This is a common question, and one that has been addressed in many places, and without any real resolution… at least in my opinion. While not a consensus, the probably dominant opinion is that job titles do not matter. And I call BS. It’s interesting to note that most people who claim they don’t matter seem to take the issue personally and are vehement that they don’t matter.
This is not a normal topic for a political blog, but is political in a personal / work / career sense.
Job titles, job descriptions, each are different yet are often confused for being the same. They are not. These are my own definitions, just to be clear. A “job description” is an internal classification outlining an employee’s duties and responsibilities and expectations, from which an appraisal or evalution or advancement can be measured. “Job Titles” are for external use, what is portrayed to the outside world, so that people outside the organization know who they’re working with.
That’s it pretty much in a nutshell. Job descriptions don’t seem to raise people’s ire as much as job titles do, so why the fierce backlash? Let’s discuss that. We’ll start with the negative, why job titles seemingly don’t matter…
1) What you’re paid is what matters. The television sitcom Cheers did an episode where one of the story arcs had the employees… Woody, Carla, and Sam… going in and asking Rebecca for a raise. All were denied raises, and each emerged from Rebecca’s office with a new title, each one more grand than the previous, which clearly infuriated the others who now had lesser titles. It’s a sitcom, of course, but there’s truth in there in how these things are perceived. In this story, the bar was losing money and couldn’t afford raises, but even businesses that can afford it often do the title thing instead. Why? Because like how we say we’re upset at Congress then go and re-elect them anyway, we covet a good title.
The three were ridiculed by others in the bar for falling for it. People often ask the question, “Which is more important, a title or more money?”
Look, let’s not confuse the two. If it’s an either/or option, of course the money is more important. If given an either/or choice, I would most certainly choose the money. And while that is often a choice people are forced to make, it’s not a fair choice to be given.
2) What really matters, and what really speaks to your individual status, is your performance and the quality of your work. I never ceases to amaze me that people actually say this. Not because it’s not true, it most certainly is, but because it’s wholly irrelevant to the topic of job titles. Of course the quality of your work matters more. This applies to literally everybody, regardless any title, description, or categorization… or lack of.
Personally, I reject both of these. It is my opinion, as cynical as I am, that people often say these to exhibit their own feeling of arrogance and aloofness… and self-perceived status in it’s own way… by dismissing the concept, and hence the person who feels it is important. They’re too good to be concerned about something so lowly.
By now you’re wondering, why are job titles important? Let me tell ya…
1) Job titles… done properly, we’ll touch on this later… convey to the outside world exactly who you are and what you do. Butch from ABC Construction wants to know he’s talking with someone who can answer his questions, an architect and/or a project manager, not an accountant… unless he’s talking billing, which then just might want the accountant and not the architect.
And not just any accountant or architect. A senior one might be better to give definitive answers, but a “regular” one would work fine, too. An intern, not so much. Who am I dealing with?
2) Job titles not only convey position, but also accomplishment. People like to be recognized for what they have done, both in career and life. A job title designating their position does that. Even people who dismiss job titles seek recognition for their status and accomplishments in their own way.
3) Actions speak louder than words. If job titles are so unimportant, why do we even have them? Why do we use them? More to the point, why do we make sure they are on our business cards, on our email signatures, on our paper letter signatures, and so on? Because they DO matter. If job titles don’t matter, your business card shouldn’t say, “Gordon Anderson, Office Manager”, it should just say, “Gordon Anderson”.
Why is John Smith PE not simply John Smith? Why is Dr Mary Jones not simply Mary Jones? Non-medical doctors (PhDs) seem to get very upset if you fail to address them as “Dr”. If the premise is that obsessing over titles is a sign of insecurity, that right there would be the best example.
Actions speak louder than words.
Going farther down the responsibility totem pole, why is it important for me to know that Donna Jean is a “Shift Leader” at McDonald’s? Her employer seems to think it’s important enough to put on her name tag. It conveys respect from those above her and accomplishment, regardless how small.
I’m a member of Toastmasters. You’d be amazed at how many people make sure you know they are a DTM. Do you do Facebook? How many people, when you look at their profile, are listed as something like, “David Taylor, Computer Analyst”, or “Paula Patterson, Business Owner”? Why was it important for David to make sure we know what position he holds in his work life, or for Paula to make sure we know she’s independent and self-driving?
Whether you like to admit it or not, people like to be recognized for who they are, for their accomplishments, and titles do that. Like I said, you can claim titles aren’t important, but actions speak louder than words.
Which brings us back to ‘done properly’. The trendy thing thing in the tech industry giants is to have outrageous and irreverent job titles. The Matrix Group has a “Chief Troublemaker”. I’m supposed to know that’s their CEO. (I only know this because I looked it up.) PowToon’s CEO is their “Chief Executive Unicorn”. And I’m supposed to take this person seriously. You don’t need to be old and stodgy, but you also shouldn’t be absurd.