It’s not just the price of gas and groceries: In the tech industry, title inflation is out of control.
In a talent market where every bargaining chip matters, companies are losing candidates — and employees — to competitors willing to get creative with job titles.
Employers — and recruiters — have a clear incentive to make titles sound more attractive. When they’re tapped out on compensation, a loftier title can go a long way.
“People are emotional and ego-driven, so if it’s a title that seals that deal, oftentimes we’re happy to accommodate that,” said Shawn Cole, the president of the executive search firm Cowen Partners.
Cole said he discourages clients from going too far with a title that’s over-inflated to the point of being “stupid,” which only serves to solicit unqualified candidates. Excessive title inflation can hurt the reputations of companies and their recruiters, and could even call into question how qualified existing teams are, he said.
But some title inflation is just good marketing, Cole said. In one recent example, a venture firm that hired Cole was struggling to fill a director role. Although the successful hire would earn a $1 million salary and $5 million in total compensation, Cole said the “director” title was off-putting to candidates.
“I just said, ‘Hey, I know internally, this title makes a lot of sense to you guys in your field, but when we go externally, this title does not make sense,’” Cole said. “We went to a ‘head’ title, ‘head of,’ and I’ve literally got people falling over themselves for the opportunity.”
Cole sees this as a sign of the times.
“That’s the generation of the candidate,” Cole said. “They need constant pats on the back. That’s just an evolution. The baby boomers waited, like, 10 years for a title change, and the millennials want one now.”
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
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About Cowen Partners Executive Search
Cowen Partners is one of the nation’s leading executive search firms focusing on enabling companies to harness the power of human capital to fuel their success. The firm gives clients access to the top 1% of human capital to create opportunities that accelerate their growth and market share, helping them grow at scale, create value, and drive results with world-class talent. Cowen Partners serves clients across industries, including small and large, publicly-traded, pre-IPO, private, and non-profit organizations, with placements spanning the entire C-Suite and include VP and director level leadership roles.