I’m worried about my unimpressive job title

I’m looking for a new job, but fear that my unimpressive title may be holding me back. I am a senior compliance manager in a big bank but my title is merely “controller”. Other people in my bank who do less senior jobs have much grandersounding titles. For instance, “head of corporate liquidity management” is a role far junior to mine – a cash management function running a team of two. I’m afraid that with a title like “controller” my CV won’t be considered for senior compliance positions, despite my good legal knowledge and the hard work I’ve put in. I feel that, in times like these, hiring managers don’t read the fine print of a CV and mine will go straight in the bin.

Controller, female, 36

LUCY’S ANSWER

In Thomas the Tank Engine, the classic children’s book, the much feared, top-hatted man who runs the railway has a title rather like yours. He is called the Fat Controller – the prefix “Fat” added less to signify the size of his empire than the size of his girth. Every four-year-old reading these stories knows that a controller is someone who controls. In other words, he is the boss.

Six decades after the Rev Audrey wrote these books, adults have become less confident about what a controller is – let alone a vice-president or a managing director. There is now an inverse relationship between how senior a job is and how fancy the title. Inflation is most rampant at the low to middle areas (where it is cheaper than a pay rise) but at the top, titles are the same as they always were. “Chairman” still means chairman and “president” still means president.

If everyone could be relied upon to be sensible, your plain title would be an advantage. The trouble is recruiters can’t be relied on to be sensible. The initial weeding is likely to be done by headhunters and as most of them like to call themselves “senior executive search consultants”, one feels little confidence.

Much as it pains me to say it, you should do what everyone else does and present your CV in the language of self-importance. Look at the wording in the job ad, and make sure your own wording mirrors it. Write that you are a senior whatever-you fancy, putting the word “controller” in brackets afterwards.

And just in case you feel tempted to go to your boss and ask for a grander title: don’t. Not only would that be demeaning, it would be advertising the fact that you’ve had enough and want out.

Dear Lucy

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Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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