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Unusual job titles complicate corporate hiring process

Unusual job titles complicate corporate hiring process

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web-sig_kathleen-driscoll_“What gives with weird job titles? We are adding a new tech-related role in our office and people are worried that we won’t draw the right type of candidate if we don’t give it a really cool name. Since when did ‘guru’ become a thing? We’re having trouble enough agreeing on the scope and the responsibilities of the new position, much less making it ‘cool.’ Any thoughts?”

Talk about “guru” as a popular job title! One quick search for jobs with the word “guru” on turned up no fewer than five jobs with that name. They ranged from “Coffee Guru,” “Marketing Guru,” “Sales Guru,” to “Metrics Guru” and “Homeownership Guru.”

And that’s just one example of the creative job titles you’ll find. “Guru” did make the top five list in Indeed’s “Year in Review” blog last year, along with “genius,” “rockstar,” “wizard” and “ninja.” This combination of words “suggested deep thought and insight, showbiz levels of charisma, magic and … assassination,” the Indeed bloggers chuckled., however, isn’t the only one tracking these. Others, for example, identified by The Independent in the UK, included “Sandwich Artist,” “Graduate Brainbox,” “Listening Lead,” “Beverage Application Technologist,” “Developer Evangelist” and this one: “Ethical Hacker.”

Crazy? Yes, says Chris Garrie, vice president for recruiting in the Rochester recruiting office of CRH Americas Inc., North America’s largest manufacturer of building materials.

“Job titles have become crazy because companies are looking to switch up anything they can to make their jobs stand out in an internet search,” he says. “It has become more commonplace to showcase your company as ‘hip’ and different to attract a younger candidate pool. An atypical, strange or different job title is a way to do that.”

But there are positives and negatives to this practice, he says.

“Crazy titles might give job seekers the impression of a relaxed culture, but not clearly describe the job and, as a consequence, ultimately confuse qualified candidates. Companies have to be true to themselves with their job titles and their job descriptions so they are attracting the right people who will be happy and thrive in their environment.”

Linda Cox, compensation project manager with the Economic Research Institute (ERI) in Irvine, Calif., which provides compensation information and applications for public and private organizations, says creative job “titling” is at an all-time high, with some companies using creativity to complement their culture and brand.

“Some companies are very effective at this, while others create mayhem in their business and organizational hierarchy,” she says.

Adam Calli, a human resources consultant in Virginia, agreed, saying this trend also reflects millennials’ interests in career advancement.

“Unfortunately, to their detriment, fancy-sounding titles don’t always come with authority, responsibility or an interesting opportunity to gain new skills and expand their knowledge. Sometimes it’s just a company trying to attract talent and doing so with less than complete honesty. For example, who doesn’t want to be CEO of the mailroom?”

Cox, who published an article last month for ERI on “Creative Job Titles: Beneficial or Confusing?” wrote that an effective job title should also support staffing.

“When the staffing team cannot recruit for these trendy job titles, they are forced to use secondary job titles for recruiting purposes,” she wrote. “Also, these job titles may have a different meaning from one company to another. When an employee needs to use a secondary term or title to describe his or her job, the titling standards aren’t working.”

In her article, Cox said that the more creative a title becomes, the further it drifts from the common functional areas of business, such as sales, marketing, finance and accounting, legal, customer care and so on.

“When ‘formal’ titles drift too far and become so unique and trendy, the roles become vague and misunderstood, both internally in the organization and externally in the marketplace,” she says. “Is this the business culture that a company desires to present to its customers?”

When a company “displays just one set of values throughout the organization for both customers and employees alike it gains a powerful, competitive advantage in the marketplace,” Cox wrote, noting that effective “job titling promotes fairness and equity” in the workplace.

But today, some human resources, tech and startup company people are challenging that way of thinking, arguing that many traditional titles often represent superficial distinctions and have little meaning in a rapidly-changing world.

“Job titles make a lot of sense in a GE-style hierarchy,” wrote Marcela Sapone, co-founder of a home management startup company in New York, called Hello Alfred. “They are nearly impossible to translate in a world where ‘product manager’ means seven different things at seven different organizations and where 43 percent of U.S. workers are projected to be self-employed by 2020.”

Wanda Gravett, academic program coordinator for Walden University’s MS in Human Resource Management program, says that since talent is the key to success, coming up with “reflective and alluring” job titles is something any organization can do to help secure its “strategic future.”

When labeling a job, though, it’s important to think beyond the present, she says.

“Know what the real impact of the job is and then pin on the activities that will help it excel in an organizational setting in a global environment. Then you can name it,” she says.

Don’t let conventions hold you back, Gravett says.

“Naming conventions are historically heaped in traditional thinking, but today’s world is not the same world, nor is business traditional for many companies,” she says. “Jobs that are linked to today’s business are creative, reworked or so brand-new that they have never been thought of before.”

As you put this job description together, think about both your needs and the job seeker’s needs, Calli says.

“Answer two questions: What do they want to know and what do they need to know?” she says. “For example, often leadership roles fail to disclose the number of direct and indirect reports a manager has, what their leadership team consists of (Assistant managers? Supervisors? If so, how many?) and to whom do they report?”

Too often, the descriptions are more about the duties and tasks the person will perform, rather than the mission, vision and values of the company.

“This leaves a person wondering why the job is important, why they should want it, and what it will mean,” Calli says. “People seek meaning in their work. Money is important but it’s not everything. Why should someone care about doing the job you are advertising? All too often employers leave potential candidates wondering.”

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585)249-9295 or by e-mail at [email protected].