The Problem with Job Titles: Part 2

We know we have a Problem with Job Titles.

In our previous blog post of this series, we looked at users on our platform who self-identified as 'Software Engineers' and compared how they interpreted their jobs based on the key question we ask on our matching service - how do you want to spend your time? We learnt that for our users the same job titles often had very different meanings in terms of actual job content.

Today's blog post is the natural sequel to that post. We're calling it The Problem with Job Titles: Part 2. How do employers use job titles in the vacancies they are hiring for? What can we tell from the time distributions of these jobs? Is there the same disconnect between the words and the shape?

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Our Data Set:

For our data set, we took a snapshot of employer data on our platform on May 1st 2015. On that day, we had 351 live job opportunities posted on our site from 177 different employers.

These included job opportunities with employers such as M&S Digital, Government Digital Services, Lyst, Transferwise, Hailo, Moo.com, Skyscanner and many other leading businesses in the UK and around the world.

Workshape.io Beta Companies Logos

These 177 companies produced as many as 204 unique job titles from those 351 jobs. We took these 204 job titles as our dataset and analysed them on the text and on the shape of the job.

Our findings

1. Seniority Label

35.15% of 203 job titles include signifiers of seniority. Examples include 'Senior Android Engineer', 'Junior Ruby Developer' and 'Senior Web Developer"

We can see that a significant percentage of employers felt it useful or necessary to signal seniority within the job title - over a third of all jobs contained this signifier.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions on what this might mean but it is clear that the recognition of some form of hierarchy within the development team was important to many employers. Perhaps employers do this in order to pre-empt a conversation on ranking order to future members of the team? We'd be interested in your thoughts here!

2. Tech Stack Reference

31.19% of 203 job titles included reference to the key skill or tech stack. Examples include 'PHP developer', 'JavaScript Engineer' and 'AngularJS Ninja'

We can see that a significant percentage of employers felt it useful or necessary to signal the tech stack with the job title - again, around about a third of all jobs published.

We believe that this behaviour might be motivated by employers who want to communicate a clear signal to a specific demographic and simultaneously deter those who are not in that group. i.e We want to talk to PHP developers and not anyone else'.

It may also be a signal of significant business committment to technologies that is not up for negotiation. i.e We are working on PHP and, no, we're not moving to Node.js!

Finally, its possible that the influence of traditional job ad / search & apply mechanics has bled through onto next generation job discovery platforms. Simply put, the use of tech stack within the job title is a legacy of SEO gaming techniques that were, and continue to be, common in public job boards.

3. Descriptor Only

47.03% of the 203 job titles were simply descriptors, without additional references to level of seniority or tech stack. Examples include 'Software Engineer', 'Web Developers' and 'DevOps Engineer'.

Noticebly, this percentage compares with the higher percentage of users who use the minimal Job Titles to describe themselves. This is likely due to different perceptions, objectives and risk tolerance from the two sets of users; employers are relatively more concerned about potential risk to team dynamics (Seniority label) and on time-to-productivity (Tech Stack reference) of new hires, whilst we speculate that developers might have a tendency to see themselves as non-hierarchical and language agnostics, capable in any programming language.

4. Idiosyncratic 4.46% of the 204 job titles were completely idiosyncratic, meaning they were unique combinations of words and sentence structure. Examples include "Product lead with a bit of devOps" etc

This represented a small percentage of the overall data set. We consider these idiosyncratic job titles to be differentiation gambits, rather than actual job titles used within the business.

Overall

Here's a bar chart showing the breakdown of job titles collectively.

And here's a word cloud highlighting the most commonly used words.

Job title common words cloud

What does this mean?

According to the Collin's Dictionary definition, job titles are traditionally business names used to describe a persons work within an organisation. In many other industries, this remains solidly the case. A teacher is a teacher, a nurse is a nurse, a lawyer is a lawyer.

We can see from our research that tech employers deviate significantly from this position. Over half of the sampled jobs not titled in this way.

Some of this can be seen as a response to a dynamic environment, with unconventional job titles an attempt by employers to keep pace with a rapidly evolving technology market. In other cases, we can see that high levels of employer competition is driving the use of idiosyncractic formulas to differentiate and convert. Perhaps we can also see the legacy of ingrained SEO gaming practices that two decades of online advertising have given us, with use of tech stack references as prefixes to descriptor job titles.

What is clear is that this multivarious job titling will result in a highly variable job discovery experience for developers. By locating job opportunities on job titles alone, developers will connect to employers who are using different strategies for communicating different things, will miss suitable opportunities, generate too many false positives and invariably find themselves in recruiting processes for work they do not want to do.

What happens if you ignore job titles?

At Workshape.io, we understand that textual data is inherently ambiguous. Words mean different things to different people at different times and in different contexts. Over-reliance on this ambiguous data - in the form of CV's, resumes, LinkedIn profiles, job descriptions, job adverts - is at the core of the poor match experience between the person and employer.

Previous attempts at solving this problem - use of recruiters, psychometrics, technical testing, tech interviews and the like - have served to create a fragmented job discovery experience, which is painful for everyone involved in it.

What happens if you get rid of the words? Or at least, step away from relying on words to make the match? At Workshape.io, we care most about job content, not job titles or job descriptions. We ask employers that are hiring developers one question - How do you want this engineer to spend his or her time? And by allocating time over universal software engineering tasks, we can create a time signature of the job they are looking to hire - literally (ahem), the shape of the job.

Case Study: Software Engineer at Venture Capital Company

One of our customers published a job opening with an idiosyncratic job title - Software Engineer at Venture Capital Company. On Workshape.io, we ignore job title and match on job content - what is important is how the employer wants you to spend your time vs how you want to spend your time.

What do we find?

Image

We can see in the above image, that we matched 25 people to this job opening. By overlaying matched shapes, both parties are able to see how well suited the match is (or isn't) in terms of time distribution.

What is more interesting is the relevant user matches had very different job titles, ranging from 'Software Engineer', 'Chief Software Architect' and 'Lead Dev', even though the desired job content was a good match for the job opening.

Conclusion

This analysis of our data validates our findings identified in part one. Reliance on job title as a signifier of job content is problematic when there is inconsistent usage amongst employers, different purpose (advert vs descriptor) and highly variable time distribution even when the same job titles are used, and potentially similar time distributions when very different job titles are used. We need to focus less on the words we use, and more on the shape of the job.

Hope you enjoyed this post! We really enjoy digging into our data and sharing our findings with you. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. If you like what we're doing, don't forget to sign up and tell the market how you want to spend your time.

Thanks for reading!

Workshape.io Team