When we meet someone new, small talk often leads to an inevitable question:
"So, what do you do?"
It may seem like a normal question, seeking intrigue or understanding about a person, but when we break down the question further there are interesting undertones.
Primarily, we are asking this person how they live their life.
As such, there's a social expectation to meet, that a person will conform to having dedicated their life to a particular industry- and 14/15 times the answer to the question will be a job title or the degree they're studying.
Here's where it sparks curiosity.
What if, instead of the reply being "I'm a plumber / website designer / astrophysicist / aspiring lawyer / whatever ", the reply encroached unexpected territories.
"What do you do?"
• "I try to inspire great thinkers"
• "I dedicate my efforts to ensuring my family can live a brilliant life"
• "I try to do new things often, so that i never have to say the same answer to this question twice."
Typically there's hidden prejudice behind the career-prying question, in that society has loosely etched hierarchies by job title and industry. We're more likely to be impressed by individuals that are pilots and doctors, attributing intelligence and trust to such nobly deemed professions.
Taking it a step further, a marketing assistant won't get the same respect and attention that a marketing director would. Many clients and customers will want to speak to a team member of seniority to feel valued, important, and assured.
Choosing the Right Titles.
With this in mind, a job title should require thought. Traditionally there are well established titles that can be understood across the industry and therefore allow clear and concise communications.
I.e. If you want to get a book written, you can go to an author/writer, perhaps even a journalist. Then, you can go to a publisher or a printing house manager, then a book store owner to negotiate new locations to stock your product.
But, along with the social media boom powered through by millennials and Generation Z, the trend for whacky, vague, or bespoke titles is bigger than ever.
Ever came across any of the following job titles?
- Digital headturner
- Word magician
- Caffeinated refuel station chief
- Brand doctor
Whilst the humour can be great, and the title hints to the individuals personality, there are so many potential pain points in being unclear and as such, unhelpful.
Firstly, recruiters may miss you completely. Many people follow simple box ticking, if your current or previous job titles do not match expectations then you may miss dream roles- no matter how perfect a match you may be.
Secondly, first impressions count. If you're trying to negotiate an important financial deal, but your job title is "maker of wondrous wows", you're very unlikely to be taken serious from the get go. There's no need to start on the back foot.
Thirdly, people like what they know. If they can quickly understand your role, they'll be more likely to offer opportunities and recommendations should they arise.
Finally, a job title can be an excellent indicator of growth and help you avoid imposter syndrome and potentially the Dunning-Kruger effect. Most job titles come with regional salary expectations, so being mismatched in title can limit your rewards, your opportunities, and leave your potential mildly dormant. Equally, the opposite effect would be finding yourself thrust into roles you simply aren't yet ready for, which can have very disastrous consequences potentially.
The Quick Fix.
When you have a role, try to list all your usual tasks. Ask others to assess your list and say what job title they believe accurately matches the work you are doing. If yourself and others see a clear mismatch in your title versus your work, then speak to your manager about a more suitable suggestion- as it'll help you progress, and ensure your team understand your value correctly.
The Mäd Curveball: No Titles.
Despite all of the above thinking, we have previously, successfully, advocated for no job titles in our office.
In part, this is because we don't hire to fill a set position. Instead, we find talented individuals and shape roles to maximize their success and output. Encouraging those with great ethics and growth mindsets to apply has helped us find truly inspirational team members that can't be put into a single box.
We have designers who code, coders who design, advertisers that show prowess in HR, consultants with deep tech understanding, Manny, and beyond.
By removing titles, we encourage the team to value each other equally and motivate collaboration further. A graphic designer might not ask a WordPress Dev for input on a brand book if they think its unrelated to their role- but by using weighted decision making we allow each voice to be heard, without diluting expertise. Great ideas can come from unexpected places, and great talent shouldn't be caged; Giving our team the opportunity to volunteer themselves onto projects, or engross themselves in training courses to up-skill, has helped Mäd continue to grow.
The Sticking Point.
As much as no titles is a creative, and in our case productive, way to run a HCD agency, there are still key pain points that stem from our earlier discussion.
Clients are committed to their brand, and want to know we are able to deliver the same high quality work from our case studies and word of mouth reviews. It is therefore reassuring for them to be met with clear skillsets matched to their project, which is immensely easier to do with concise job titles.
Whilst we still strive to build roles around talent, (as long as we can find meaningful available work to develop the individual, team, and brand), we now discuss job titles within appraisals to ensure we are helping align our team with their dream careers should they ever sadly leave Mäd.
We believe it's a sign of great leadership to help coach teams to pursue personal development of meaningful interest; Many companies allocate budgets and "personal time" for the working week to mix with up-skilling, re-skilling, or general learning and improvements. Simply put: Invest in people and they'll invest in you.
Following from the introductory claim that job titles can cause prejudice, being aware of this can leverage advantages.
Consider the difference in impact between the following business cards.
The difference between an individual and a collective carries a lot of weight, and equally simplifying complex titles for those outside your operation can help establish you as the correct contact for various queries.
Finally, there's a suggestion that at some point, when your top title is so prestige, you won't need to tell people what you do - they'll just know. Perhaps that should be the aim, consistently deliver great work so that you develop such strong personal branding and positive networking, that you don't need to worry about trivial job titles anymore.
You simply, Make it Happen™
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