Job titles and what they mean

To me, a job title has two key features: A functional part – that is a description of the kind of work the job entails, and a level. ‘Marketing Executive’ for example tells you which area of the business you will be working in (Marketing) and that the level in the hierarchy. In the case of ‘Executive’, it is likely to involve some level of decision making authority and self-reliance (more so than ‘assistant’), but it’s not a management role.

In terms of function, there are four main areas of any business: Marketing, finance, HR and operations. All of these are arguably equally important to businesses. As well as the obvious job roles implied by these four functions, the operations part of the business involves a huge array of additional job types. This function includes making products and / or delivering services – as appropriate to the particular business. Then there are the range of associated roles e.g. quality, environment, safety, efficiency etc. Then there are all of the things related to facilities management and asset management and general business management. Plus there are a range of related professions like IT and legal.

 

Unusual titles

The traditional approach to clear and easily understood job titles is not comprehensively adopted across business however. There are many attempts to be different and try something new. Great for getting noticed and marking out a brand as trendy, but is it so widely understood? Does it make for clarity within an organisation around who does what?

My view? Anything with the likes of ‘hero’ or ‘guru’ etc in it … Fine if you are a quirky, creative type who can go with the flow. If they are true to this identity, you are likely to fit in well. But don’t go there if you expect structure, hierarchy, a serious approach and long term planning.

 

What not to put in a job title

‘Junior’. This is a straightforward one for me. There is no situation ever in which it is helpful to anyone to call a member of staff e.g. a ‘Junior Account Manager’ or Junior Developer. What does this do for their relationships internally? How seriously will their ideas be taken? How does this help them build credibility with anyone externally? What does it say about the values of your business? Nothing good on any of these fronts in my view. The solution? Say you have a team of people with a given job title and you want to distinguish the new and inexperienced member of the team. Just give them that title (which is aspirational and fulfilling and shows commitment to them) and make it clear in their contract and in their line management arrangement and position in the team that they are a trainee. But that does not need to be communicated to the outside world. The Trainee Account Executive can be Account Executive as far as the clients are concerned.

There is no downside to this. In terms of openness with clients for example, this should not be a problem. A well-managed company won’t be sending trainees out to see clients on their own, or have them leading client work; so disclosure isn’t necessary.

 

What is the structure?

For me the traditional structure of job titles, with a level and a function is a very useful way to communicate clearly to all concerned. In many types of job, you have progressing levels of responsibility and seniority in the following order:

  • Assistant
  • Coordinator
  • Executive / Account Manager / Specialist. These people are competent at delivering a service or providing a product and have specialist training to ensure this. They therefore have autonomy and responsibility within their role, but not much more widely.
  • Manager (which is distinguished by having leadership responsibilities; particularly line management (that is the official responsibility for the management of people). One of these would typically exist per team or per department).
  • Senior Manager. An easy definition of this would be a manager of managers. For example, a department manager in which separate team leaders or managers report to the senior manager.
  • Chief (Executive, Operations Officer, Marketing, HR, Finance Officer etc) – the top decision maker, responsible for the long term planning and performance of the business.
  • Their role varies depending on the type of business (whether it’s public or private limited or a partnership or sole trader). Some of them run the business, others are there to oversee the ‘Chief’ level and the business in general.

Going back to the idea of ‘guru’ or ‘hero’, I would not expect such a role to have any level of management responsibility, as this should be clearly stated if so. So, don’t expect a ‘hero’ to be anything more than an Executive / Specialist’ level.

There is no agreed upon term for a manager of ‘gurus’ or ‘heroes’ and ‘Senior Guru’ etc just sounds silly.

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Graeme Jordan

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CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.