Your job title says a lot about you, whether you want it to or not. It's shorthand for what you do and where you fit into an organization. It's also inherently meaningless, since no two companies are identical and nobody has to sign an affidavit before they declare themselves the Vice President of something. There's no solution to this (and I'm not sure it's a problem, per se) short of standardizing job titles across the board, but it did get me thinking about the two fundamental components of a job title: the description and the status symbol.

The Description

This part that tells people, at least in a broad sense, what you do. (Marketers sell you stuff you don't need, developers invent new versions of Angry Birds, etc.) It should be the simpler of the two components but as jobs have become more specialized and we've invented new ways to describe them it isn't always the case. That's why one of the first steps in any search we conduct is figuring out all the other ways to describe the job we're looking to fill.

There's also a trend, particularly with startups, to try to describe the culture of the organization by inventing 'creative' job titles. (Chief Happiness Officer, Coding Ninja, Social Superstar, etc.) As someone who's worked for a startup, I understand the appeal of a non-standard job title but, as a general rule, if people understand less about what you do after they know your title, you should consider changing it.

The Status Symbol

Practically speaking this is an indicator of where you fit into an organizational structure, but we all know it's much more than that. (I'll admit that I'm pretty proud of the 'Manager' in my current title.) An impressive title is an incentive to climb the career ladder, just like more money and extra vacation time. It's an unassuming way of telling people that you're a success, which is why it's where people take the most liberty with their job titles.

How 'senior' does a Senior Account executive have to be? Who certified me as a 'specialist' in my previous job? Why do Vice Presidents come in Senior, Executive, Junior and vanilla varieties? Whether it's resume padding or organizational requirements, hierarchy has become a lot more complicated. This probably contributed to the rise of the 'flat' corporate structure, which puts much less emphasis on job titles in general.

What does all this mean for your career? I don't know exactly, but being called a 'Sandwich Artist' didn't make me stay at Subway and if my current title were 'Marketing Monkey' I wouldn't love my job any less.

Cody Pierson is the Marketing Manager at Martyn Bassett Associates but he'll answer to Marketing Monkey if you prefer. If you follow Martyn Bassett Associates on Twitter or connect on LinkedIN you'll get more of his musings on a daily basis.

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Comment by Feargall kenny on July 17, 2012 at 9:27am

interesting article Cody. The hierarchy issue aside, titles are vitally important in getting recruiters' attention in the 30 second glance they give your resume / linkedin profile. I am a big proponent of people using descriptive titles instead of actual titles if their titles are confusing in any way or very specific to the firm at hand or the product area of the firm they are working at. I always look first at the functional work that a candidate has done and use the title as a guide. I am generally looking for consistency in title so I can be sure that they are a functional match. Anything that throws me off is generally not a good thing - that can be actual anomalies in function or perceived ones from wacky or non-descriptive titles that, for all I know, could be entirely consistent with the job at hand....


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