We’re not talking about giving yourself a “Manager” title for that past job where you were definitely an individual contributor. Lying on a resume is a big mistake; the truth tends to emerge before long, and the new employee is promptly fired.
What you can ethically do is add information to clarify an inaccurate title and help your resume succeed in applicant tracking systems. So yes, under some circumstances you can, without any deception, enhance your job title.
Let’s consider why you might want to do this, and how to do without getting yourself into trouble.
Job titles on resumes carry a lot of weight, for two reasons.
Why is the job title so important? Why can’t you just write a job description that clarifies that your Administrative Officer III title meant you were a Program Manager?
First, it’s well known that recruiters often skim resumes, making a decision within a few seconds. During that quick skim, they will especially focus on–you guessed it–job titles. They may not read the descriptions until later, if at all. So you want those titles to have impact.
Second, when your resume is processed and analyzed by an applicant tracking system (ATS), the system can analyze how well your background matches the job requisition, based on keywords (which may be single words or whole phrases). Often, the most crucial keyword is the job title.
In case you’re wondering, the ATS identifies a title by, among other things, its proximity to a set of dates. So the ATS can also count up how many years’ experience you had in that role.
All of this affects the score your resume receives. A high score may mean your resume actually gets read by human beings—and you have a chance at getting an interview.
There are many ethically acceptable reasons for enhancing or adjusting a job title on your resume.
Let’s look at some issues you might have with your titles, and how you can fix them.
Maybe your title was worded differently than the recruiter expects, even though the job is the same. For example, if a company is looking for someone with experience as a Game Designer, their ATS (or even their inexperienced recruiter) may not recognize your experience as a Game Artist as a match. So it might make sense to add “Game Developer” in parentheses:
Amazing Games, Inc., Los Angeles, CA Game Artist (Game Developer) 01/2018-01/2021
Voilà! Now the system “sees” three years’ experience as a Game Developer, and as long as you truly did the work of a Game Developer, you’re being completely honest.
Maybe you had an unusual title. One company had a role called “Digital Overlord.” Cute, but not so great on a resume. The person with this title might want to put “Website Manager” in parentheses after that title.
Maybe your title doesn’t reflect the level or breadth of your responsibility. For example, maybe your title was Project Coordinator but you actually functioned at the level of a Program Manager and your company simply never got around to giving you the title. You might write this:
Project Coordinator (de facto Program Manager)
What if your job was much broader than the title implies? Assuming that the additional breadth is relevant, you might want to write it this way:
Training Coordinator—including LMS management and curriculum development
Let’s say you were an Account Executive. You filled in for the sales director when she was on maternity leave, but were never given the title of Interim Sales Director. Now you’re applying for a Sales Director role. You could write your title like this:
Account Executive (and Interim Sales Director)
Account Executive (with Sales Director responsibilities)
Of course, if you were actually given the interim title, you can combine the ongoing and interim titles without resorting to parentheses:
Account Executive/Interim Sales Director
Is there a downside to changing your title on your resume?
Possibly. These enhanced titles add a certain amount of clutter to the resume. And while one recruiter might understand what you’ve written, another might be confused or even distrustful. So use this technique sparingly.
If you’re not sure how your information is coming across, I recommend you show your draft to a resume writer, or maybe a trusted colleague with HR experience, and get their feedback. If you still have any doubts, play it safe by using only your official job titles.
Whatever approach you take with the job titles on your resume, handle them the same way on LinkedIn. Inconsistency between these two documents can raise red flags in recruiters’ minds.
So overall, the answer to “can you change your title on your resume?” is this: Never change it for the purpose of fooling someone, but there are ways you can adjust or enhance the title to give a more accurate impression of the work you actually did. That could make the difference between being overlooked versus getting the interview and the job.