Job Titles: What Does Yours Say About YOU?

job titlesThe late great comedian George Carlin was an expert at dissecting various types of human behavior and idiosyncrasies and making them laughable. George’s special talent was to enlighten us and help us see what we’d overlooked during the course of our busy lives.

Perhaps the best example of this is embodied in George’s classic routine on “Euphemisms”.

George understood the power of words and knew how they could be used to alter perceptions, gain influence and communicate ideas. He also knew words could just be gobbledygook and doublespeak. I’ve noticed how some job titles have begun to fall into that second less desirable category.

I have to catch myself when someone tries to impress me with their new “trendy” job title. I know they want me to be wowed when they announce they are the “Director of First Impressions”, “Marketing Czar” or even “Drain Surgeon”. These offbeat titles to some degree reflect the popularity of personal branding. (See my recent post which discusses personal branding). If you’re one who enjoys perusing ridiculous job titles I’ve included a link to 20 of them.

Geniuses
Of course the latest trend in job titles is to make them sound unique and memorable. But often these titles come across as self-absorbed and ambiguous extensions of our personality. Technology companies for some reason seem to be particularly fond of using this type of job title. Some companies may not offer great pay. Instead they will offer you a heady job title that gives others the impression you are a top earner. Apple probably did as much as any to encourage this trend by dubbing their tech support team members “Geniuses”. By the way, if you’re a true genius is it really necessary to tell everyone you are?

This obviously begs the question as to whether job titles are as relevant as they used to be. In bygone days the language used to describe a particular position within a company was pretty clear and straight forward. Traditional job titles communicate both the job function and the level within the organization. Of course C-level positions are a notable exception since their functions by definition are exclusive within the company. I say traditional job titles are still quite useful. They serve as a valuable guide to navigating a sometimes complex and confusing work environment. But wait, there may be more changes on the horizon.

What’s Next?
I don’t think one-upsmanship in the area of job titles will abate anytime soon. I believe one day we may see acronym-like titles such as RSICOPS (“Rocket Scientist In Charge Of Propulsion Systems”) or even CCABW (“Chief Cook And Bottle Washer”). We’ll all be left wondering what those acronyms mean until they gain acceptance and become part of our pop culture vernacular. That’s probably not going to happen overnight. But we have acronyms for just about everything else in our lives so why not job titles?

Summary
GEP (“Grand Exalted Poobah”)
is a title I’ve admired for many years although I admit I’ve never been inclined to use it. It’s use originates with the 1885 comedic opera “The Mikado” by Gilbert & Sullivan but it’s also been used in various television shows like the Flintstones, Happy Days and others. I think many who use odd job titles would admit to a guilty pleasure in using them. If that satisfies their personal need for this type of recognition then so be it.

However, any job title we use will not make our work any better nor disguise who we really are. I guess we can peacefully coexist with the trendy job title, but wouldn’t it be nice if we admit that we really don’t need them?

 

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15 Responses to Job Titles: What Does Yours Say About YOU?

  1. Kevin, a great post! While we may make fun of creative job titles, if they serve to elevate the human spirit, have at it! We all want to be special, to be seen as individuals. Creative job titles may help. I just wonder how HR Managers (Directors of Who Gets a Job or Not) are sorting through all of this creativity. Perhaps on a business card it’s useful, but on a resume`, not so much?

    • Kevin Bryce says:

      Stacie, thanks for your great comments.

      I agree with you that job titles can be a way to “elevate the human spirit”. You bring up another excellent point – these “creative job titles” could be quite problematic for HR Managers and job seekers. I wonder if this puts the job applicant at a disadvantage due to the HR software used to scan resumes? Do you think the HR software developers will adapt to this trend?

  2. Julian Joy says:

    Having fourteen years in the executive recruiting industry specializing in the disciplines of information technology, engineering, and accounting and finance, I’ve seen enough resumes to create a landfill and interviewed 10’s of thousands of professionals. After my years of service, I’ve come to realize the balance that should exist between Title, Responsibility, and Compensation is becoming more and more skewed. The newer generations seem to be major contributors to this growing disparity as they are seeking greater titles and compensation without the added responsibility. I am sure this comes as a big surprise to many, especially parents and employers, right?

    Regarding concerns for title disparities causing issues within automated HRIS Systems, well I have a fairly heavy opinion on that subject. I simply don’t care for automated systems or most HR professionals being involved in the talent acquisition selection process. Many HR professionals have little to no knowledge of the technology or underlying technical and operational concerns of the hiring manager to be successful in their hiring decision. Automating this function makes matters worse and less effective as it removes the most powerful attribute to the selection process – the human element. It’s hard enough for a hiring manager trying to manage the lack of comprehension concerning candidate selection from many HR professionals; we certainly don’t need to further diminish potential superstars based on automating the resume selection process.

    I have always referred to my role as a consultant, and have acted accordingly specializing in people and their capabilities based both on their past history and much on their drive and passion to accept challenge. In almost every case, I find that hiring managers agree with me concerning their internal HR practices and at least 75% of the time, a job description only paints a small aspect of what the hiring manager actually needs. By then trying to hand-match words or automate matching words, just how many of tomorrows brightest stars are overlooked simply due to this common and growing practice.

    In a recent article from Lou Adler, he conveyed concerns about, not only titles, but the concept of ridding ourselves from common job descriptions all together. He states “The idea of matching someone’s skills and experience on a resume to a job description consisting of an arbitrary list of skills and experiences seems rather archaic. Some people actually defend doing this faster as a major advance in modern HR practices.” He suggests that companies also rid themselves of traditional skills-infested job descriptions, replacing them with performance profiles, and re configuring the box-checking first step.

    He suggests that the standard “submit resume and box-check skills” approach should be replaced by an initial matching process that didn’t inadvertently eliminate fully-qualified people. One idea was to have candidates submit a one-page summary of two accomplishments most comparable to the real requirements of the job. Since the job postings he recommend minimize skills and emphasize opportunities and challenges, this is pretty straight-forward. For example if you’re hiring a maintenance supervisor to minimize machine downtime and upgrade the team, ask all applicants to describe something they’ve done in each area as the first step. This will minimize the pool of unqualified people from applying and broaden the pool of the most qualified who might have a different mix of skills and experiences.

    Lou Adler is on a quest to change the focus on finding and hiring people to one based on their actual performance – they’re ability to deliver comparable results. It’s what people have accomplished with their skills and experiences that matter, not their accumulation.

    • Kevin Bryce says:

      Julian,

      Thanks for your comments – lots of detail on this subject. I hope others will benefit from your knowledge on this topic. I’ve certainly learned a lot!

  3. Kytka Jezek says:

    Excellent post! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Marcia LeFleur says:

    I am definitely more in the traditionalist camp on your topic. When I worked for a large Fortune 500 company in the payment industry, I recall calling on one our new accounts in the midwest which was Build-A-Bear Workshop, now a highly succesful enterprise. Everyone’s job title was followed by the word “Bear” – like Chief Executive Bear, Chief Financial Bear, etc. I thought it was cute at the time, but pondered how difficult it might be to be taken seriously in places where your business is not familiar to your audience. I think job titles should be universal enough to tell people what you are responsible for and give some indication of your level of decision-making. Isn’t that the purpose of a job title anyway?

  5. Kevin Bryce says:

    Marcia,

    Thank you for your comments.

    You offer a great example of the problem with some job titles – they are fanciful and creative but not functional enough. I agree job titles should be treated seriously and deliver the appropriate functional information. I like the Build-A-Bear product but not their approach to company job titles!

  6. derek walker says:

    It sort of feels that even the “normal” titles are watered down. The need to have a title has devalued the positions to a point. Some banks have more VPs than they have regular workers, not really but you know what I am saying.

    I don’t begrudge anyone from having an interesting title. On a resume, it can be converted to a more traditional position. I’m actually in the camp of doing away with titles. The only benefit actually tied to having a title is the level of compensation. People are paid based on their titles.

    I am a fan of simply paying people what they are worth and leaving the titles along, titles don’t get the work done any better.

    Thanks for posting this, it got me thinking.

  7. Kevin Bryce says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for your comments and great insight. I agree with you entirely.

    Compensation is often tied to a specific title where it should not be. I favor a uniform and measurable “performance scale” system. It should be used in lieu of the current system.

    Is anyone with the requisite talent up for designing this new system?

    • derek walker says:

      Kevin,

      I actually know of a great agency that doesn’t tie compensation to titles. They do something that I really admire, they pay people for performance. It is a pretty simple system, they established a fair salary and raise formula that matches what people are being paid by titles. It must work, they keep employees for years and the work is very strong.

      They have writers and art directors who are allowed to be simply writers and art directors without having to be promoted to get salary increases. I think this is a great idea, not everyone wants to be managers or should be made a manager. But that’s a subject for another blog. LOL

      • Kevin Bryce says:

        Derek,

        I can see you are very passionate about this topic and have thought a great deal about it.

        I agree with you that performance is the key to a fair system of compensation – not titles. However, leadership should factor into the compensation equation. Effective leadership can make a significant impact on the bottom line of any enterprise.

    • Kevin Bryce says:

      Derek,

      This topic just appeared today in the Wall Street Journal. Here is the link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324373204578372444079319544.html
      I think this is the cutting edge of a trend in the workplace. Now if we could only get this implemented at the State and Federal Government level . . .

  8. Elaine Fogel says:

    Great discussion. One of the things I’ve always pondered is the inequity of job titles. For example, a vice president of a major corporation is wholly different in responsibility, job description, remuneration, and credibility than a VP of a small business. Yet, some people see the title before the company name and give them the same credence.

    As for fun, made-up job titles, I think they demonstrate creativity and a sense of humor. Their appropriateness depends on the nature of the job and the organization. Somehow, “Director of First Impressions” wouldn’t cut it in a funeral home. :)

  9. Kevin Bryce says:

    Elaine,

    You make an excellent point. Many job titles are ambiguous to a degree. I’ve wondered if there could be a better way to convey experience.

    You’re right about the funeral home example. Maybe the title would be more appropriate if it was changed to “Director of Last Impressions”?

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