Ever since the first revolutionary idea became a tired old concept, people have been using euphemisms to freshen up that which has grown stale. Whether you call it “re-branding” or “re-purposing,” it’s still the practice of putting an old photo into a new frame and hoping nobody catches on.
Lisa Merriam is a brand naming consultant who’s observed this phenomenon as it pertains to job titles. And guess what, people? She’s not impressed.
Back in the late 1990s, dotcoms doled out silly titles like Chief e-Wrangler. But now it seems the practice is mainstream, with people with titles like Accounting Ninja or Brand Defender. “ “The classic is that no one is a ‘salesman’ any more — instead you have ‘account managers,'” says Merriam.
Point taken. But what’s the harm in giving an old job a new title? Isn’t this a victimless crime?
Not really. Not only do “creative” job titles confuse clients, but they can also can seriously hurt job seekers in the digital era. “Nobody reads resumes — we search our database using keywords and if your resume turns up, then we scan it — so no one’s impressed by cool stuff like witty job titles,” Henry Goldbeck, president of a Vancouver-based recruiting firm, wrote in a LinkedIn post. He noted that in his candidate database, he has seven resumes with the titles of “ninja” –but has interviewed none of them.
Adds Merriam: “What is cool today could be passé tomorrow. If you have any say in your title, think what it will look like on your resumé ten years from now.”
Fortune asked the business community for their observations and learned what age-old jobs have been spit-shined and repurposed as the cutting-edge vocations of tomorrow.
Director of First Impressions
All About People is a staffing and recruiting company based in Phoenix, Arizona. It has 25,000 successfully-placed candidates to its credit, and co-founder Sherri Mitchell said that she’s seen numerous jobs of old sneak into the 21st century with new-look titles.
“Back in the day you would hear ‘receptionist,’” she said. “One of the trendier ways of describing those employees now is by calling them ‘Director of First Impressions.’”
Appstem is a software design and development firm with offices in San Francisco and San Diego. CEO Robert Armstrong, said that tech industry job titles have become so abstract as to be almost meaningless, but none more so than that of “project manager.”
“Whenever we interview project managers, I’m always amused by the titles I see on resumes these days,” he said, and rattled off a list of titles that included “Customer Success,” “Customer Advocate” and “Scrum Master.” He added that at Appstem, project managers are simply called “project managers,” thank you very much.
Illustria Designs is a creative consultancy based in Bethesda, Maryland. According to founder Katherine Long, it has an inside sales position, but they don’t call it that. They call it a “design consultant” position instead, and with good reason – more people want to be consultants than inside sales reps.
“Our primary feeders into this position are Ivy League undergraduates who have majored in studio art and want to use their creative skills in a business setting,” she said. “We market it as a consulting position where they have to speak to CEOs, C-suite execs, and VPs on a daily basis to consult them on their design needs and then market Illustria as a solution to them.”
Connectifier is an HR consulting and recruiting company based in Orange County, California. Co-founder and CEO John Jersin said that tech jargon is now so pervasive that it’s made its way into the job titles of non-tech parts of the office.
“Roles in marketing, especially in the tech sector where companies tend to be young and aim to grow fast, have been renamed things like ‘Growth Manager’ or ‘Growth Hacker,’” he said. “Entire companies, like GrowthHackers.com, have sprung up to support people in this new type of marketing role.”
Just because you’re going to be at a company for less than a year doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the job title fun. According to Pamela Wasley, CEO of Cerius Executives, there’s a new breed of temp worker out there, with C-suite experience and a finite amount of time on the job – the “On-Demand Executive.”
While no less temp than a temp, the On-Demand Executive’s credentials qualify him or her in to fill in for a chief executive on leave. According to public relations representative Gina Ray, On-Demand Executives “love the challenge of under one-year engagements to fill a gap in management skills, turn a company around or take the company to the next level of growth, while preparing the internal team for transition on a part-time basis.”
Chief Everything Officers
Royce Leather is a leather goods company based in Secaucus, New Jersey. According to CEO Andrew Royce Bauer, the company used to have a Human Resources officer, a customer service manager, a controller, an accountant, and a marketing director. But times change, and so do job titles, and now the company has a Chief Information Officer, a Chief Customer Officer, a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Marketing Officer instead.
“Business is built on empowering workers and conveying power to others,” he said. “Euphemisms allow my company to convey a greater influence and give my employees greater confidence that their jobs are much more important than what would appear on the surface.”
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.
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