Hire young talent? A beefed-up job title may help

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG

Some employers are tackling the chronic talent shortage by dangling a carrot that requires no extra cash but carries more than a hint of added prestige.

These bosses are tempting new hires with grand-sounding, inflated job titles in the hope of attracting and retaining staff.

Some experts believe such titles are particularly alluring to younger workers looking for instant gratification, rather than working their way up the ladder to a loftier title.

One example of an inflated title on a business card might be "Chief of customer experience". This may be impressive at first sight, but less so, however, if the employee is simply a customer service officer and reports to a manager.

Others might be an "order cash specialist head" or a "revenue assurance manager" - primped-up, modern-day versions of account receivables clerks, whose job is to review payment collections.

Inflated job titles have been mushrooming across Asia, including in Singapore, in the last two to three years, recruitment experts told The Straits Times.

"With more markets opening up rapidly in Asia, good talent has been in short supply and competition is stiff," said Ms Yuniatiria Simatupang, head of South-east Asia at Hong Kong-based executive search firm Bo Le Associates.

"But a lot of companies lack the economies of scale to attract good employees, so they offer beefed-up titles instead."

She estimates that as many as 20 per cent of the job seekers that Bo Le Associates deals with have inflated job titles.

"Such a strategy could come with good intentions," she said.

"An employer could be offering you the title of a division head or director, with the expectation that you will earn the position in a year's time.

"But this might not happen, and, if you fail to perform, it's going to backfire. Both you and the company could end up on the losing end," she said.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore, noted that both multinational corporations (MNCs) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are "equally eager in the exaggeration".

The practice is most prevalent among consultancies and business services firms, and in the banking and finance sectors.

She cited one candidate with the lofty title of a credit controller but the experience of a lowly account receivables assistant or executive. In the finance industry, the monthly remuneration for the two roles differs by at least $6,500.

"Embellished job titles can attract candidates, especially the younger generation, who could be more inclined towards instant gratification," said Ms Teo. She added that this is compounded by a culture where the need for "face", or the prestige accorded through success and outward show, is highly significant.

The experts agreed that companies offering such fancy, albeit superficial, job titles to their staff could end up losing credibility in the long run.

"This creates a false impression for clients that the employee manages greater responsibilities," said Ms Teo. "And it will not reflect well on the employer's brand if he fails to deliver the level of service expected of him."

By accepting such titles, employees, too, can create problems for their own job prospects.

Said Ms Simatupang: "You may be able to get away with your inflated job title for one company, but not another. If you can't prove your worth, the market is bound to recognise it, and this can put an end to your career altogether."

Mr Tim Klimcke, associate director of Robert Walters Singapore, said that with more people using social media these days, it has become easier for employers or hiring managers to carry out checks on whether one's job scope tallies with his job title, as "a job title doesn't always reflect what someone has actually done".

He added: "We always encourage people to focus on the content of the position, as opposed to the title."

Hiring managers, for their part, should look towards other methods to motivate staff, such as giving out best employee awards, instead of "paying lip service" by inflating job titles, said Ms Teo.

"Expanding their staff's job scope and responsibilities... or empowering them to make decisions also goes a long way to building a good supervisor-worker relationship, which would help to retain and motivate them."

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg