Categories and levels in the new P&S structure: What do they mean?

When professional and scientific (P&S) employees learn their title in Iowa State's new market-driven classification/compensation system, bundled in that title will be a job classification, category and level within a category. Sound complicated? It's really not, said Emma Mallarino Houghton, classification/compensation director for university human resources (UHR). It's foreign to the 27-year-old system the university will retire soon, but grounded in best practices in the HR world.

"We hope employees come at this system with an open mind," she said. "Trying to put some of these new concepts into our old vernacular won't work."

As previously announced, the new P&S class/comp structure contains more than 575 job classifications -- or titles -- in 29 job families. Mallarino Houghton said the number of classifications has changed as UHR leaders learn more about the work P&S employees do and the responsibilities they carry. The structure must flex with the university's needs, she said. Most recently, a half dozen job titles were added as a result of meetings this month and last when supervisors, aided by HR delivery teams, linked their employees to job classifications. In a few cases, the appropriate link didn't exist yet.

"Once linking meetings are complete, we will stop adding titles so employees can go through the review process," Mallarino Houghton said. "But the UHR classification and compensation team will continually evaluate the structure to make sure it is evolving with the university's needs."

Job categories

The new P&S classification structure has three job categories and every job classification fits into one of them. Each provides a framework to assess degrees of increasing complexity and responsibility of work assignments within that category. The three job categories are:

  • Support contributor. Provides hands-on support to the daily operations of a unit, typically with some direction or supervision. Responsible for their own output but in support of someone else's work.
  • Individual contributor. Designs, implements and delivers programs, processes or projects using specialized skills and knowledge. Responsible for their own output.
  • Management. Contributes to an organization and accomplishes goals primarily by providing direction to staff members or a team. Responsible for the output of a team.

Don't visualize the three as ladder rungs because they don't work in a hierarchical order, Mallarino Houghton said. In fact, it's not unusual for an employee to spend a career progressing through one level category. Instead, picture them as cogged wheels moving synchronously.


Each category contains between three and five levels that require increasing complexity and responsibility, in both the work done and the knowledge and experience required. For example, in the individual contributor category, the four levels feature descriptors such as "developing," "intermediate," "senior" and "guru" to indicate elevated skills, responsibilities and education. Progression through the levels in a category is the usual avenue for promotion.

Mallarino Houghton noted some job families may not have all the levels in a category -- either because the market doesn't recognize a level or that work doesn't exist at Iowa State. For example, fewer than two dozen university job titles will have a fourth level in the individual contributor category, she noted.

Mallarino Houghton responded to these questions about classification categories and levels:

Is it possible to know the category and level of a position by looking at the job title?

Yes, we did develop some naming conventions. These examples use the new programs job series.

  • Job + number (for example, program specialist I, program specialist II) indicates individual contributor category and the respective level in that category.
  • Job + "assistant" + number (program assistant II, program assistant III) indicates support contributor category and the respective level in that category.
  • Title that includes a management word (manager programs, senior manager programs, director programs) indicates the manager category. These titles don't include numbers.

These general titling conventions will be shared with employees when they learn their new titles. Levels also will be assigned to job profiles in Workday.


What's the basis for promotion within a category?

The foundation of career progression is the level guidelines that describe the factors for progression within a level category. They lay out the difference in responsibilities between an employee's current job classification and the one to which they aspire. The level guides identify the significant factors in the progression of responsibility that separates the levels within a category. It's not about a long list of duties or simply doing more work. It's about what elevates the work you're doing, for example expertise required, responsibility, ability to respond immediately due to a knowledge foundation, impact, the fallout when a mistake occurs. All these factors together reflect the level of work being performed.


If I reach the top level in my category, is there anywhere to go?

Movement from one category to the next will reflect a leap of varying size depending on the job, but generally that kind of promotion indicates a significant change in your job. This is especially true for a promotion into the management category. At the end of the day, every job series caps out. To continue growing in a series or into a new series, employees should work with their managers to explore development opportunities for their career advancement.


If my level is higher than another employee's, will my salary be, too?

We've said many times that the pay grades in the new system are market-based, so a particular job's placement into a pay grade is based on market. For this reason, some jobs at the same or different levels will be in different pay grades. For example, an IT individual contributor level II likely will be in a higher pay grade than an academic adviser individual contributor level III due to the variance in market value for the jobs. While the level for the academic adviser is higher, the pay is not.