I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around job titles recently. Having started my career in Sweden where job titles where only something used on your job description, I have been fascinated by them since I came to work in England. They can vary enormously, yet a lot of them are the same. Some can be big, fancy titles and yet say so little about the person and what they do. Some titles on the other hand seem spot on.
Why does a job title really matter?
Job titles portray something, to your colleagues, to your customers/suppliers/other external people and of course to yourself as well. In a few little words they could reflect your position and authority, your duties and your previous achievements. Yet, the role of a Program Manager or a Business Consultant could vary greatly, so what does a title really mean?
Let’s look at each stakeholder and why a job title is important to them;
Internally, a job title can show which department you are in, it most often reflects your responsibilities and it can reflect your salary (organisations often create a pay structure based on titles). Your title could change the more you learn and grow, think of the word ‘Senior’ that is often used to show this in a title, even though your responsibilities might not change. There is a hierarchy to job titles, specifically in larger organisations and it can help to clearly define the career ladder.
Externally our titles are there to show credibility and capabilities, and let’s face it – often to impress as well. We put them on social media and business cards to show our expertise. They provide a first impression for prospects and other key contacts. Titles are also a way for an organisation to manifest their style/values e.g. conservative, displaying their executive team on their website with titles such as Executive Vice President, or the creative organisation showing off their whole team with titles such as Marketing Ninja or Brand Evangelist. Actually, job titles with words like Ninja, Guru and Rockstar are on the rise!
Nobel prize winner John C. Harsanyi said “Apart from economic payoffs, social status (social rank) seems to be the most important incentive and motivating force of social behavior”. Which indicates how important titles are for us, ourselves. A job title can reflect status and act as a motivator. When someone acknowledge our title or the organisation we work for we feel validated. A job title can even change our behaviour! Research shows that when given a more senior sounding title employees acted more responsibly, and it also made them happier at work (as long as the title truly represents what we do and is not just a fancy title). A job title can also be the difference in whether we apply for a job or not. Buffer, a social media company, realised a few years back that they hardly had any technical women on the team. By just changing the word ‘hacker’ to ‘developer’ in the job title they increased the number of women applying for the jobs and they now have a much better representation of women in the technical team.
How happy are you with your job title?
Maybe it could be useful to reflect on what job titles in general mean to you?
More specifically, what does your current job title say about you, for yourself and for others? Do you feel you have the right job title but maybe you are in the wrong job or is it the opposite? If both feel right then great! Appreciate it and still make sure to do a career MOT on a regular basis. If you feel that you are in one of the other categories there are a number of things you can do. Stayed tuned for further posts in this series or contact me if you don’t want to wait!