Open job listings advertising ‘senior’ positions surged by almost 60% during the pandemic

According to data from LinkUp, senior titles were all the rage during the Great Reshuffling.
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· 3 min read

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and imagine a medieval knight introducing themselves in a modern office environment: “I am Sir Galahad, senior IT manager,” they might say, before mistaking the copy machine for a dragon and destroying it with an ax.

Titles and lineage were important for knights marauding through the medieval countryside, but throughout the pandemic, job titles became similarly crucial for US employers, as companies vied for talent in an increasingly competitive market. According to recent data compiled by the job market data analytics firm LinkUp shared with HR Brew, job listings for “senior” positions in the US jumped by 57% from August 2020 to April 2022, and they’ve only just started to decline.

Title inflation—defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “a process in which the names of employees’ jobs are regularly changed to make them sound more important than they are”—was rampant as the labor market entered a period of flux. (This isn’t to be confused with economic inflation, which hit 9.1% in June in the US, according to the most recent Consumer Price Index Summary.)

According to Bloomberg, adding a souped-up title to a job has been a means of luring talent when firms run out of money and other perks to offer candidates.

The data. LinkUp “indexes millions of job listings every day directly from employer websites” through proprietary technology, the company’s chief marketing officer, Lisa Lynch, explained to HR Brew in an email. Prior to the pandemic, job listings with a “senior” title comprised roughly 3.9% of job listings in the US. The peak was reached in April 2022, when 6.2% of jobs included senior titles.

LinkUp data showing increase of senior job titles during the pandemic.

Credit: LinkUp

Workers who quit their jobs during the so-called Great Resignation (or Reshuffling?) cited low pay as a crucial motivator: In a February Pew survey of 6,627 US adults who quit their jobs in 2021, 63% of respondents cited low pay as a reason behind their decision to resign.

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And when employers can’t find room in the budget to boost total comp packages, more have been beefing up titles in lieu of more lucrative salaries. “Entire careers of job titles are being condensed into a decade; 10 years’ worth of titles are being condensed into five, so new titles have had to be invented,” Shawn Cole, president of executive search firm Cowen Partners, told Bloomberg. “Firms can only offer so much money.”

The surge of inflated titles seems to be dissipating, however, as Lynch explained over email: “Things appear to be cooling and trending toward regressing back to the pre-pandemic mean. July data is already showing a sharp decline” in the number of senior titles on US job sites.

So while it may be less likely that Sir Lancelot, senior directorial vice president of business performance solutions, will crash the weekly all-hands meeting, the sheer number of new titles means HR may have a dilemma on its hands. As the HR consultant James J. Clark wrote on LinkedIn in January, inflated titles can have consequences when roles are backfilled.

“The end result is an unqualified individual taking a job from someone that is otherwise qualified who didn’t use an inflated title in their credentials.”—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

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