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Why You Should Be Allowed to Choose Your Own Job Title


Browsing on Craigslist for a new job recently? You may have seen ads for jobs such as “Social Media Ninja” or “Keyboard Rockstar.” At first glance, you may have no idea what these jobs actually do — are they looking for someone skilled in karate, or perhaps even with a record label?

(Photo Credit: Zach Dischner/Flickr)

These days, off-kilter job titles are not uncommon. Several years ago I actually responded to an ad looking for a “Blogging Rock Star” — and was hired. My actual job title, however, was a little bit more normal: Customer Service Representative. The problem was that my job title actually wasn’t representative of what I did — assist AmLaw 200 firms with their content marketing strategies. With nearly a decade of blogging under my belt, I kind of was a blogging rock star; but our customers wouldn’t understand that — though they didn’t understand our real job titles either. I needed a better job title, but getting our CEO to budge on that wasn’t going to happen, as frustrating as that was.

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Of course, some companies are into wacky job titles. Just look at Berkshire Hathaway, who has a Director of Chaos. Many companies call their receptionists Director of First Impressions. Google even has a Captain of Moonshots. 

There may be a case for making up your own job title, unusual or not. A recent article in Fast Company reports that “a new study of self-appointed job titles, published in the August issue of the Academy of Management Journal, suggests they can reduce emotional exhaustion among stressed-out employees.”

The research, led by management scholar Adam Grant of Wharton, focused on the Midwest chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Grant and his team wanted to see what effect, if any, the change had on employee well-being. They conducted interviews with 22 staff members, as well as executives, volunteers, and affiliates. They conducted hours of observation on site, and they analyzed more than 100 archival documents to track how employees themselves used their new titles in public.

The results? About 85 percent of the interviewed employees said the new title helped them cope with the emotional exhaustion of the job. One manager told Grant that job title she chose helped her focus on the joy of her job instead of the hardship. As Fast Company explains, “the researchers believe the new job titles provided self-verification, psychological safety, and external rapport. In less technical terms, the job titles helped workers express their own identity and personality, and put them at ease when interacting with others.”

If it sounds like your morale could get a boost from a new job title, it may be to your benefit to take to social media or LinkedIn to gather some inspiration. That said, the internet may not be the best place to look — a quick Google search about how to create your own job title revealed the “[BS] Job Title Generator,” which I have a hunch may have been used in some of those Craigslist ads. As one blogger writes, your job should feel like a pair of jeans. If it doesn’t, you can either look elsewhere, or figure out how to make it fit … which is usually by redefining it with a new title. 

Just try to avoid being a “rock star” or “ninja” — unless you really are one. 

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Do you think employees should be allowed to choose their own job titles? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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