From the time a bright-faced 'Graduate' enters the industry, through to 'Client Service Director', standardised job titles convey not only a level of seniority, status, experience, and ability, they also give an indication of salary ranges and perceived value contribution. This internationally-acknowledged pathway provides a handy benchmark for agency owners and hiring managers, and helps individuals to chart out their career and celebrate milestones of achievement.
However, the reality is that modern agencies are changing drastically (in ownership, structure, focus, and service offering), and it's no surprise that we are seeing this sea change reflected in the way roles are titled.
For example, agencies may call all of their account management team 'Account Managers', 'Project Managers', or 'Account Directors', regardless of their amount of experience. This is a common occurrence in agencies that have a very flat structure or a very small team; agencies that regard their account management team as their 'sales team'; or agencies that wish to convey to their clients and staff that job titles are not their focus. Unfortunately what this may do is 'promote' junior-level staff to a very senior-sounding title, or 'demote' senior-level staff to a junior-sounding title, which can be detrimental when that person wishes to move to another agency.
As more agencies try to redefine the agency/client relationship, we see job titles emerge to reflect new or alternative philosophies, such as 'Business Director' or 'Client Partner'. In these cases, the agency is making a statement on how they view the nature of the relationship - a move away from being purely a service provider to one of truly partnering with their client.
Whilst there are many benefits to having an established industry pathway the system can be flawed, manipulated, or just plain irrelevant. For example, some job titles bear little or no resemblance to what the person actually does day-to-day; and job titles can be 'bestowed' upon recipients for reasons other than as a recognition or reflection of capability (such as an incentive for staff not to leave, or as an incentive to join the agency).
In spite of the changing industry, and the often arbitrary application of job titles, we still have a pathway which the industry (as a whole) continues to follow, so the next question becomes how important is a job title, and should you even care?
Hiring managers who are progressive in their approach will see past the job titles on your CV and consider the work that you have done. Hiring managers who are more traditional will want to see job titles that they recognise because that is how they will assess your suitability for a role. What you will never know is whether or not the hiring manager is progressive or traditional, so it's safest to assume that all hiring managers will assess you using the standard industry pathway as their benchmark. Therefore when it comes to applying for jobs, your previous job titles are super-important.
The usual approach is to include your contracted job title on your CV. As mentioned, this title may not always be an accurate reflection of your level or ability.
However just because your contracted title may seem 'unfair', changing it on your CV could be perceived as falsifying your work history, so only you can make the call as to whether you should change your job title at any stage.
Going forward you do have another option, which is to negotiate a better job title before you sign your employment contract. Job titles can be just as negotiable as salary and start/finish hours. If you don't like the sound of your job title or if you think it is not a fair indication of your ability, then you should say so right up front.
It may well be that agency management has a specific way that they want their account management team to be portrayed. If this is the case, they may not be open to negotiating a job title change. What you could ask is that you have your preferred job title written into the contract, but that you acknowledge you will have the agency's preferred job title on your business card. That way your job title will be safeguarded for future CV use.
In some countries, account managers are still referred to by a rather archaic title of ‘Suits’.
A mere few decades ago, everyone in an advertising agency was formally dressed, down to the office junior who wore a shirt and tie and the creatives who sported bow ties. At that time, advertising agencies were the domain of men (wearing their suits), and it wasn’t until the 1980s that saw more senior women entering the industry, especially into account management roles.
From the 1990s, men stopped wearing ties and women stopped wearing power suits; never-the-less, account managers still continued to be the most professionally-dressed of all agency personnel and clothing became the obvious differentiator between account managers (‘Suits’) and creatives. Like it or hate it, the title of ‘Suits’ has endured to this day.
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