My friend Amanda was at a loss. She came to me frustrated and confused.
“I don’t understand why I’m not getting these job interviews. I’m completely qualified, yet I keep getting turned down. I just don’t get it.”
I asked if I could take a look at her resume. She was right; she was completely qualified, with years of experience in her field. But I realized the problem immediately: she had assistant to the project manager listed at the top of her resume.
It was the title she received when she began working at her company three years ago, and it was an appropriate title for someone starting out assisting with project management. But over time, she was given more responsibility, and had even taken on managing whole projects on her own. She had even gotten a raise a few months back. It was no longer an apt title; she was way beyond assistant material. And her resume reflected that; she detailed projects she had managed, and her overall experience. Unfortunately, I was all too familiar with the fact that the recruiters who got her resume in hand were blocked by the word assistant in bold letters right at the top.
I told her upfront that she needed to change her title in order to get past the first round of recruitment. As the owner of my own copywriting business, I know how exhausting it can be to rummage through resumes trying to find the perfect fit, and I know how important the job title is to getting your resume picked out of the pile. On average, a recruiter will only scan a resume for approximately 6 seconds, looking for small details such as page layout, grammar, and yes, job titles.
But did you know that your resume can get tossed out before it’s even seen by a real person, and that your job title massively affects that process? There’s something called the applicant tracking system, or ATS, that organizes and prioritizes resumes based on keywords, and 75% of resumes don’t make it past this point. A huge number of companies — including 98% of Fortune 500s — use ATS software to help simplify the job search process, meaning your resume is more likely than not to be subject to the software’s filtering system. It’s something you need to keep in mind when deciding on what job title to put on your resume.
Like Amanda, you might think that you’re stuck with the title your company gave you when you started. Or maybe you work freelance, and aren’t sure what title to even use. The good news is, you’re more in control of your job title than you think. As long as you don’t straight up lie, and the rest of your resume reflects the title, you can come up with a smart, eye-catching title that will get your resume in the hands of a real person, past the 6-second mark, and on the way to a real interview.
But you may be wondering: what job title should I put on my resume? Well, of course that depends on the job you have, but more so on the job you want. Here are some tips to finding the right job title for your resume:
Keep the ATS in mind. A great way to do this is to look at the job description, and tailor your resume job title to the one they’re hiring for. You can also sprinkle keywords throughout your resume to further target the ATS. For example, if the job description mentions buzz words such as “managed,” “assisted,” “planned,” etc., try to use those words to describe your work experience (if applicable).
Keep it short. Remember the six second rule? If your title is too long (think more than four words), the recruiter might just skim over it.
Make sure your resume backs up your title. Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to straight up lie. That can majorly backfire on you if you’re called in for an interview and can’t back up your title. You want to play up your skills while still keeping the title realistic for your capabilities. A good way to go about this is to leave the level of skill out of the title and use more actionable words. For example: Graphic Designer, rather than Junior Designer or Design Assistant. It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have — if you’re working on graphic design, you are a graphic designer. Your resume and job title should reflect that.
Your resume has to speak for you before you can do it yourself. You need to be impressive, concise, and stand out from the crowd. You want to make sure you’re honoring your experience, making sure they see that you’re right for this job. If your title doesn’t reflect how much work you actually do, it’s time to reevaluate.
P.S. I helped Amanda change her job title, and now she’s a mid-level project manager at a major firm.