The Fallacy of Job Titles

I’m looking at the job titles LinkedIn is trying to pitch me and I’m thinking — why does it feel more wrong today than usual? Never in my life did I carry a title that explained what I was doing exactly. I know titles are more like tags, shorthands for areas of responsibilities and competencies, but their inadequacy is not just a minute issue. Just recently I was discussing with a series of recruiters from a big company that the titles they were peddling were not in the least making it easier to know if it would be a good fit, and they could only empathize.

However, to me it’s also clear now that job titles are at the root of a whole host of other problems. The world is too dynamic now, specialization or not, to accommodate for static definitions of work environments and circumstances.

What I’m looking for, as a potential partner or colleague, is a problem. A theme, a topic, a direction, a challenge. Not a title. Does a title contain all that? Rarely indeed.

The last few years, the only job title I was personally hiring for was “Be Awesome”. Whatever problem I was trying to recruit help for, “be great” was enough for me to be confident we’ll be successful working together with the new person. Not everyone is comfortable with a blanket definition like that. “Grow us”, “rewrite our backend”, “find new corporate customers in China”, “educate our users”, “make us attractive to preschoolers” are all job titles that would catch my eye.

So the problem is, putting a title out is going too far. We imagine we know what we need help with, we then imagine that the area we specifically need help with is known to us well enough to predict the title. How about stating the challenge as we see it first, hopefully getting the right people interested, and then accepting their expert advice on what really needs to be done.

Some organizations need to replenish their ranks with similar specialists every now and again. They might feel static enough to use the same titles and descriptions over and over again. They also need to snap out of it and do something new or different. Even 1000–year–old colleges need to actively change their summary requirements for students, and they do.

Rethinking our personal and corporate needs in terms of real challenges rather than preconceived professional labels will result in better talent, less hierarchies, more efficient and fulfilling work, faster problem–solving, and general happiness for everyone.