When I first became engaged, I proudly told my father that my fiancé was an advertising account executive. Looking bemused, he asked, “Is that a real job?” Ha! He should try getting a handle on what our adult children are doing today because you’d be hard pressed to figure it out from their job titles. To make us all look smarter to our kids, I researched the trend toward new, exotic job descriptions. Here’s what I found out:
Titles new and old
Traditionally, companies assigned titles that reflected rank and responsibility: vice president, director, manager, etc. But these hierarchical titles are on their way out and playful titles are on their way in. Creative titles supposedly energize team members and are an effective recruiting tool—except when job seekers can’t figure out what the company is talking about, which is not infrequent. Here’s a case in point:
Job Title: Brand Activation Manager, Millennial Connector Brands Department. This person is responsible for collaborating with field sales in the translation and localization of the National Brand Priority Calendar. Based on the market designation/dynamics, he/she will be responsible for leading collaboration with the chains team in interpreting, developing, and executing the national brand plans at the customer level . . . in that channel.
Companies rationalize that if you want employees to think outside the box, why assign them a title that is in the box? Many companies now allow some latitude in titles and one hip firm is even letting employees choose their own. They may be onto something because researchers have found that allowing employees to help craft self-reflective, creative job titles results in higher morale. Moreover, since work is increasingly fragmented, democratized, and skills-based, job descriptions have to change to reflect the new reality. I get that. But when the former Press Liaison becomes Chief Listening Officer and the former Assistant (who was called Secretary before that) morphs into Sustainability Manager, all I can say is, puhleeze!
Masters of the universe
The top five of today’s fanciful job descriptions are: “rockstar”, “genius”, “guru”, “wizard”, and “ninja”. And this is not just in California or in high tech. From Oregon to Maine, recruiters are jazzing up their job titles to make mundane work sound glamorous, such as Time Ninjas (a.k.a. Personnel) and Duct Changing Guru (a.k.a. handyman). Guru, by the way, is a Sanskrit word for teacher or conveyor of wisdom. Then it was used to describe “somebody who is quite good at tech” and now refers to anyone doing anything. Alas, fancy titles are not always accompanied by fancy salaries. In fact, some cynics think that giving a receptionist the title of Director of First Impressions is just a way to avoid paying her a living wage.
Title inflation, like grade inflation, is spreading. Some real examples from real companies—you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried—include the recruiter who is now a Talent Acquisition Specialist, the flack who is called a Brand Evangelist, and the fundraiser who’s been reborn as a Growth Hacker. A particular favorite of mine is Director of Vibe, who, as near as I can figure out, is a combination party planner, cheerleader, and camp counselor. And I get a big kick out of that mysterious individual, the Customer Success Specialist, and its clone, the Customer Happiness Specialist. Who knows whom this person is? He/she may be an out-of-work actor sitting on a hard plastic chair in a basement boiler room trying to calm down irate subscribers whose Internet, TV, and phone are all down. Or, he/she may a Harvard MBA trying to persuade eBay that they better install a new, billion-dollar software system or they’ll be eating Amazon’s dust in two years.
Few companies may have a Security Princess on the roster like Google or a Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence as Microsoft once did. Still, it’s pretty far out stuff when the Vice President of Compliance is renamed the Chief Getting S#!T Done Officer. Then there is the Ambassador of Buzz, who works in communications, the Project Meanie, who has to keep coworkers on schedule, and the Crayon Evangelist, who rules the graphic-design department. Finally, at the top of the food chain you have such titles as Chief Cheerleader, Chief Amazement Officer, and Chief Troublemaker. It seems that while these CEO’s are espousing highly democratic organizations, for some reason they are loathe to give up their identity as “Chief”.
In summation, it’s not you, it’s the world in which your adult children live. Eventually, you’ll get it, sort of, and in the meantime you can always read Jane Austen. Her you can understand. As for me, I knew the jig was up when I saw my first ad for a writer headlined, “Wanted: Content Provider.” Sic transit gloria. . .
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