Within the complex mechanism of a traditional business organization lies a multi-tiered, hierarchical framework of job levels. From the entry-level office clerk to the Chief Executive Officer, a successful business is a fine-tuned machine with employees at every job level contributing to its smooth operation.


Newcomers start at the entry level, typically working their way through to intermediate level, first-level management, middle-level management and potentially all the way up to top-level management and chiefs.

The Big Picture

The hierarchy of job levels is like a vertical pyramid with most of the power and information at the top. McDonald’s is an example of a global hierarchy. Many large and mid-size organizations are moving toward a less-layered structure with a strong focus on collaboration and employee engagement. Even in these flatter organizations, at least five job levels provide structure.

Requirements for Job Levels

Each job level has specific requirements for education, professional degrees, skills and past work experience. After a mandatory length of time in the position, employees may be promoted to the next higher job level. Performance, adaptability, attitude and other qualifications are considered. Training or further education may also be required for the next higher job level.

Roles and Compensation Within Job Levels

Job levels may include only a handful to hundreds of individual jobs that are divided into departments, such as accounting and finance, human resources and production. Less hierarchical business structures may include autonomous, brain-storming teams. In large and mid-size companies, compensation systems provide a schedule of pay grades that reflect the complexity of the job. Small businesses may have set rates for various jobs or salary and benefits may be open to negotiation.

Entry Level Marks the Starting Point

An entry-level position is the starting point for many careers. It may be the first job for a college graduate or trainee in a profession such as engineering, accounting, IT, etc. In large and mid-size organizations, work experience is often acquired through an internship program prior to employment. On-the-job training may be offered. In entry-level positions, also known as staff roles in some professions, employees work under supervision on routine tasks. Some examples of entry-level job titles are a computer programmer, sales representative, staff engineer and staff accountant.

Intermediate or Experienced Level

Intermediate or experienced-level workers may work independently or under supervision. Jobs require some problem-solving skills, ingenuity and responsibility. Work-related experience, specific skills and professional degrees are often required. Some examples of intermediate job titles are intermediate software developer analyst, staffing support specialist-intermediate and statistician intermediate.

First-Level Management

First-level managers lead first-line employees in production, sales, service and other work units. College graduates with two-year associate's or four-year bachelor's degrees or graduates of a trade school qualify for this first level of management. First-level managers need to cultivate an environment that keeps workers motivated. The performance of first-level management has a strong influence on the company. Some first-level management job titles are office manager, crew leader, shift supervisor, department manager and sales manager.

Middle-Level Management

A general manager, regional manager, divisional manager and plant manager are all examples of job titles within middle-level management. Middle-level managers support, motivate and assist first-level managers and report to senior or executive-level managers. Middle-level managers are deeply involved in the day-to-day operation of a business and have a comprehensive knowledge of their field of specialization. They supervise small or large groups of employees in departments, divisions or business locations. Middle-level managers may be promoted from first-level management or hired from outside the company.

Senior, Executive or Top-Level Management and Chiefs

The top management team in an organization is responsible for the overall performance of the business. They set organizational goals, make major corporate decisions and report to shareholders. Several years of experience in management and advanced professional degrees such as Masters in Business Administration are required for these positions. Senior-level managers may be promoted from middle-level management or recruited from outside the company. Common job titles for top-level management positions are President, Vice President, Chief Informational Officer (CIO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operational Officer (COO) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).