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Millennials care about job titles so much they’ll take a pay cut for them

A Hello My Name is name tag
Getty/Rick Gayle Studio
What’s in a name—or a title?
  • Ariel Schur
By Ariel Schur

CEO of ABS Staffing Solutions

Most companies are well aware that millennial candidates consider a variety of factors beyond how much a job pays. More than the generations before them, these young professionals want to feel a sense of purpose about their work, both in the job itself and in the social causes their employers support. They want it to be fun, too—in fact, 88% of millennials reported wanting a “fun and social” workplace compared to 60% of baby boomers. They’re also looking for flexibility, such as remote-working arrangements and flexible hours, and they crave personal and professional growth, such as opportunities to build their knowledge, skills, and experience.

But one other factor seems to come up fairly frequently with millennial candidates: their job title.

How important is a title? I’ve seen candidates trade as much as $10,000 in salary for what they consider a more valuable title. The motivation behind seeking a particular title varies from candidate to candidate, but it usually comes down to a desire to shape the perception others hold, whether that’s a friend or a future employer. Think of it as “instant branding” more than a self-esteem boost.

Some candidates are looking for a more impressive title for social media, where the lines between the personal and the professional often blur: While few would share their salary with the world, they are delighted to let others know that they hold a position that carries some weight. Candidates want a heftier title for professional purposes, too: As they move ahead in their careers, they want potential future employers to appreciate at first glance the value they could bring their organizations.

While titles can be used as bargaining chips, sometimes job candidates expect them as part of the jackpot. For example, one candidate I worked with was hedging on accepting a position, even though the pay, benefits, and work responsibilities all aligned perfectly with her objectives. What held her back was the “assistant” title: She felt it didn’t capture the importance of the contributions she’d be making to the firm. I negotiated on her behalf and secured the title of “specialist.” She accepted on the spot.

It’s not just new employees who appreciate the recognition of titles, either: Giving promotions without pay raises is becoming much more common as younger employees are more concerned about their satisfaction on the job than how much it pays. To them, upgraded titles contribute to better quality of life at work. There’s proof in this ideas in a 2016 study by Fidelity that reported millennials are willing to take a $7,600 pay cut in exchange for better quality of work life.

How effective are your company’s titles in attracting talent? Is it time to evaluate the pros and cons of making some title changes? I’m not talking about off-the-wall titles like “PR rock star” or “finance ninja.” (Although if these are in line with your corporate culture and they’ve proven successful, go for it!) Rather, I’m suggesting titles that simply reflect the level of responsibility or expertise required for the position. A job titled “marketing content manager” is likely to attract more positive attention than one titled “content associate.”

The potential benefits to you as the hiring firm include generating higher-quality applicants; bringing in new employees whose morale is high from the start because they already feel valued;, and having another negotiating tool that doesn’t require shelling out more dollars in salary or benefits.

The bottom line? Revamp your title structure. Hold some focus groups among your employees to see how various age groups feel about their title representation. It could be an easy—and possibly money-saving—effort that gives both you the edge in recruiting and enriches the lives and careers of a lot of your future employees.

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