I recently read an article on Forbes about silly new titles, and how many organizations are making everyone a “chief” of something. I also had a discussion with a colleague recently about the importance of titles in organizations. So, what’s the big deal about the designation on your business card?
Credibility. I worked for an early-stage start-up (as in, they’d been incorporated for 3 months when they hired me!) when I first graduated college. One “perk” of this position, was the ability to choose my own title. My brother suggested “Supreme Chancellor of the Marketing Universe”, but I chose “Marketing Manager”. Giving myself an inflated or ridiculous title would make me lose all credibility, and would make the organization lose credibility. When I was freelancing, I could have given myself the title “Founder, President, and CEO” of Faus Consulting, but would you really believe that someone with about a year of experience was actually in such a high position? NO! People think that a lofty title makes them seem important, but when the title is obviously inflated, you and your organization seem silly, not respectable, trustworthy, and experienced.
Ambiguity. As mentioned in the Forbes article, all the silly titles make it difficult to determine what job a person is actually doing. My colleague mentioned that everyone in his previous company had a Vice President title. Thus, when dealing with other organizations, it was unclear who was able to sign legal documents and authorize transactions. Titles are given for clarity, and were previously somewhat standardized to ensure that all organizations knew what job a person had. This meant that when someone needed a signature, they knew who to call. When someone needed a specific functional area, they knew who to call. Now, with all the inflated titles and ridiculous titles, it’s often difficult to determine who can sign what, and who can answer what, and who does what!
Career trajectory. Because of the credibility and clarity that titles are supposed to provide, a title was also a good proxy for a career trajectory. You knew that you went from Associate, to Manager, to Vice President, to President, to CEO. You could look at a person’s resume, see the title progression and associated responsibilities, and generally approximate their career stage, and their fit for the position. These days, you can call yourself a number of things, so it’s difficult to tell whether or not you’re a fit for a higher position. If your title is too low, you might hurt your ability for promotions and pay increases, particularly if you move to another organization. If your title is too high, you might end up in a position that you are unprepared for, which increases the risk of failure. When your title is mismatched to your responsibilities, you suffer significant hold-ups in your career advancement.
So, how does your current title compare to your job duties, industry standards, and generally reasonable definitions? Were you ever tempted to inflate your title?