Try This Title on For Size: Decoding the Job

January 15, 2017

This blog post initially appeared on LinkedIn.

I’m constantly reviewing job descriptions to understand what organizations are looking for and who might be the ideal candidate. As one would expect, I look for the key experience and skillset desired as well as the level and years of experience. I also try to get a sense for the subtext of the organization’s priority and emphasis on this position – is this position replacing a previous person? Is the position brand new in the organization? Or is the position being re-branded in a new way? But before I can get to any of this, I start by considering the job title. A job title says a lot about the organization and sets the tone for an organization’s approach towards innovation and hiring.

I have noticed a few ways that organizations are using job titles to describe their work and reflect their values – in ways that you might have to read into to understand:

  • In some companies and workplaces, choosing a title is an adventure - an exploration of who you are and what is possible. This Forbes article highlights a few creative titles like Director of First Impressions, Master of Disaster, and Creator of Opportunities. The Union for Reform Judaism has a VP of Audacious Hospitality.
  • In other organizations, job titles are fairly standard - they represent the core function of the work and they are often more straightforward to understand: Director of Sales, Operations Manager, and Communications Specialist.
  • I often see job titles that are new and different, yet they describe work that is familiar- like product/program development, project management, communications, etc. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently polled people to learn about new fundraising titles such as Chief Progress Officer and Director of Capital and Growth. Check out #FRTitles for more.
  • There are job titles that are new because the work is new: in the marketing world, there are now an extensive number of more niche positions like Mobile Marketer, Content Librarian, and Social Media Engineer. There’s a whole job board dedicated to community management positions that showcase positions like Head of Engagement Networks and Head of Community.
  • And then there’s the reality that work is constantly evolving and we need new ways to describe the work that we’re doing. CultureAmp published a post on the 5 Unique Human Resources Job Titles for 2017 which detail titles like VP of Teammate Success and People Analytics Lead. Airbnb renamed a title Chief Experience Officer because of the way that talent has evolved in the workplace.

Here are some questions to think about as you choose the job title:

  • Are you looking for someone who resonates with a traditional title such as “Director of Operations,” who inherently understands what this title signifies?
  • Are you expanding and evolving your work in ways that necessitate a new way of describing the work? Are you creating a product or program that never existed and need to develop the syntax for this new work?
  • Are you trying to package a position that seems unappealing by creating a new and improved job title in order to recruit a new and different talent pool?

And, most importantly, will the person you’re looking to attract resonate with the title? Be honest with yourself and your colleagues, as the job title speaks volumes about the organization, affects the candidates you can recruit, and also impacts the internal perception of your current team.

Thank you to Hannah Schaeffer, who helped with research and editing. And, thank you to Heather Martinez (@corpgraffitiart) for helping to workshop the picture I drew above.