A young professional recently asked me: "Is it OK to take a bump down in title for a bump up in pay?"
It's an excellent question, but I had to admit there is no clear-cut answer. What's behind the question is "What's the best way to evaluate a job offer?" It's broader than just title versus pay and includes factors such as whether you like the job, your career goals and the total salary package, including benefits. It's also a matter of individual choice based on your priorities and values.
The other side of the question is an apparent concern about how it will look on a résumé to take a lower title. It's legitimate because from a human resources perspective it does look good when a person has moved up the ladder. However, Julie Swaner, director of Alumni Career Programs at the University of Utah, says that "titles vary enormously between companies and there really is no standard for comparison. A 'director' in one company might be a 'program manager' in another." The title isn't even the most important thing a recruiter looks at. Although it might catch their eye at first, they are more interested in what you accomplished in that role.
What the company offers in terms of potential for growth is paramount. So, one of the most important factors is the opportunity at hand and how it fits in with your career objectives. Challenges are really opportunities for achievement. What new challenges will this position bring? Will you be learning or developing a skill that you need? Will they provide training or educational support for a certification or specialty? This involves long-term thinking about your career rather than the immediate salary or title. Where will this position take you 10 years from now, and how does that compare to where you are now?
Is the culture and management style a better fit for your personality or values? The size or condition of the company also might be a factor. Doing the same role at a larger company might be impressive because you may have greater responsibilities or have a larger impact on your industry. If the company is expanding, growing or even struggling, you might have a skill or a key role that affects its growth or turn-around, and this could be a major accomplishment to add to your record. Is the environment more fast-paced or high pressure? Is so, you could use that to brag about your ability to handle a high-stress environment. On the other side, that might not be what you are looking for. So, it all depends on your personal goals and preferences.
Finally, when it comes to salary, many professionals make the mistake of comparing offers on salary alone. You have to consider the whole package, including benefits, or you might end up taking a loss. Sometimes a company might pay more for a particular role but pay a smaller portion of your health care benefits or smaller contributions to your retirement plans. These might affect your bottom line for monthly expenses or your financial stability in the long run.
You also need to find out how long until you are fully vested Plus, are there perks on the job that you aren't getting now, such as business lunches, a paid cellphone, business trips or professional development?
Cost of living is another factor in determining the actual financial benefit of taking a job. Will you have to move to an area where the cost of living is higher? If so, your income won't go as far. Research and compare the real estate values but also consider residential and state taxes and other differences in expenses. You can research salaries for specific geographic regions at Salary.com. Payscale.com has an actual cost-of-living comparison calculator.
The bottom line here is that making a decision on your job offers is based on more than just a title or the pay. It takes some research, reflection and sometimes advice from a trusted friend or mentor.
Theresa Mickelwait holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in career coaching from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is a senior assistant director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. Reach her at Theresa.Mickelwait@uky.edu.