As the old song goes, “It ain’t what you do; it’s the way that you do it.”
So why do some people care deeply about the often-arbitrary job titles used to inaccurately describe their roles?
The job title of “Accountant” exists in many different businesses and industries. They can be found managing large teams in major corporations and behind the tills in fast food outlets.
Clearly, the job title means very little without the added context of the employer, responsibilities and agreed duties. An Accountant for a major telco will develop a very different set of skills to an Accountant in a restaurant. An IT manager in a three-man startup is a very different role to an IT manager in a multinational conglomerate.
And what about those vague titles that lack any clear meaning? Solutions Manager? Management Consultant? Chief Happiness Officer? The job title says far too little about what the person actually does, becoming virtually useless in evaluating the skills or duties involved.
Job titles can create the impression that we’re comparing apples to apples when we’re really looking at a bowl of oranges and an aardvark.
Job title bumps
What about job description creep? Pay rises may occur and new responsibilities may be added over the course of time until your job title no longer represents the role you’re performing, nor the level of responsibility you carry. This can be dangerous for your resume, so you need to know how and when to ask for a title bump.
Conversely, some employers will use title bumps as an alternative reward to pay rises or promotion. Instead of giving you the pay rise you clearly deserve, here’s a new and more impressive-sounding job title. This can be an asset to your resume, but can also work against you.
Job titles help to establish a hierarchy within a business. This role is senior to that role. This person reports to that person. The marketing manager is higher up the food chain than the marketing administrator or the copywriter.
But this has led to what has been wonderfully described as ‘title fluffing’, where some roles are made to sound more attractive by giving them more important-sounding titles.
So, someone who delivers newspaper becomes a media distribution officer. And social media jobs are advertised with titles ranging from brand ambassador (which sounds like they have a car with small flags on the front) to conversation manager.
If everyone is an officer, manager, executive or ambassador, the hierarchy becomes far more unclear. The terms are devalued. No one knows who they are anymore.
When these titles are used in job advertisements, the employer is hoping to make a job sound more attractive than it actually is. And when used by jobseekers to fluff up a resume it can appear disingenuous, and even work against them in the recruitment process.
As we’ve seen, job titles usually mean very little in themselves. Unfortunately, job titles are often used as a form of shorthand, categorising and simplifying work histories into an easily understood form.
If you’re applying for a helpdesk support role and your current job title includes creative and unrelated terms, the recruiter may not get the correct impression of your soft skills and experience.
So if your employer offers you a new job title, agree on a title that clearly and accurately describes your duties.
What's your take on job titles? Have you got any creative examples to share?