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Job Title Deflation at Google

May 13th, 2009 · No Comments

I knew several people who joined and left Google within 1 year. One common complaint I heard from them is title deflation. Google prides itself in its flat structure. So, a former VP at a Fortune-500 Corporation such as Cisco might end up working as director or senior manager at Google. This is very common in Google — just do a search of Director or VP at Google on LinkedIn. You’ll find quite a few examples.

Does title matter? Is title deflation good or bad?

The "politically correct answer" you hear from HR and recruiters would be "you shouldn’t worry about titles. We want to hire people who are excited about what we do. We have a very flat organization, which enables us to get things done. It’s great. If you’re into titles, you’re not the type we’re looking for."

In an ideal world, I agree that title doesn’t mean much. You should join a company because you’re excited about what they do, and you’re passionate about the work.

Unfortunately, in reality, your title has a lot to do with your salary, bonus plan, stock options, and career progression. Also, in a lot of companies, some HR policies are set at each level (e.g. director or above is eligible for performance-based annual performance in addition to stock grant, director or above is eligible to fly business class, etc.)

So, title does matter to certain extent. You should get the title you deserve based on your experience and background.

Does this mean you shouldn’t join Google because of their job title deflation? Of course, that’s not what I’m suggesting. I would like to offer a few suggestions about how you should think about title deflation.

  1. In term of career track, are you on the entrepreneur track or the corporate ladder track? If your goal is to start you own company, then I think title becomes less important to you. You should focus on learning, gaining experience and building up your professional network. Using Google as an example. It’d be a great place for any ambitious and innovative future entrepreneurs. You’ll be exposed to tons of cutting-edge technologies. You’ll meet great people. You’ll learn how Google runs its business. On the other hand, if you’re not the entrepreneur type and your goal is to move up the corporate ladder, I think you need to think and plan a little bit more.
  2. Are you fresh out of college or MBA school? In this case, you’re essentially getting an "entry level" job. Yes, I consider "product manager" position as "entry level" job for MBAs since this is your first job post business school. At this point of your career, it’s more important to get solid experience than having a fancy title. So, go ahead to take a job at Google or whatever employers with flat structure. It doesn’t matter. 
  3. You worked at Microsoft for three years after finishing your MBA. You got one or two promotions, and your job title was "Senior Product Manager". Google gave you a "product manager" job offer. They told you that Google has a very flat structure and product manager at Google took on significant responsibilities. I would advise you not to take this job. You might get paid a little bit more, but you’re not showing much career progression on your resume. It’s more than likely that you’ll be unhappy at Google, and you’ll be searching for a job 1-2 years later. You’ll still be looking for a "senior product manager" job.
  4. You’re a big shot at Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, or whatever big-name high tech companies. Your job title is director or VP. Google offers you better pay, but a job title that is one or two steps below what you’re now. I suggest you consider two things: 1) how long have you held your current job title? If you’ve been doing it for a while, then I think it’s okay for you to take a lesser title at Google. 2) what is the content of your new job at Google? Will you take on more responsibilities? Gain exposure to a high-growth market? Work on a cutting-edge technology with great potential? If the content of your job will help you grow your career, you should consider joining Google.
  5. You’re a big shot at McKinsey. After business school, you worked at McKinsey for 2-4 years. You were promoted to engagement manager, but you’re tired of the consultant life style. You want to move to a corporate role. It’s likely that you’ll get a job offer from Google. I do think you should take it because your most important goal is to make the transition to corporate. But, you probably won’t be happy at Google. I would expect you to quit in a year or two. But, that’s okay. By then, you’d have achieved your career change goals, and you’ll be ready for another job.

Like it or not, job title does matter. Instead of avoiding talking about job titles, I think it’s much healthier for us to have an honest discussion about the pros and cons of job deflation at companies such as Google. Ultimately, it’s your own career decision, and you need to make the best decision for yourself, your family, and your career. 

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Tags: Career Fast Track · Recruiting & Job Hunting

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