Meaningless labels

Want to play a guessing game? Let’s compare the job titles for internal communication roles, and see if you can work out the correct pecking order of seniority.

Last week, I asked the internal communications community to vote on four common internal communication job titles and indicate which they thought was the most senior.



There was some clear consistency between the results of both polls with the majority voting Internal Communications Lead as the most senior and Internal Communications Business Partner as the runner up. Thanks to everyone who voted and to those who also commented. You are the inspiration for much of what follows.

I have to say that I was surprised by the results and wondered if people had possibly conflated Lead with Leader. I would have ranked them entirely differently with Partner as the most senior, Officer the most junior, and Lead and Advisor somewhere in the middle. More on this later, to explain my biases.

Some who commented on the polls pointed out that inconsistencies in job titles vs. seniority isn’t unique to internal communication roles. I would agree, but for a profession such as internal communication which is still more or less in its adolescence, I think that this inconsistency and confusion is perhaps more of an important issue for us, and can also carry a financial penalty during recruitment.

Why this is important

I’ve written before about why I think the internal communication job market is like the lawless Wild West, and how this confusion puts candidates for IC job roles at a disadvantage, creates frustration and increases the risk of mismatches between successful applicants and roles. Recruitment is an expensive business in terms of time and money, and both are being wasted in spades by recruiters and the recruited because of this omnishambles.

There are no clear universal benchmarks for what an internal communicator is, or does. No agreed levels of competence or typical tasks and responsibilities for junior, mid-senior, senior and director level roles. No clear benchmarks for reward and recognition, or cross cutting standards for qualifications or accreditations. Add in the significant variability in job titles, coupled with that ambiguous and ubiquitous phrase in job ads ‘salary competitive’, and the whole thing is one big massive lottery.

When applying for an internal communication role completing the salary expectation question is quite simply a stab in the dark, that might see your application unfairly booted out straight away – “We regret that we won’t be taking your application to the next stage” (because you are too expensive!) or render you being cheap at the price and exploited when you accept a lower salary because you’ve still no proper idea at the offer stage, what exactly the job will entail in reality and its level of seniority.   

Some clues

There are some clues to look out for which, aside from the described responsibilities, might help you work out where that interesting internal communication role you just spotted, might sit on the seniority scale and what a realistic salary expectation might be.

Sector – I think sector has a big influence on internal communication job titles, and also explains my bias and why I disagreed so fundamentally with the pollsters. For many years I worked in the UK Civil Service as a communicator. Now, whilst working in the public sector has its disadvantages, one big advantage is the reasonably clear and consistent grading structures and competence frameworks which exist within and across government departments and agencies. As a government communicator I progressed upwards from Executive, to Manager, Business Partner and finally Head of, with clear expectations of what I needed to know and do at each of these levels and what level of remuneration I could expect.

Once outside the Civil Service and working in a variety of other sectors, things became a lot hazier, but my observation is that some job titles occur more frequently in some sectors in the UK than others. For example, Internal Communications Lead appearing often in the Finance and Legal sectors and Internal Communications Officer and Advisor common in Higher Education.

If you are planning on jumping sectors, it might be worth doing a bit of comparative research by reviewing a few advertised job descriptions and their associated job titles in your destination sector to get a feel for what sits where on the seniority scale, and what things are called and worth.

You’ll likely have plenty of permutations to consider, with the titles included in the poll and others such as Specialist, Principal, Assistant, Executive, Consultant and Analyst.

Maturity of the organisation/role/IC functionIn organisations, what internal communication is, and what internal communicators do can be very different. Sometimes this is linked to how long the internal communication function has existed in the organisation, how established the roles in it are, the opinions of leaders/managers about what it is for and the experience levels and knowledge of other communicators in the organisation (if they exist).

The phrase ‘this is a brand new role’ in an internal communication job advert, should put you on the alert to do some ‘due diligence’ about why it has been created and the expectations of those who created it, as well as exciting you about the potential opportunity to shape the role and make it your own.

Brand new internal communication roles are brought into being to satisfy a variety of actual and perceived needs, and the associated job descriptions can be put together by people who are not communicators themselves. What they are looking for in an internal communicator is sometimes a ‘best guess’ (including the salary and the seniority), particularly if the recruiters haven’t done their homework and referenced things such as the excellent IoIC Profession Map.

For both potential IC recruiters and those they are recruiting, I recommend a read of Chapter 1 – ‘Making the case for employee communication’ in the book Successful Employee Communications by Liam Fitzpatrick and Sue Dewhurst. The definitions of employee communication, its value and purpose here are helpful in positioning and understanding an IC role or function on the tactical/strategic scale, and whether it is a good match for your skill set, seniority and your desire to do it.

Of course, none of this is foolproof detective work, but it might help you navigate through the wild west of IC job recruitment, avoid the outlaws and cowboys, and get the type of IC role, seniority and salary that is right for you.

Meaningless labels

Finally, does your job title adequately reflect what you know, the experience you have and the qualifications you’ve achieved in the discipline of internal communication?

Mine never have, but once you’ve successfully applied to work somewhere, the richness of your career history, what you know, the qualifications you’ve achieved and the things you’ve worked on (which you explained and demonstrated at length during the hiring process) are somehow lost, and you become defined inside the organisation, and on your CV, by your new job title and the position in the organisational pecking order it conveys.

Some might say that job titles don’t really matter, but I think that they do. So often the judgements, decisions and opinions of others inside and outside organisations about what we are, know, do and should do as internal communicators, are shaped by these limiting and meaningless labels.

Including the decision about what we should be paid as a practitioner.


If you are looking for some help with recruiting an internal communicator (and I’ve recruited a few in my time!), I can help with that as well as many other aspects of organisational communication. I have a range of services available for existing and potential clients. Please get in touch for a no obligation chat.  

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

3 thoughts on “Meaningless labels

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