Job Incumbent: What It Means

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job incumbent

You have likely come across the term job incumbent at some point during your career.

But what does the term mean? What are examples of job incumbents? And how does it differ from other career terms?

This article is going to unpack the term job incumbent and answer common questions around its meaning and usage.

What is a Job Incumbent?

thinking person

At the simplest level, the term job incumbent means the person that currently holds a position. 

It is the person who has active responsibilities for the duties of a particular job at an organization.

Examples of a Job Incumbent

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Being that a job incumbent means the person that currently holds the position, any role could have an incumbent as long as three is somebody that is actively in the role.

Here are examples of different types of positions that could have an incumbent:

  • Marketing manager
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Tax associate
  • Technician

Again, any job could have an incumbent as long as there is someone that is actively in the role. The list of examples above is basically just an example of different types of jobs to show that any of them could have an incumbent.

Is Incumbent The Same As Employee?

thinking person

A job incumbent is always an employee of an organization.

However, the term “incumbent” refers to somebody that holds a specific position as at the company. For example, “the incumbent President” refers to the person that is acting as the President of the company.

An employee, on the other hand, could refer to anyone that works at a company.

What is The Difference Between Candidate and Incumbent for Hiring?

happy employee

A candidate is a person who is applying for a position. An incumbent refers to the person that is holding the position. 

In some cases, you may see reference to the job incumbent on an application. This could happen for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the incumbent may be getting promoted or moving to another position in the company. There might be a period of transition while the incumbent remains in the role as you get up to speed.

The other reason is that incumbents may need to reapply to their own jobs. It may sound odd, but it happens when a company restructures or downsizes and they reduce the number of jobs at the company that have a given title.

In that case, the company may make the folks that held that position reapply and compete for a smaller number of positions at the organization. 

Personally, I’ve never seen that happen, and it does seem odd to me. Apparently it does actually happen though. Take a look at this article for more information.

Does a Job Incumbent Contribute to a Position Description?

documentation

When it comes to creating a job description, typically, the manager will be responsible for that. 

However, if an incumbent is leaving the company on good terms, then they may be asked to contribute to the creation of a position description. 

In some cases, the incumbent may even be asked to write the job description for their replacement. I have been asked to do this when leaving a previous company. I was happy to do so as they treated me well, so wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to find a replacement. 

Note that in the scenario that I previously mentioned, where a company is making incumbents reapply to their current position, it’s unlikely that any of the incumbents will be asked to contribute to the job description. It will likely just be the manager in that case.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has provided some clarity on the term job incumbent, what it means, and has helped you to understand it relative to other similar terms that you may come across in your career or job search.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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