Are Job Titles Important?

For some job titles are indeed very important. A job title say’s a lot about someone’s stature, success and kudos in their career. It speaks volumes about who they are and what they’ve achieved. Yet, for others it is seen as nothing more than pure pomposity. The kind of thing that say’s arrogance, self-importance and snobbery.

An Earned Title

One thing that I find particularly nauseating is when people I know transfer to a new firm and are given a title that they haven’t earned. I was promoted several times and was a Regional Manager in my previous company. However, in all honesty the job had little difference in day to day responsibility than it did when I was a Team Manager. More on this point later. However, I had to meet certain criteria in order to earn those promotions. So, when someone who never even made it to a promotion leaves to join a new company and are immediately given a more senior job title, I find it amusing as there is no substance behind it.

Before jumping the gun and pointing out that in my previous company I was a Regional Manager and now I am a Director, consider that this title is from a legal standpoint. Much of my duties aren’t that different from what I did before bar the legal obligations to the business. My argument concerns those who were doing effectively the exact same job, but in their new company are then given titles such as senior, principal or lead when they have never earned them in the first place. To me, that’s superficial and misleading as to their ability, record and skillset. They haven’t earned that title. It’s a bit like calling yourself a colonel when you were not promoted past a sergeant.

Social Kudos

In an age where a white Audi, the latest iPhone and 2000 Instagram followers are seen as aspirational landmarks, is having a great job title the cherry on the cake?

It is true that impressing people on social media balloons your social status. After all, why are people “liking” photos of Lamborghini’s and Luxury holidays more than award winning photographers Instagram portfolios? It speaks volumes. Social Kudos is important to the general populous.

If you’re LinkedIn job title say’s “trainee” it doesn’t quite have the same ring as “award winning senior consultant”, does it? From this angle, I can see why a job title is important.

Team Players vs Individuals

There is nothing wrong with trying to legitimately raise your social status. The problem is with the social status chaser whose incessant hunger for a good job title exists regardless of whether it is earned or not. I understand that someone would want a good job title if it is earned. I worked my socks off to hit targets in a meritocratic progression structure. Other people did the same. Fair play to them and anyone driving for a promotion. But if someone just wants the title and doesn’t care about having to earn it, what does that say about their character?

To me, that say’s its about them rather than the team and company. All I see in anyone like that is arrogance and dishonesty. It’s arrogant because they think they can have something without earning it. And it’s dishonest because it’s a lie. Why would any company want to hire someone who is arrogant and dishonest? Hang on, those are seen as good traits in business, aren’t they?

They might be to the TV shows and as a trait for some company’s choice of sales person in order to get results. But in reality, if you’re running a company would you trust those kinds of people with anything important to you? As in power in the company? I wouldn’t. So, why hire someone like that in the first place? It’s short term thinking, and they’ll bring politics, unhealthy conflict and other problems with them.

Job Title Cons

Another issue with many companies is that their progression structure is for want of a better phrase, a bit of a con. Two cons come to mind that many people don’t seem to notice out of either choice or blindness.

Rapid Progression

The first is that they have multiple levels of job title indicating to the uneducated, rapid progression prospects. I was promoted 3x times in year once. Wow. The only thing is that those promotions didn’t change the job that I was doing. I did the same job in each but with an ever more senior sounding job title. It isn’t until a little further in your career, when a blend of reality and cynicism creeps in, is it that you realise the only thing that’s actually changed is your targets. They’ve gone up with each promotion. In some firms the pay goes up too and I was lucky with this, but in many you won’t even get that. And the targets tend to go up a lot more than what the increase in pay seems to balance at.

Pretentious Job Titles

The other is pretentious job titles. Some firms have gone on to create what can best be described as ludicrous job titles in order to give kudos to their staff. What I call a Bin Man or Bin Woman is now called an Environmental Hygiene Officer. How about a Front Line Customer Support Facilitator? That’s someone who works in a call centre. I’d be embarrassed to call myself something so vain.

On my LinkedIn profile I am simply “Director”. That’s what I do according to the legal definition. However, there are people who are self-employed 1 person business owners who give themselves the proud title of “CEO and Founder”. Of what? A 1 person outfit? Seriously? Yet, this is commonplace. At first, I thought someone was having a laugh when I read it on LinkedIn, but now I see it everywhere. When I think CEO and Founder, I think of someone like Richard Branson. The Virgin Group has around 400 companies and he’s a multi-billionaire with a 50 year old international brand. Not Joe Bloggs who’s been around 5 minutes on his tod. There’s pretentious and then there’s delusional.

Sum Up

We’re in the process of hiring people and one thing that I look for is people who are team players. A true team player is someone who isn’t in it just for themselves. Sure, I don’t expect anyone to be so selfless as to sacrifice themselves all of the time. But I do expect someone to have a bit of common sense, honesty and authenticity as to recognise that they work for a company and a team, not themselves.

It’s important that in order for a company to flourish that people work together. You never see anyone genuinely make a real success of themselves without the help of others. And you’ll need people just as much as they’ll need you.

Therefore, a great job title should be an earned achievement. It should be something that reflects genuinely what you do and your contribution. By handing out job titles to give kudos to people it only achieves to take away its value in the first place because pretty soon everyone starts copying the trick. It’s short term and ends with people declaring themselves Ninjas and Award-Winning CEO’s when they just aren’t. Therefore, perhaps in the past a Job Title was important. But in today’s world of 1 person CEO’s and Environmental Hygiene Officer’s whose sole role is to hang off the back of a bin lorry and empty yours, it just isn’t that important anymore. It has lost its merit and legitimacy. However, for others who crave social status perhaps I’m wrong and in fact it’s more important than ever before. You decide.

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