A guide to answering the ‘What is your desired job title?’ question in an interview

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“What is your desired job title” is one of those weird questions you sometimes get asked in an interview that seemingly has no good answer.

You might be thinking something like, “if I say a better title than the one I’m interviewing for, they’ll think I’m a flight risk” or the ever-popular “if I leave this open, they might give me something even worse.”

These are all very rational thoughts to have.

After all, weren’t you only applying to one position?

Why do hiring managers ask the “desired job title” question?

The desired job title question, like many common interview questions, is actually asked so that hiring managers can get a better look at what kind of employee you are, according to Luke  Stratmann, division director for Robert Half.

“Job titles truly are semantics at play in many instances,” Stratmann said. “So I think a lot of the reasons this question gets asked is to dig deeper into, is this person a team player?”

Hiring managers may ask this question to see if a candidate is just after a specific title, or if they are actually interested in the job duties, team, and company.

“It’s an insightful question to gather information about the character of the individual that they’re considering for the opportunity,” Stratmann said.

Here’s how to answer the “desired job title” question

In short, be ambitious. Tell the interviewer the position title of the job (or type of job) you really want. Because why not?

Since they already asked this question, it is safe to answer, or they wouldn’t have asked it.

Obviously, don’t tell them you want the CEO role (unless you think you’ll get it), but do pick a position that’s a rung or two higher than the one you originally
applied for.

There’s nothing wrong with showing a little grit. Just make sure you tie it to your commitment to the company and continuous growth as a professional. Additionally, you want to make sure to convey to the hiring manager that you have the team and company’s best interest at heart when answering this question. While it’s great to show your ambition, you should also show how that ambition will help the team as a whole.

“This question can be sensitive, if not hypersensitive, but I think what’s most important in your response is to respond with a dose of humility, right, maturity, and to highlight the team-first mentality,”  Stratmann said.

Example answer for the desired job title interview question

Stratmann recommends that you answer in the following manner when a hiring manager asked you “what is your desired job title?”

“Well, in my most recent position, I held X title, and in my next position, I would like it to be Y. However, what’s more important to me is the nature of the work, allowing me to use X, Y, and Z skills within a company thats missions, values, principles and goals align with my own. I believe the this position is right for me because it checks all of those boxes.”

This answer allows you to accomplish an outcome that communicates what your desired job title would be, but also highlights and speaks more to what should be most important, which is the job, the skill set for the role, and the company.

Don’t “play it safe” by “keeping your options open”

You might think to give a “guarded” title or avoiding answering this question altogether is “playing it safe.”

The reality is that while it may feel that way, it actually has quite the opposite effect.

It isn’t actually “safe” to make yourself small at work, ever.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest and most common mistakes people make in both their interviews and careers.

The solution? Bypass your emotions and realize it’s actually much riskier to play it safe.

Learning to negotiate, communicate, and advocate for yourself will undoubtedly improve every area of your work (and personal) life. And it’ll win you the respect of your interviewer, which needs to happen anyway.

You might even end up being considered for a position that’s even higher up the ladder (no pun intended.)

Stranger things have happened!

Bad ways to answer “what is your desired job title?”

If you’re asked what your desired job title is, a not-so-great strategy is just stating the name of the position you’re already interviewing for.

An even worse strategy is giving a title that’s lower than yours to appear “humble.”

The interviewer is undoubtedly not concerned with your level of humbleness, although it’s natural to think they might be.

Another bad answer? “Whatever you have.” This one makes you look both unfocused and unmotivated.

The best strategy is to just be honest. What job title would you want if you could have your pick of them all?

Prepare in advance for the “desired job title” question

The truth is that when it comes to interviewing, practice really does make perfect.

Practice answering “what is your desired job title” with your friends or, if that sounds too intense, just practice by yourself.

If you can decide in advance what you’ll say for every desired job title, you’ll be more than prepared to answer this question if it gets asked.

More importantly, if it does get asked, you really need to be able to answer it. In fact, anticipating interview questions like this one is one of the smartest things you can do in your job search.

Don’t forget to research average pay rates and job descriptions for every desired job title you have in mind ahead of your interview. “If you’re going to get the pay you deserve, it’s crucial to know the going rate for your position in your specific industry and in your geographic area. As I Will Teach You to Be Rich’s Ramit Sethi points out, if you walk into a salary negotiation without a number, you’re at the mercy of an experienced hiring manager who can simply control the conversation,” writes The Muse.

You can get a really good idea of the “market rate” for your position and years of experience by going to Payscale or Glassdoor.

Whatever the title(s) you choose and however you choose to answer the “what is your desired job title?” question, the most important thing is to have your absolute bottom line prepared before going into the interview.

For more out-of-the-box tips on salary negotiation, check out this recent article.

Are job titles even important?

“Job titles are important because they allow members of your organization to know the type of work you do and the level of experience you have. They also allow people from other organizations to better understand what your role involves, whether you’re talking to a recruiter, a hiring manager, or someone else,” explains Career Sidekick.

Your job title matters more than you might think, especially since it can impact other opportunities later on, and by extension, your future salary.

In fact, an extra word in your job title could boost your salary by thousands of dollars.

“It’s important to be very conscious of job titles and the salary range that goes with them,” president of The Wage Project Evelyn Murphy told Real Simple.

For example, “Program manager and program director might sound the same, but they can have very different salaries,” Murphy explained.

Perhaps more importantly, your job title tells potential employers where you fall within an organization and your level of experience.

The reality is that positions with keywords like “assistant,” “lead,” “senior,” or “junior” in their title, although they may involve similar responsibilities, their salaries can be widely different.

For example, according to Glassdoor, the average base pay of a financial advisor in New York City is $51,459 per year while the average salary for a senior financial advisor increases the base pay by $20,000.

“When accepting a new position or angling for a promotion, most people tend to focus on salary negotiation. But your job title should also be part of the equation,” Stanford Graduate School of Business professor and coauthor of Getting (More of) What You Want Margaret Neale told Harvard Business Review.

It’s “a signal both to the outside world and to your colleagues of what level you are within your organization,” she says, and should be seen as an element of “your compensation package” that affords status and connections and can “help you do your job better.”

It “should be seen as an element of “your compensation package” that affords status and connections and can “help you do your job better.” Your title can also have a big impact on your day-to-day happiness and engagement, says Dan Cable, professor at London Business School. “It is a form of self- expression in the workplace,” he says. “It is a symbolic representation of what you do and the value that you bring,” the article went on to say.

Want proof? Having the word “lead” in your job title translates into $23,000 more in compensation, according to Money.

“Other keywords to seek out are director, which is associated with a $21,000 bump, and senior, which delivers a $20,000 bump.”

“On the other hand, a title containing the word manager isn’t the moneymaker you might expect: It translates into only a $3,000 bump.”

“When the time comes to broach the subject with your boss, Cable recommends coming at the conversation from “a learning mode.” For applicants, “this is a chance to talk about what you can bring to the job” and learn more about how the hiring manager defines success in the role. “You might say, ‘I see that the current job title is ‘Analyst,’ which is fairly generic. If you could rename this title, what might better reflect the role?’” This question, he says, “often leads to a very good, very real conversation.” If you’re already at the organization and would like a new title, Cable recommends showing your boss research that points to the power of job titles to energize workers and boost morale. “Some bosses are rigid and will have an ‘over my dead
body’ response. But others might see the issue as timely and interesting and a way to allow their employees more self-expression.” Whatever you do, don’t be a demanding “prima donna.” Project strength but also modesty. Neale suggests highlighting “the solutions that you provide to your boss” and the “skills and abilities you’re using to move the organization forward,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

What if I don’t get my desired job title or don’t like my desired job title?

“If a company gives you an odd-sounding job title, you can easily put a more fitting title on your resume and LinkedIn profile,” explains author Career Sidekick author Biron Clark in the article.

“For example, if a company hires you as a “Customer Happiness Specialist” and you want future employers to know what you do, you could list it like this on your LinkedIn and resume:

Customer Happiness Specialist (Customer Service Representative)”

The biggest takeaway? Do your research on your desired job title.

And, if you need extra time to think, just ask for it.

You’ve got this.