What to do when your job title doesn’t match your actual job

Use these tips to let employers know there’s more than meets the eye.

What to do when your job title doesn’t match your actual job

Job titles are supposed to capture the essence of how you spend your day, but sometimes that shorthand, well, falls short. Perhaps your company has some quirks in how they assign titles—the SVP of Awesome does what, exactly?—that don’t translate well to the outside world. Or you’re leading a team of people—a manager by any industry’s standards—but nobody would know it if they were to go by what’s printed on your business card. This is much more than a bummer; it’s straight up problematic.

Having more responsibility than would normally be associated with your title can pose a challenge when you start job hunting, especially if your goal is to move up the ladder. But there are ways to work around that inaccurate or confusing title on your resume and cover letter and during the job interview. These tips can help you show potential employers what you really do—and what you can do for them—at each step of the job-seeking process.

Resume: Think functional, not chronological

Let’s be clear on one thing: Don’t lie about your title on your application. Be honest. You can  offer clarification on your resume, which should aim to emphasize your skills more than anything else. This is one of those cases where a functional resume rather than a chronological one can be useful, says Tammy Kabell, founder and CEO of Kansas City, Missouri-based Career Resume Consulting.

With a chronological resume, the reader sees your name, job title, company and tenure before even getting to your responsibilities. A functional resume, on the other hand, is skills-based and lets you tell a story in the summary at the top of the page, then lists your responsibilities and what you’ve done, all before citing your job title.

Another option is to put a secondary title in parentheses next to your title. “If your title is senior engineer, but you’ve taken on the responsibilities of running the department,” Kabell says, “write ‘head of engineering department’ next to your title.”

You don’t have to be leading a team to take advantage of this strategy. Even someone with an entry-level title, say “sales associate,” may actually be doing much more, such as bookkeeping, inventory control and scheduling, says Grant Cooper, founder and president of Strategic Resumes in New Orleans. He had a client serving in that role, so she added “acting store manager” next to her title after getting approval from her boss.

Not sure how your resume stacks up? You can get a free resume evaluation from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service.

Cover letter: Show what you really do

Here’s your chance to tell the real story behind your job title. Use your cover letter to expand on your resume and show that you have the skills required in the job description you’re applying for, says Kelly Meerbott, a leadership coach and principal of You: Loud & Clear in Philadelphia. “Be proud of what you’ve done, and say that even though your title wasn’t ‘sales trainer,’ you trained half the staff,” she says. Make it clear that you’re a go-getter who takes on new tasks, regardless of what role you’re in. 

Don’t give away too much, though. Keep it brief, sharing just one anecdote about a successful project to demonstrate your real skill level. Offer to explain further in a phone call or meeting. “Position it in a powerful way that says you’d love to talk more about all the incredible things you’ve done and achieved in your position,” Meerbott says. “A lot of times it’s easier to explain those things in person.” 

Interview: Back it up with specifics

Once you get a prospective employer’s attention, you can use the first phone call or initial contact to back up your resume and cover letter.

This is not a time to be humble or modest about what you actually do, Kabell says, yet people sometimes have a hard time taking credit for accomplishments outside their job description. “It’s easier to take credit when you’re a director than when you’re a manager acting as a director,” Kabell says.

Go into the interview with a few examples of past accomplishments that demonstrate your experience and highlight your best work, Meerbott says. This is helpful for all interviews, but it’s especially important in this situation. “Have stories ready that show your results, including challenges and how you overcame them.”

Remember, you’re more than just a job title, so don’t hesitate to let prospective employers know just how much you can bring to their table.