March 9, 2022

Job titles matter in a startup, so take the time to get them right

Job titles can be key in motivating staff.

Laura Warnier

4 min read

Laura Warnier, Chief Growth Officer at GoStudent

Let me cut to the chase: Job titles — what they mean and how to use them — could be the subject of a master's thesis.

In the last year, I've conducted more than 500 interviews for various positions across my organisation, and hidden behind the same job title on a CV, I’ve found a broad range of seniority and responsibility. I’ve interviewed a head of sales with 15 years of experience, 100+ reports across five countries and a B2B revenue target of several million, as well as a head of sales leading a team of two with a revenue target of €200k. Same, same, but different! 

This challenge is particularly relevant to high-growth startups like the one I work for, GoStudent. We grew from 100 employees to over 1,500 in just one year. 


It's a delicate balance to strike: how do you keep your existing team motivated and inspired while attracting new talent and offering them responsibilities and a title that represents a step up for them? All while keeping the organisation structure as lean as possible. 

It is something we’ve been working hard to get right. These are some of my best learnings so far.

Make clear that you value your early employees as much as your experienced staff

When you’re a scaleup, your first 100 employees may not be your most senior staff, but they need to be some of your most valued. They embody your company culture, their passion towards your mission is priceless, and they have invaluable historic knowledge. 

Job titles hold status, yes. But so does the employee hiring number. While senior hires might bring expertise and experience, don’t forget to recognise the value of early employees by acknowledging their contribution to the company. 

Ensure that these staff have a clear career trajectory and scale their salaries on a regular basis, to match the growth and success of the company. Another option is to offer shares as part of their compensation. This gives them a sense of ownership and rewards them for the role they've played in the overall journey. 

A job title is not a job description

Never assume that one person's interpretation of what a role is will match your own. You may be recruiting for a "head of" role because you want a knowledgeable, hands-on expert to hit the ground running and build the department. They, on the other hand, might be expecting to manage a ready-made team.

The way people perceive their role is so often linked to their past experience with that job title, so it is vital that when hiring a new candidate you also clearly explain what it encompasses. Just as some staff can feel snubbed by levels being introduced above them, so too can staff that feel their title is not as senior or as broad as they imagined. This can be easily mitigated by transparency from the get-go — so make sure you have this conversation before making an offer.

When building a department, plan for a team of 5,000, not 50

My final piece of advice (and something that was a big learning for me) is that titles mean one thing in a team of 10 and another in a team of 100, 500 or even 5,000. 

I joined GoStudent when the team was fewer than 10 people sitting in the basement of a boat school. In the early days of our growth, we assigned titles suited to the role at the time or selected them to attract top talent to a small, unknown company. 

This initially worked, but as the scope of responsibilities increased, so did the level of experience we were looking for. Suddenly we were swimming in titles: the junior manager, senior manager, team lead, head, director, senior director, VP, SVP, CXO… The complexity around who is accountable, responsible, consulted or informed became the topic of many internal debates. 

As your company grows, and levels of responsibility begin to increase, dream up your ideal structure — the one you see in place years from now. Work out the levels of responsibility you'll need, and hire using this plan. 


Know that one day you'll need a VP of brand, so hire a brand manager now with an attractive package and development opportunities. This title still reflects the role, but it doesn't prevent growth within that team. By being transparent and enthusiastic about your long-term plan from day one, you are far less likely to face friction later down the line, and you’ll still attract top-notch talent! 

Titles matter

Bottom line: titles will always matter. The trick is how you communicate around them — both internally and externally. In my mind, business cards don’t show your employees’ titles, titles are your employees’ business card: an elevator pitch to communicate their role and responsibilities to the wider company — and this is vital as you grow. Just remember, transparency is key because once titles become misleading, miscommunication and frustration kicks in and business slows down!