be a possibility, and I would highly recommend you take the more stable approach. Scapegoating women and minority managers based on their "lack of real experience" is depressingly common.

As for the moderate risk of getting stuck, it can be viewed in more than one way too: if you want to stay at a certain level, that can be fine and dandy. But if you want more mobility, whether lateral or upwards, and more expertise, the career trajectories I've seen do that successfully are indeed the ones where people take more time as they start out.

So, identify what you want and go from there. If you'd like more exploration of possibilities, then yes, feel free to adapt your title. In the last few years, titles have become very fluid. Using myself as an example: I have been Senior Technical Writer, Test Analyst, Test Expert, Test Manager, PMO, and Senior Consultant. At the same company (with different clients; title changes on a mission basis). I call myself Test Manager because that's what I do and what I want to do, though I'll admit that's starting to change as I consider more of a PMO path. Looking at your CV through tasks and responsibilities, as opposed to titles, is a great way to give yourself more career perspective and flexibility. If that's what you want.

If, however, what you want is more of a traditional career path based on titles, then yeah, it's more a question of tailoring your CV to a title's expected duties, as well as projecting to the level beyond. In that case I too would recommend taking marketing/MBA courses to get up to speed; you could work out something solid that way.
posted by fraula at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2016

I would not underestimate the possibility of Imposter's Syndrome here. It sounds like you have been doing really well at your job. And so much in marketing can be self-taught (I say that as someone who works in and hires people in marketing - things change pretty often, so I look for people who are flexible and learn quickly).

That said, I agree that you would benefit from working in a real marketing department - that's a great way to learn. You probably don't want to run a department, but don't assume your lack of formal training means you should take the lowest-level position either. In your shoes, I would go for a role like strategist or manager (which, as others have pointed out, doesn't necessarily mean people-managing) with a really strong department head who seems committed to your development.
posted by lunasol at 11:16 AM on June 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

What is it that you would like to do here?
Do you like the industry and eventual work of. Marketing Mgr?
Can you work with your current job to gain a little more formal education and maybe some mentoring from other professionals?
posted by calgirl at 12:17 PM on June 26, 2016

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