Answer: A reader’s question started me thinking about this challenge which is shared by many professionals. “Most of my career (20+years) I’ve held the title of Manager. The roles as I’ve moved from organization to organization grew larger in scope with appropriately increasing responsibility and corresponding achievements. At this point in my career I’m ready to move up to a director level role. I was recently questioned about this and I’m not sure that my explanation cut it.” It is not only a question of giving a reasonable explanation in an interview. It is a question of how to present your work history in a resume first (to get the interview.) Once in an interview, follow the approach you took in the resume to elaborate on your story. Here’s what I suggest.
When the title you have is not an accurate and understood statement about what you have achieved, you cannot create or invent a new title. However, there is no rule that say you must prominently display that title as the first element describing what you do. Nor, is there any rule to prevent you from doing your homework to find job titles that are equivalent to the level you have achieved and create two titles. One I call a functional or market equivalent title and the other I call your “official title” which is the last element the reader sees about the job you are describing. By that point, you have fully explained what you do and diminished the importance of your inaccurate, official title.
In this situation, research may help you decide that you are doing Director-level work and it is time to be acknowledged for that achievement. It is frequently the case that titles are given once the incumbent has been working at that level for months. In fact, if you describe your level of achievement based on your research, it may become clear that you are fully qualified for a Director’s position by the time you are interviewing for the next role (outside of your current organization.)
You can describe your increasing level of responsibility by clear benchmarks, such as the size of the department, your leadership role, your reporting lines (in some organizations, the Manager is the most Senior Comms professional) and the nature of the problems you solved—all without calling yourself manager until the end of the description.
Key words, such as headed up a team, worked with the VPs, heads of business units (e.g. 2 billion in sales—give specifics), created PR programs for product introductions, etc. all send a far more accurate picture of your capabilities than the Manager title. In some companies Manager is a catch-all title for anything below VP. Also, if the content of jobs has varied, provide details to demonstrate versatility.
I do not know how Diversity & Inclusion policies will affect the interviewing process in a specific situation, but be prepared to discuss any family background, skills, travel experiences, personal interests, language capability and additional international credentials that might be relevant.
In an interview, do not be defensive or apologetic about the Manager title. Simply describe how ready you are to assume a Director’s role and define it. Confirm that the role as described in the job description of the job you are interviewing for is functioning at that level. It should be clear that you and the hiring manager are in agreement about your capabilities to assume the Director’s role.