A Guide to Job Level Classification: Examples, Criteria, and 7 Best Practices
How do you distinguish between a 'Senior Manager' and a 'Director' or between an 'Associate 1' and an 'Associate 2'?
Imagine a system where each job level is clearly defined, not just in terms of responsibilities and expectations but also in alignment with career progression and compensation.
We will provide real-world examples that bring these classifications to life.
But it's not just about the 'what.' It's also about the 'how.' We delve into the best practices for implementing job level classifications. Think of these as the seven commandments for a successful system: transparency, consistency, flexibility, inclusivity, alignment with organizational goals, employee involvement, and regular review and updates.
Each practice is explained with practical tips and insights on embedding them into your organizational fabric.
🪜 What are job levels?
Job levels are the distinct tiers within an organization's hierarchy that classify employees' relative rank, responsibilities, and authority. These levels are often associated with specific job titles, functions, and compensation ranges.
Organizations use job levels to structure different roles within the company based on a set of predefined criteria, such as:
- role responsibilities;
- skills required;
- level of expertise;
- impact on the organization.
Using job levels aims to create a clear and transparent hierarchy of positions, ensuring that employees are compensated and rewarded appropriately for their experience, skills, and contributions.
Understanding job levels helps in career planning, performance management, and organizational structuring. They provide a clear path for career progression and help align roles and responsibilities with organizational needs.
VP of People Melissa Theiss explains, "Job leveling is a translation and normalization process. It's a way to understand if a Chief Amazement Officer at a 10 person company and a Customer Care Associate at a 10,000 person company are performing similar work. More technically, job leveling is assigning job roles and responsibilities into defined categories—sometimes called "families"—and levels."
🔍 What is a job level classification?
Job level classification is a systematic process of categorizing jobs into different ranks based on the abovementioned criteria.
For example, some typical levels might include:
- Entry-level: These are positions for individuals who are just starting their careers or have minimal work experience. Roles at this level usually involve basic tasks and require close supervision.
- Intermediate or mid-level: Employees at this level have gained more experience and skills. They might manage smaller projects or teams and have more responsibility than entry-level staff. However, they typically still work under the supervision of more senior employees.
- Senior-level: At this tier, employees have significant experience and expertise in their field. They often manage large projects or teams and are responsible for making important decisions within their department or area of expertise.
- Managerial-level: This level includes roles where individuals manage teams or departments. Managers are responsible for strategic planning and decision-making in their areas.
- Director-level: Directors typically oversee entire departments or divisions. They are responsible for aligning their department's goals with the company's strategic objectives. They may be involved in high-level planning and decision-making.
- Executive-level: This is the highest level, including roles like CEO, CFO, and CTO. Executives make organization-wide decisions and set the company's overall strategy and direction.
This process enables organizations to define clear job titles, develop consistent salary structures, and establish career progression paths for employees.
A job leveling matrix forms part of the classification process as a tool to evaluate and assign levels to different roles within the company. It makes a great reference point when assessing or classifying jobs.
What is the difference between job classification and job grading?
Job classification and job grading are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between the two terms.
Job classification groups similar roles based on shared characteristics like job description tasks, responsibilities, and qualifications. The result is job classes or categories with descriptive names like "Administrative Assistant" or "Software Developer."
Job grading uses numerical or alphabetical grades based on a holistic evaluation that includes factors like skills, responsibilities, decision-making authority, and overall impact on the organization.
This example from Whereby illustrates a 7-part grading system from entry to C-suite, as follows:
- Level 1 = Inaugurate
- Level 2 = Associate I and Associate II
- Level 3 = Partner I and Partner II
- Level 4 = Lead I and Lead II
- Level 5 = Director
- Level 6 = VP
- Level 7 = C Suite
🕵️♀️ How do you categorize jobs? 7 Basic criteria of job classification
There are a lot of nuances involved in job level classifications, and organizations should take a customized approach to meet the needs of their business and workforce.
However, most will base their leveling on common criteria, such as the following:
- Industry: This criterion considers the specific knowledge and skills required for different sectors, such as healthcare technology, finance, or manufacturing.
- Function: Categorizing jobs by their primary function or role within an organization identifies similarities in tasks and responsibilities. Examples include roles like marketing specialist, software developer, or human resources manager.
- Competency level: Job classification relies on a competency model to determine the skill level required for a particular role. Positions may be classified as entry-level, intermediate, or senior based on the skills and experience demanded. Similarly, a leadership competency model is integral to managerial job classification.
- Employment type: Companies can categorize jobs as full-time, part-time, temporary, or freelance, reflecting the changing dynamics of the workforce.
- Organizational level: Job classification often relies on hierarchical levels, including entry-level, middle management, senior management, and executive roles. This reflects the degree of responsibility and decision-making authority associated with each level.
- Compensation level: Job classification and compensation are inextricably linked. Different wage levels correspond to job levels based on factors such as skills, experience, and market demand.
- Formality: Formal roles often have well-defined job descriptions, while informal roles may involve a broader range of tasks and responsibilities.
👀 3 Typical job levels and their criteria
To illustrate what job levels look like within a specific job family, check out these sample job levels for entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level positions within marketing.
Entry-level: Social Media Coordinator
A social media coordinator role would suit entry-level professionals such as fresh graduates or school leavers with a proven passion for marketing.
- Content creation: Develop engaging and creative content for various social media platforms.
- Community management: Monitor and respond to audience interactions, fostering positive engagement.
- Data analysis: Assist in analyzing social media metrics to gauge campaign effectiveness.
- Coordination: Collaborate with cross-functional teams for content alignment and consistency.
- Educational requirement: Bachelor's degree in Marketing, Communications, or related experience.
- Experience: Previous experience in social media marketing.
- Skills: Strong writing skills, familiarity with social media platforms, and basic data analysis.
Potential for advancement to Social Media Specialist with demonstrated growth in content strategy, campaign effectiveness, and increased responsibilities.
Mid-level: Marketing Specialist
A Marketing Specialist role would suit someone with at least three years of experience in an entry-level position.
- Campaign development: Plan and execute multi-channel marketing campaigns aligned with organizational goals.
- Analytics and reporting: Use data analytics tools to measure campaign performance and derive insights.
- Strategic planning: Contribute to the development of marketing strategies and tactics.
- Collaboration: Collaborate with internal teams and external partners to ensure campaign success.
- Educational requirement: Bachelor's degree in Marketing, Business, or a related field.
- Experience: 3-5 years in marketing focusing on campaign management.
- Skills: Proficiency in marketing tools, strong analytical skills, and strategic thinking.
Opportunity for advancement to Marketing Manager with a proven track record in campaign success, strategic leadership, and team collaboration.
Senior-level: Director of Marketing
The Director of Marketing position would suit someone who has demonstrated excellence in a mid-level manager position, has 5 to 10 years of marketing experience, and is ready to lead.
- Leadership: Provide strategic direction for the overall marketing function, aligning with business objectives.
- Budget oversight: Manage and optimize marketing budgets, ensuring efficient resource allocation.
- Brand management: Oversee brand development and positioning strategies.
- Team management: Lead and mentor a team of marketing professionals, fostering a high-performance culture.
- Educational requirement: Master's degree in Marketing, Business Administration, or a related field.
- Experience: 8+ years in progressively responsible marketing roles, with 3+ years in a leadership position.
- Skills: Strong leadership and decision-making abilities; comprehensive understanding of the marketing landscape.
Potential for advancement to Chief Marketing Officer or Vice President of Marketing with demonstrated success in elevating the organization's market presence, strategic leadership, and impact on overall business outcomes.
🏆 6 Best practices for job level classification
Ready to get started? Bear the following best practices in mind as you lay the prep work and build your detailed job-level structure.
Choose relevant classification criteria
Opt for classification criteria that align with your organization's goals, industry standards, and the unique nature of your work. It's not just about ticking boxes; it's about capturing the essence of each role.
💡 Tip: Think of it as tailoring—ensuring the criteria fit your organization seamlessly.
For the best mix, consider using both:
- Quantitative criteria: Such as years of experience or specific training certifications.
- Qualitative criteria: Such as impact on the organization or level of decision-making authority.
Consistency is key to creating harmony across your entire classification process.
💡 Tip: Be sure to use the same set of criteria for all jobs across the organization, even if there is some room for interpretation.
Don't let personal biases or inconsistent evaluations undermine the system's effectiveness. Instead, prioritizing fairness is important to guarantee equitable compensation and treatment for employees performing comparable tasks.
👀 Example: Imagine Brian has been with your organization for 11 years. Your job level classification says that Brian is a Level I Associate. As a well-respected staff member with excellent tenure, you feel tempted to bump him up to a Level II grade, which receives a better title and pay. Follow through on this, and you have an inconsistency that could quickly become an issue for Brian's colleagues.
An objective approach enhances the reliability and accuracy of job classifications.
💡 Tip: Prioritize objectivity by using measurable criteria rather than relying on subjective opinions.
The process should be like using precise measurements of ingredients in a recipe rather than a pinch of this and a dash of that.
Like anything in business, your job descriptions and leveling will likely evolve, so avoid too much rigidity in your classification process.
💡 Tip: Build in some degree of flexibility to accommodate new roles, changes in job duties, or shifts in organizational priorities.
Director of Product Management Anna Bankston points out that being transparent about job leveling is imperative due to changing legislation.
"As more companies encounter pay transparency laws in each state, an org going through these motions is important and depending on level of transparency, can really help leaders have the right conversations."
💡 Tip: Achieve compliance by making the classification process and criteria transparent and easily understandable for all employees.
Two-way communication is also key to addressing any queries or misconceptions before they become an issue.
💡 Tip: Set up workshops, FAQ sessions, and regular 1:1s between managers and direct reports.
Audit your job classification system
Job roles and responsibilities will undoubtedly change over time, and some may even become obsolete.
💡 Tip: Ensure your classification system remains relevant by periodically reviewing and updating it to avoid any slip-ups like the one below.
👀 Example of job leveling that requires an audit: Imagine you have two similar roles within your organization, both responsible for client success. One is classified as a "Client Success Coordinator" with the outlined qualifications and benefits. Despite having identical responsibilities and qualifications, the other is classified as a "Client Relations Associate" with a lower salary range and no performance-based bonuses. This needs re-classifying.
🏢 Position levels in companies: 3 Examples
When defining your job levels, seeing how other companies have built an organized job level structure can be helpful. Look no further than Deloitte, Amazon, and Singular Design to see job leveling in action.
Deloitte offers a well-defined career ladder for its consultants, with defined job seniority levels ranked as follows:
- Analyst (typically for undergraduates)
- Consultant (for those with an MBA or advanced degree)
- Senior Consultant
- Senior Manager
Amazon uses a 12-tier structure, with Jeff Bezos being the only person at level 12. Here's a breakdown of each level and who it's for:
- Level 1 to 3: Part-time and seasonal workers for fulfillment centers or support teams.
- Level 4 to 5: Full-time workers, including graduates and managers.
- Level 6: Managers with MBAs
- Level 7: Senior managers
- Level 8: Directors
- Levels 9 and 10: VPs
- Level 11: CEOs and SVPs
- Level 12: Executive Chairman
Software development company Singular Design uses a detailed leveling system including five levels and 15 sublevels as follows:
- (0) Junior (level) A, B, or C (sublevel)
- (1) Advanced A, B, or C
- (2) Specialist A, B, or C
- (3) Expert A, B, or C
- (4) Senior Expert A, B, or C
📊 The strategic value of clear job level classification in talent management
Job level classification can be a complex task, but one that can make all the difference to your talent management initiatives.
There are some clear merits of committing to the process include:
Impact on career progression
Transparent job level classification shows employees how to progress in your organization from one level to the next. In tandem with career pathing, classifications inform career development planning and expectations at every level.
👀 Example: Jean arrives in an entry-level position in marketing after completing her college degree. She has high aspirations to advance to a senior marketing role within five to ten years. The job leveling system reveals she is three steps away from achieving that role. Jean can now talk to her direct manager about her career progression opportunities to set her up for success.
Impact on succession planning
Succession planning considers job level classification to identify potential candidates for more senior roles. With a clear understanding of job levels, you can systematically evaluate and cultivate employees with high potential for leadership positions.
👀 Example: Sam, the current product development lead, possesses high technical and institutional knowledge. Although Sam could advance to a technical expert level, their demonstration of leadership qualities within the product team means that they would be a good candidate for a management role at the next job level.
➡️ Looking for further information on nurturing future leaders and preventing your employees from seeking employment opportunities externally? Check out our detailed guides on 9-box succession planning and the difference between career planning and succession planning.
Impact on compensation & promotions
Job level classification is also crucial in ensuring fair compensation and promotions.
By clearly understanding the job responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations at each job level, managers can make informed decisions on bonuses, pay raises, and promotions for individual employees. This reinforces a culture of fairness and equity within the organization.
👀 Example: In a recent performance review, Jen's manager saw that she consistently exceeds expectations in her current role as a Senior Designer but lacks some qualifications for the next job level. However, because of the precise criteria for each level, Jen's manager can lay out a development plan with specific milestones that would qualify her for a promotion to Lead Designer within the following year. This motivates Jen to work towards those goals and shows that the organization values and invests in employee growth.
➡️ Learn more about how to link performance appraisals and compensation in our detailed guide. We also break down the differences between performance management and talent management in this comprehensive blog.
Impact on talent attraction
A clearly defined job level classification system can be a powerful tool for attracting top talent to your organization. Better yet, it reduces recruiting and training costs by retaining your best people once they're in-seat. How? Job leveling shows potential candidates that you have well-structured career progression opportunities in place and promotes transparency in the hiring process. Additionally, employees who understand their career paths within the organization are more likely to stay with it long-term.
👀 Example: When interviewing for a position at Company X, Liz is impressed by its detailed job level classification system. This reassures her that she will not be stuck in the same role and encourages her to join the company.
➡️ Check out our guide on developing a career progression framework to demonstrate growth opportunities to potential employees.
➡️ Zavvy: Your co-pilot in defining clear and motivating job level classifications
Classifying job levels effectively boils down to staying organized and having relevant data at your fingertips. Zavvy offers a suite of tools to kickstart your leveling, including the following:
- 🧭 Career pathing software: Create clear pathways for everyone in your organization to build transparency and show employees how to advance from one job level to the next.
- 🤖 AI-powered career frameworks: Lean on AI to generate meaningful career frameworks in minutes to take the legwork out of your leveling process. Each level of your framework will clearly define expectations, a great starting point for 1:1 discussions between managers and their direct reports.
📅 Ready to get started? Book a Zavvy demo today.
What are the 3 types of job categories?
There are limitless ways to categorize basic job grade levels. Still, a simplistic approach is to use three types of job categories:
- Entry-level positions
- Mid-level positions
- Senior-level positions
What are mid-level titles?
Mid-level titles are job titles that fall within the mid-level category, such as Advanced, Specialist, and Expert. Mid-level managers typically require more experience and expertise than entry-level employees. Still, they may not yet be considered senior or executive level. They often have a mix of technical skills and leadership responsibilities.
What determines your job classification structure?
People leaders can determine job classifications according to factors such as job duties, required qualifications and skills, level of responsibility, and complexity of the role. It is essential to have clear and consistent criteria for job classifications to ensure fairness and transparency within the organization.
What does level 1 mean in jobs?
Level 1 in jobs typically refers to entry-level positions where employees have limited experience and responsibility. This level may also be referred to as the junior or associate level. As employees gain skills and experience, they can progress to higher organizational levels.