The Thing About Job Titles

Do job titles matter? It depends on whom you ask. Most people fall into two categories: Those who value a title more than anything else, and those who don’t care what they’re called. As a former coworker once said to me, “They can call me a janitor as long as the paychecks keep coming.”

I remember the day when a project manager received her promotion to vice president. Her manager said, “Well, you may not be getting a raise, but you will have more responsibilities.” As an intern witnessing the event, I thought, “That’s a crappy promotion.”

It was not until later in my career did I realize that promotions are not limited to raises. The title change may align the employee on a particular management path at the company. Extra perks such as additional vacation and profit sharing may be available to employees at certain levels.

I believe titles are more important for resume building. Having a particular title on the resume may open doors to new opportunities and higher-ranking positions. However, while it may get you noticed, you still have to prove your worth. Having a good title can only carry you so far.

If you expect to reach a particular title by a certain age, be realistic. Chase opportunities that will provide you with the best learning experiences and challenges instead of titles. No rule states what rank you should be at by a certain age. Everyone develops at a different pace. Other factors such as competition, industry, and salary bands may affect the title you receive. Keep in mind a title’s rank in the organizational hierarchy may differ from one company to another, especially within middle management. There is no standard for defining titles and their rank.    Take the title of Vice President for example, it may be an upper management position at one company, and a much lower one for another. According to some person I met at a conference, “everyone’s a VP at a bank.”

Be defined by the work you do, so that you earn that promotion and title that comes along with it.  You’re not going to hear, “John does good work because he’s a VP.” You’re going to hear, “John does good work because he cares about his clients and secures more accounts than anyone else in the division. His position is well-deserved.”

In 2015, Zappos, the online shoe retailer, kicked the hierarchical organizational model out the door and adopted one known as a holacracy. There are no job titles in a holacracy. The goal is to empower employees to make decisions on their own without having to wait for permission from their managers. Employees who did not agree with the change had the option to be bought out; 14% of the company’s 1,600 employees took the offer.2 If you are obsessed with having a prestigious title, you could start a small LLC as the only employee, and name yourself CEO, Chairman, Founder, and President.

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