October 5, 2018

[Insert Meaningless Title Here]: Why Job Titles Do Not Equal Your Destiny

By Vega Subramaniam

Titles: who needs ’em?

Perhaps you are in a professional rut. As a coach, I often come across people in this position, and I’ve certainly been there myself. Whether it’s because you no longer want to do what you’ve been doing, or you’re maxed out in your current position but haven’t identified the next step up, or you’re in a toxic workplace, you know you need to figure something out but don’t know how.

So, what do you do? Probably what just about everyone does when they are getting the itch to move on: open up your computer, pull up a job board, and settle in for a long night of scanning hundreds of listings, maybe even using a keyword or two to “refine” the search.

This might work sometimes, but as often as not, it really, really doesn’t.

First off, job titles are not accurate summary descriptions of most jobs. Let me see a show of hands of people whose job title actually matches what you do on a daily basis. Yep, just as I thought. I mean, “Senior Associate.” What even is that?

Second, it’s demoralizing rather than inspiring. Looking at the listings, nothing seems appealing. Or there’s just nothing you’re actually qualified for. It triggers all the yuck: “maybe I’m not good enough,” “maybe I’m not qualified,” “maybe I’m overqualified. I don’t want to make copies anymore…” and finally, “maybe I’ll just stay at my crappy job after all.” Job boards are theoretically supposed to create possibilities, but instead they feel like the death of possibilities.

I’ll tell you another thing it is: uninformative. Obfuscating rather than illuminating. Why do I say this? Partly because you don’t know what you don’t know. A database of all job titles simply doesn’t exist. There are probably jobs out there that you would be perfect for, but their titles are either unfamiliar to you or, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsense.

Of course job titles are necessary for organizations to have, in order to organize their internal charts and roles and responsibilities. But they are the next best thing to useless in finding your right next path.

So, if keyword-searching job boards for job titles doesn’t work, what does work?

First identify what you love to do and are good at. Throw away your resume and (if you’re currently in a job) your current job responsibilities, take out a notebook, and list all the things you love to do and are good at. Don’t even worry for a second whether you could make money on them. Just dream and list. Maybe you’ll start to see patterns. A Dependable Strengths Articulation Process is an excellent way to zero in on your unique skills.

Second, start talking to people. Research shows that over half of us get a job through someone we know. Not only that, but about a quarter of us got our current job without searching for it (which is to say, even though we weren’t actively looking for a new job, someone we knew wooed us into it).


And that’s where you’ll find your inspiration.

Looking at a job board and sorting by title can sure seem like the best way to figure out what you are going to do—after all, it is a list of jobs, and boy, do you need a new one. But I promise you that what matters more than any title is getting really clear with yourself about your natural gifts and talents, the things you can’t help doing and that make you come alive—and then find the place where those gifts and talents will shine—either at your current workplace (with a supportive supervisor) or at your next workplace (which will materialize for you through your networks).

P.S. If you are ready to clarify your strengths and how to maximize the value you bring to your work, there are still a few spots left in my upcoming Dependable Strengths Articulation Process workshop on October 27-28. Check it out here!



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