Beyond Salary: How to Ask for a Title Change, and Why It's a Smart Approach

Updated 05/08/19
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You'd prepared an argument for a raise, come to the salary negotiation meeting prepared, and your boss said no—now what? According to Denise Dudley, PhD, author, speaker, and behavioral psychologist, that shouldn't signal a dead end in the negotiation process.

"In this situation, it's perfectly appropriate (suggested, even) to inquire about a possible title promotion," she says, stressing that it's a legitimate form of promotion, even it doesn't involve a raise. "There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that your job title is important to you—even crucially, crushingly, monumentally important to you. If you'd feel more powerful, successful, assertive, or simply happier by having a bigger job title, then go for it—and don't let anyone call you an egotist!" she says.

As with any negotiation, it's crucial to hone your message. Here's exactly how to ask for a title change to get the recognition you deserve.

Step 1: Identify the Scenario

Unsure whether you should ask for a title change? Generally speaking, Dudley says there are three scenarios when it's appropriate:

1. You're denied a raise. "You decide to approach your manager and ask for a raise, and you're turned down."

2. You've reached the salary cap. "In your annual performance review, a raise is not offered, and you're given a reason, such as the company is currently experiencing a salary freeze, or you've reached the top salary tier for your seniority level."

3. Your responsibilities no longer match your title. "Your salary is fine, but your job duties have 'migrated' to include things that aren't really obvious or intuitive from your current job title."

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Step 2: Choose Your Timing Wisely

Now that you've decided to pursue a title change, it's important to choose your timing wisely. "There's definitely an art to finding the right time," says Dudley, pointing out the most common faux pas. "First of all, don't just suddenly show up in your manager's doorway and attempt to engage in such an important conversation. No manager wants to be blindsided by a question she wasn't prepared for."

Instead, email your boss to arrange a formal meeting and tell him/her what's on your mind ahead of time. "Say something friendly and non-threatening, like, 'I'd appreciate it if we could set up a meeting to discuss my job title, and some ideas I have that might make my title more descriptive of my current duties,'" she suggests.

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Step 3: Research Industry Standards

As with salary negotiation, it's crucial to prepare for this meeting. "Check out other people's titles and how they're using them. Specifically, look for your peers at similar companies and see what they're calling themselves," she recommends. It's also a good idea to understand your company's parameters—are titles conservative or will they be open to suggestions?

Come to the meeting prepared with "unemotional, logical research," as evidence to support your title change. "As a warm-up, offer to show your manager a few articles that tout the motivational powers of conferring a new job title on a tuckered-out employee. Next, give your boss a few job title options you believe would work for you, based on your current duties and your exhaustive research," she says, noting that one title is not sufficient. "Always give her several options. This creates a better back-and-forth conversation and encourages brainstorming." That way your boss won't feel cornered.

Finally, substantiate your argument with information about your competitors. You want to prove to your boss that the title reflects an industry standard. "You'll be on more solid ground if you can give concrete examples of similar people in similar organizations who have the title you're seeking," she explains.

Step 4: Know Your Audience

The most effective negotiators know that it's a two-way conversation, and better understanding the person you're talking to can help you deliver the message. Dudley recommends taking the time to learn everything you can about your boss. "It's important to know your boss's 'codes' before you approach her with an important request, such as a raise or title change. You're going to want to read how you're coming across as you present your case, and to modify your presentation as you go, based on her implicit feedback," she says.

Next, try to align your request with your boss' motives and goals. "The more you can align yourself with your boss's career objectives, the more likely you'll be to get what you want," she says. For example, if your boss is hoping to take over the overseas manufacturing department, alter your wording to reflect this goal. "You could say, 'I've been thinking that if my job title includes the word 'international,' it might make me more effective when I'm helping you deal with our operations in India.' Et voilà!

You've aligned your request with one of her goals."

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Step 5: Choose Wording Carefully

There are two major mistakes to avoid when wording your request:

Using emotional words. "You should show enthusiasm for your request, and you most certainly should 'sell' your new job title to the best of your ability, but you don't want to sound desperate or demanding," says Dudley. "Here's why: If your boss senses some sort of contest of the wills between the two of you, she may say no, simply to remind you who's boss and that she's the one making the decisions. And secondly, you never want to back your boss into a corner where she becomes uncomfortable."

Adopting a 'me-me-me' mentality. "Every good salesperson knows that you've got to sell the benefits before you sell the product," she says, so focus on how a title change will benefit the company, rather than yourself. "Tell your boss that you'll be far more effective in working with other departments if your title can include the word 'coordinator,' or that you’ll be more successful in dealing with angry customers if your title includes 'client relations,'" she suggests. 

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Step 6: Navigate the Next Step

If you've followed these five steps and your manager declines the title change, navigate the next stage carefully. "Thank your manager for the meeting, regardless of its outcome," she says. "Ask for feedback on how you might be able to qualify for a title change in the future. Make sure you understand what your boss wants out of you, request a follow-up meeting six months from now, and when you get back to your desk, send your boss a quick email, thanking her once again, and summarizing your understanding of the discussion."

If your boss isn't able to offer any suggestions and you're stuck without a raise or title change, it's time to do some evaluating, she says. Ask yourself, "Will you be okay with the status quo? You have to be honest with yourself. Some people will say, 'Yes, I'm fine, and I actually like my job and my co-workers and I'm simply going to grin and bear it,' and others will start to feel ignored, unsupported, or downright resentful," she says. If that's the case, it might be a good idea to start searching for a new job—"before you become negative and embittered." It's important to leave on a positive note, so thank your boss for their time, be appreciative of the skills you've acquired in your role, and start the job hunt.

 

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