I remember feeling nervous about a job search. I had only been with my current company for one year and there I was, sitting in an empty conference room taking a call with a recruiter. I felt guilty for some reason. I knew I was underpaid. I knew I wanted to work for a different manager. I still felt this wave of panic at even the idea of taking the call.
When my phone rang, I nervously shut the door and sat down at the table with my notebook and pen. “This is Katrina,” I said in my overly formal, well-rehearsed way of answering the phone now that I was in corporate America. It felt rushed. I worried he could hear the fear in my voice.
Clearly I didn’t know how recruiters really worked, because let’s face it – the dude just wanted the placement. He started in an oh so typical way: “OK Katrina, I recruited you because you work here and this company wants people from there. They are looking for a Social Media Manager.” Then, a question I wasn’t expecting: “What the hell does that job title mean? What does a Ninja do?”
Not All Job Titles Translate
I had one of those creative job titles in the early 2000s – the “cool” one (aka racist in many cases) – and while it made my business cards look fun, it didn’t get me callbacks on my resume. In fact, I only got this particular call because I was working with a big brand everyone had heard of.
The fact was, it wasn’t really clear to anyone what I was doing every day when my job title was something as random as Social Media Ninja. On paper, it looked cool, but it didn’t translate in the recruiter’s mind that I worked on daily social media administration, executed a Super Bowl campaign, or was capable of managing a budget. They couldn’t understand what skills aligned with the work I actually did and in most cases that meant the recruiters passed me up.
Unfortunately, this happens every day to talented job seekers with incredible skills but job titles that fall outside of the cookie cutter. But on the flipside? It also happens when we have great skills but never even find the job we’re qualified for.
What Job Titles Should You Search?
Maybe you’re in an industry where it’s standardized, but most of us work in industries where it’s completely random. All job titles are completely made up. I won’t begin to explain just how much that messed me up at first.
Imagine that moment. I had been working toward a job title my whole life and it was all made up? Not OK, corporate America.
But not understanding how job titles worked put me at one other great disadvantage: there were jobs I never even found. That’s the thing about titles – if you don’t type in the right words to even find the job? You can’t apply.
My recommendation for job seekers whether you’re 20 years or 2 days into a career? Search at least 3 job titles at once. But how do you know which ones to search?
- Google your job title and the word resume, then click the image search results. Ta da – so many resumes. (Bonus: If you aren’t sure what your resume should look like? This is the answer.)
- Scan the resumes for alternative job titles – spelling, acronyms, or order of words. Write them down. Just like when you Google something and change the qualifiers to get different results, you should be doing this for your job search.
- Set alerts for at least 3 different job titles and get the new roles right to your inbox. You can set alerts with your favorite job board or on Google Alerts.
Because job titles are all made up, they don’t necessarily translate from company to company. This means the job you want at one company might be called something entirely different somewhere else. To ensure you’re finding the right roles for you, be sure to search for multiple job titles no matter where you are in your search.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.