When asking what someone does, what people are often trying to assess is the deeper question of: who are you? (to be a little more cynical: are you worth speaking to?)
And it is much easier to come up with a quick, catchy phrase that sums the total of your professional self then it is to provide a true account of what you "do." It is the way we communicate to others our significance and importance.
This used to be pretty simple, you would start working for a company and you would get a business card with your official title on it for you to refer to. Now with the advent of social networking sites and online profiles, where you can pretty much dub yourself CEO of the free world and companies handing out titles like candy to help with retention, you can be anything you want to be. I know of some companies let you pick the title you want on your business card.
I know it might seem simple, but I don't think people understand what a title is for. The title isn't for you; hopefully you know what you do. It's for your audience. Hello, my name is Kyle and I am a recruiter. Not sexy but accurate. And more importantly, when I tell a java programmer this, they know where the conversation is headed.
So, people stop putting stupid, ambiguous titles on resumes and quit the title inflation/misinformation on your linkedin, wink, ning, facebook, myspace or site of your choice account. If you write java code that is what you do. If you call people on the phone and try to get them to work for a company you are a recruiter. If you don't manage anything or anyone you aren't a manager. If you sell a product or services to people you are not a customer advocate you are a salesman. I mean can a 50-person company really have 5 VPs, a CEO, a CFO, and a COO?
This works the other way around as well for posting a job, but that can wait for another day.
Founder, Managing Partner, and Senior Executive VP of this blog post