Inflated Job Titles

A new manifestation of our embracing hype.

Posted Feb 04, 2018

Wikimedia, CC 4.0
Source: Wikimedia, CC 4.0

As kids, we joked that a garbage collector might call himself a sanitary engineer. But we’re no longer joking in assigning puffed-up titles. And that’s no joking matter.

There’s something wrong when a receptionist is now called, Director of First Impressions. It’s obfuscatory to anyone who asks the person what s/he does. It can keep appropriate candidates from applying. And it can be a ploy that employers use to pay the worker less in exchange for a fancy title—Oh, how shallow our species is. Lest you think such titles are bestowed only by start-ups desperate to recruit A players, the title of the receptionist at the headquarters of venerable major publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is Director of First Impressions. She said her job is to greet guests, answer phones, and hang up coats. Sounds like a receptionist to me.

Then there’s Talent Acquisition Specialist. It wasn’t long ago that they were called personnel clerk. Then they were deemed human resources professionals, then recruiters, now increasingly, talent acquisition specialist or any of hundreds of similar titles which go all the way up to Chief Talent Officer.

Then there’s the too-funny-to-be-true Director of Vibe. The Viceroy hotels first titled a job Director of Vibe, which the incumbent described as, “the social director, party planner, and camp counselor all rolled into one." The title was soon picked up by a San Francisco PR firm (natch,) with a job description of “planning monthly birthday celebrations and happy hours; brown bag professional development lunches; stocking the kitchen 'with a variety of healthy snacks' and researching activities such as 'lunch-time yoga and chair massages.'” It sounds to me like an administrative assistant (nee secretary.) Now, the title of Vibe Manager or Vibe Director has been used by the likes of Hard Rock Cafe and blue-chippers such as Salesforce and GE.

Customer Success Specialist or its more entertaining variant, Customer Happiness Specialist. This particularly obfuscatory job title could, at entry level, refer to the waif chained to a cheap chair in a boiler room trying to calm furious subscribers whose internet, TV, and phone are all down...again!  At the high end, a customer success specialist could be a salesperson who sells big-ticket enterprise software suites, yes calming customers but then upselling them big-time..

Engagement lead. The obfuscation continues. Engagement Lead has nothing to do with premarital bliss. They typically sell and support complex software. Complicating matters, the title Engagement Lead significantly overlaps with Customer Success Manager.

Solutions Architect. This too can have multiple definitions. Usually, it’s a senior software engineer who guides software development. But sometimes the solutions architect does what an engagement lead or customer success manager does. Are we getting clear? I'm not.

Community Manager. This sounds like it would involve talks and giveaways to community groups. Nope. In today’s new-speak, “community manager” usually refers to a person who saves a company money by getting the product’s users to answer other users’ questions. Not as prestigious as "community manager” sounded. Maybe that’s the idea.

Brand evangelist.  PR person.

Growth Hacker. This is just a marketer, usually one whose priority is to get money in the door fast. They're commonly used by startups scared of running out of money before enough profit rolls in. Sometimes they hire a growth hacker even when a startup's  product is still buggy as a jungle, whoops, "rain forest."

Further "augmentations." Then there are adjectives appended to a job title to further hype it. Job site Indeed.com reports that the most used of such adjectives are “Genius,” “Guru,” “Rockstar,” “Wizard,” and “Ninja. These can be attached to a standard job title, for example, Marketing Guru but if you couple one to one of the aforementioned job titles, you get maximum hype with maximum obfuscation, for example, First Impressions Genius, Talent Acquisition Guru, Vibe Rockstar, Customer Success Wizard, and Solutions Ninja.

For now, signing off is this Digital Visual-Language Solutions Ninja (writer.)