Is it Ever Okay to Change a Job Title on a Resume?

May 14, 2020 | Resumes

A title graphic featuring a photo of a pencil erasing a page with Let's Eat, Grandma's yellow pencil logo below an alternate version of the article's title: "Can I Change a Job Title on My Resume?"

You know that position titles are important ATS keywords, and maybe your job title doesn’t really show what you do… should you change a job title on your resume, or is that unethical?

By: Matt Dupee, CPRW | Resume Writer for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Labels can feel constraining. Even labels like your job title.

If you are like me, you may have wanted to change a job title on your resume to better reflect the job you’re applying to. It’s especially tempting in the age where Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) scan our resumes for keywords and make us want to rip our hair out (at least those of us that have any left.)

Here’s the dilemma: as we advise job seekers, position titles are the most commonly searched ATS keywords; recruiters start by searching for candidates who have done similar jobs before. The position title you’re applying to should be somewhere on your resume, or your application might get filtered out.

So, what do you do when you haven’t had a job title similar to the one you’re applying to yet? How do you get that position title on your resume for the ATS without lying? Can you modify your past job titles, or is that unethical?

Let’s Start With The Most Important Element

Do not misrepresent yourself on your resume. It will come back to haunt you at the most inconvenient time possible, guaranteed.

You should NEVER stretch the truth in your job title or mess with the level of seniority (i.e., Marketing Director vs. Marketing Manager). No matter how much more work you did than what your job title says, or no matter how badly you want to pass through ATS, this is unacceptable.

Remember that employers conduct background checks on applicants that include calling past employers. If your old employer can’t verify that you worked for them because you listed a different job title on your resume, you’ll look dishonest and be disqualified.

Now that that’s clear, let’s walk through your options for getting accurate and ATS-friendly without having to change a job titles on your resume.

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So What Can I Do With My Job Titles?

If all you’re concerned about is beating the ATS by getting the position title you’re applying to in your resume, don’t worry. Here’s a simple solution that doesn’t involve changing any job titles.

Write the position title you’re applying to as a heading on your resume above your summary section, like this:

An screenshot of a modified resume, demonstrating one method of integrating ATS keywords without having having to change a job title on a resume.

Or like this, if you’d still like to label the section “Summary of Qualifications:”

An screenshot of a modified resume, demonstrating one method of integrating ATS keywords without having having to change a job title on a resume.

Another great option is to leave your job title the same but include a parenthetical statement next to it reading (equivalent to [more accurate title]). This can work well for people who do a lot more than their entry-level titles suggest or are stuck with silly official titles like “SEO Ninja” or “Innovation Alchemist.”

For example:

SEO Ninja (equivalent to SEO Copywriter)
ABC Company, Houston, TX | 01/2018 to Present 

This strategy has benefits beyond the keyword factor, too. If you’ve gotten stuck with a crummy job title that doesn’t reflect how much work you actually do, this is the way to go. (Check out this great Forbes article for more on this.)

Can I Treat My Job Title Like My LinkedIn Headline?

On LinkedIn, we have 120 characters to work with on our headline. This is a great opportunity to include keywords often searched by recruiters. A technical project manager in the financial services space may use a headline as follows:

Senior Project Manager | Agile Development | Lean/Six Sigma | SDLC | Product Management | Financial Services | PMO

(115 characters out of 120)

Will this same approach work for a job title on your resume?

The answer falls into a grey area. If you don’t know what you are doing, you may end up impacting the readability of the job title during an ATS scan, a big mistake! However, if done carefully, you can communicate to the reader that while your title may not speak to your role, you still have the skillset you need.

If designed properly, it is possible to add keywords directly underneath the job title to identify what you really do.

Here’s an example…

Original job title: 

SEO Ninja | ABC Company, Houston, TX | 01/2018 to Present

Enhanced job title: 

SEO Ninja | ABC Company, Houston, TX | 01/2018 to Present
Brand Development | Lead Generation | Marketing | Client Support | Training | Social Strategy 

With a little effort and outside-the-box thinking, you just immediately told the reader what you really do and raised your overall ATS score by hitting all these wonderful keywords related to the position. It’s a win-win.

The Bottom Line for Changing a Job Title on a Resume

I suggest you always use your actual job title, no matter how inaccurate or silly it may be, and supplement it with the options above if you need to. The most important characteristic that you maintain during the job search is your integrity, and that means keeping it honest. Don’t risk a great future opportunity on something that’s out of your control like trying to perfectly please the ATS.

Be honest, try my keyword strategies, and stay positive about job searching in a pandemic. You’ve got this!

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