The curse of the inflated job title

The popularity of inflated job titles shows no sign of abating. Companies and individuals continue to award themselves epithets which, whilst seeming to suggest increased market value, in reality, fail to demonstrate people’s strengths and expertise. Furthermore, by elevating the status of even the lowliest employee in a firm, companies run the real risk of undermining the position of those whose skills, expertise and experience have merited a senior role. If everybody is a manager, officer or executive, how can you differentiate those whose contribution is critical to the success of an organisation, from those who are just bit-part players?

The reality is that most such titles do not stand up to close scrutiny. A Director of First Impressions is still a receptionist by any other name, a Vice President of Environmental Operations just a cleaner, and a Chief Customer Officer a dressed-up Customer Services Manager. Scrape beneath the service, find out what somebody actually does, probe their skills and experience, and the truth beneath the gloss will soon emerge.

Job titles are often not compatible across companies or industries. Traditionally titles like Managing Director and CEO, or Finance Director and CFO, were interchangeable, depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean a firm was based. However, now with the proliferation of titles such as Director of Life Enhancement, Knowledge Navigator, or Quality Control Officer, there is no continuity and no common basis of understanding as to what role somebody is actually fulfilling or what skills or expertise they bring to the position. An officer in one firm may be equivalent to a manager or even a junior employee in another.

Awarding somebody a job title which inflates their role and seniority does nobody any favours, and can often undermine both that person and the organisation in the eyes of outsiders who can quickly perceive the harsh truth behind the veneer.

In the early 199os, the UK abolished the distinction between Universities and Polytechnics, so that almost all higher-learning establishments now call themselves a University. However, the change fooled few. Any employer worth their salt can distinguish between candidates that come from the traditional universities with their history of learning and achievement, and those that went to one of the former polytechnics, which favoured technical learning over academic attainment.

We find ourselves in a similar situation with regard to job titles, where people are “compensated” for the lack of achievement in their careers with an inflated position or title. The problem is the Emperor has no clothes. Look below the surface and there is either nothing or very little. Unfashionable though it may be, however, it is time to take a stand, eliminate the corporate mumbo jumbo, and restore sanity to job titles.

When hiring somebody new, a recruiter needs to look beyond a candidate’s current title, and see what they have actually done. What are their formal qualifications, with whom have they worked and in what positions, how many years direct experience do they have, what or who have they managed? If the decision is made to hire somebody, don’t perpetuate the inflationary job cycle. Award them a job title that corresponds to their skill and experience, and respect the boundaries between positions in a firm, so that the more senior and highly ranked employees are both externally and internally identified as such.

By refusing to perpetuate the cycle of job title inflation, companies can begin to strike a blow for common sense, and a realignment of job descriptions which adequately convey an individual’s real experience and talents. Let’s get back to awarding people job titles that truly reflect their skills, experience and real value, both internally and externally. Not only will we help level the corporate playing field, but also allow us to properly acknowledge and reward those that deserve it on the basis of merit.





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