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Are unconventional job titles innovative or annoying

Creative terms such as ‘ninja’, ‘wizard’ and ‘guru’ are becoming more and more common on business cards, email signatures and LinkedIn profiles. Arguments supporting the trend of creative job titles suggest that these terms motivate employees, start business conversations and inspire creativity in the workplace.

But what we really want to know is, what exactly is a Director of First Impressions?!

Unconventional job titles may have started in boutique, trendy creative agencies following the dot com boom but now even business powerhouses such as Apple, Taco Bell and Disney are on board, having abolished the word ‘employees’ in favour of ‘geniuses’, ‘champions’ and ‘cast members’.

You may or may not have already come across some of these quirky takes on traditional job titles:

  • Chief Executive Officer – Chief Listener

  • Business Development Manager – Sales Ninja

  • Marketing Director – Wizard of Light Bulb Moments

  • Digital Marketing Manager - Digital Overload

On a more serious note, the c-suite is a large partaker in this too, albeit at a milder level. As Forbesputs it, “In the past few years, the c-suite has exploded its members, knighting nearly every department head with new, inventive chief titles likely dreamed up by the marketing team”. Examples include Chief Strategy Officer (Xerox), Chief People Officer (Microsoft) and Chief Information Officer (IBM).

Commentators have suggested that unconventional job titles have evolved because of two key reasons:

  • The emergence of new roles in the last few decades, such as those in digital media, for which no traditional job title existed

  • An increase in corporate creativity and branding, leading to more diverse titles for traditional roles

‘Job title inflation’, where employees receive a new title but little increase in responsibility or remuneration, has also contributed to the rise of sassy job titles.

According to The Economist, “When it comes to job titles, we live in an age of rampant inflation. Everybody you come across seems to be a chief or president of some variety...The most immediate explanation is the economic downturn: bosses are doling out ever fancier titles as a substitute for pay raises and bonuses. But there are also structural reasons for the trend. The most basic is the growing complexity of businesses.”

The advantages of more unique job titles include:

  • Can inspire and motivate you

  • Create a brand personality and encourage a vibrant workplace culture

  • May broaden your responsibilities in the organisation

  • Convey your specialised skill set

  • Creates a ‘flatter’ organisational structure

  • Encourages discussion and engagement with external parties about your role and responsibilities

Risks of adopting unconventional job titles include:

  • Can be a career liability. You may not meet screening criteria if recruiters/employers can’t easily identify what you do or match your title to job criteria

  • May not clearly convey your level of responsibility and position in the organisational hierarchy

  • Calls into question the professionalism of your role and/or company

  • Can frustrate and annoy people rather than encourage discussion and engagement

The question we should ask today is, are creative job titles motivating employees and providing a clearer description of responsibilities, or have they gone too far and are just confusing, annoying and embarrassing?