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Who’s the boss? Angela Casey, managing director of CM Porter Novelli, Edinburgh, talks about the value of the right job title

Do all job titles mean the same thing?

I sometimes wonder what a vice president is in the US – it would appear to apply to a wide range of staff and skill levels and it sounds hugely impressive. Similarly, in the UK, there is a growing trend to call a divisional director a managing director. In the personal finance industry an organisation sometimes has about 10 MDs – each for a different division. I find it very confusing and wonder what happens if they turn up at the same event. Which one’s the real MD then?

Some years ago Porter Novelli made the move to simplify job titles and we created a flatter structure with just consultants, senior consultants and directors. While that worked for me and other directors and certainly saved on printing new business cards after each promotion, it offered younger people less of a structure within which to rise and as it did not fit the industry standard, I was never sure what it meant externally. I fully appreciate that young people want a sense of progression and a scale of job titles offers that. Furthermore, when you are in your 20s and in the pub you want your job title to mean something when you say what you do. Also, when people move around the industry (and I, of course, hope our good staff won’t!), you want your new employer to understand your skills level. This increases the importance of using job titles and commensurate pay levels that are relatively standard within the industry and that appeal to young people who want to know they are progressing.

Now it was easy for me to introduce simplified job titles because I already had a nice job title and have had it for many years (no expensive printing bills for me), but I appreciate aspiration and want to reward staff with both a sense of progression and status. Which is why, in the end, we reverted to industry standards and now offer a range of levels for younger staff to progress through which further helps them understand where they are going.

So from the management perspective, it means providing staff with a ladder for them to climb. Here are some thoughts on the best ways for PR people to use those levels and benefit from them in achieving career aspirations.

Look at the career structure within your organisation as a map and set yourself goals in time terms for when you want to reach the next level. Do not be frightened to share your ambitions and plans at your appraisal. Ask your boss whether your ambition is achievable and what you need to do to reach the next level within your target timescale (but be realistic). It is also not a bad idea to ask about the level after that too. By demonstrating you understand there is a career structure within your organisation that you see yourself within, it confirms your loyalty and commitment to making an impact and being part of the business for the long term.

You can also use job titles to distinguish behaviours and skill levels required as you move upwards. It is always a good idea to look objectively at your colleagues who are currently where you want to be – not to knock them off their spot, but rather to see how they behave, what they say in meetings and what skills they bring to their job. These are the things you need to acquire to reach the next stage and it also does no harm to read the job description for levels above yours. Then, take the time to think about what you need to get there in terms of training, skills acquisition and learning on the job. This can all be plotted on your virtual map and added to your personal plan for success and discussed, of course, at your appraisal.

In the end, whatever you think about your current role or even your job title, your career is up to you and it is up to you how you map it and direct it. Structure and success are important, as are taking time to make plans and research industry pay scales and skill levels. It’s in your hands.

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