Why be just another generic associate when you could hold the job title of ninja, happy maker or ambassador of buzz? Quirky job titles can give the impression that worker and company alike are fun, hip and creative. Then again, they might just come off as silly.
Offbeat job titles have been around for years, especially in cutting-edge tech firms and funky, laid-back places like Oregon. A 2009 story highlighted, for instance, how companies in the state were handing employees job titles such as consultant of pleasure and (you gotta love this one) grand pooh-bah.
The Boston Globe now reports that the fun, irreverent-job-title trend is spreading to “more traditional fields” including publishing and advertising. So a young woman who answers phone calls and greets guests in an office isn’t being called a receptionist but a director of first impressions. An employee at an advertising firm traded in the stodgy title of senior vice president of business development for the New Agey (but sorta vague) title creator of opportunities. And yes, a worker who might have been a mere corporate-communications assistant in a different era is now known as the firm’s ambassador of buzz.
The shift to hipper, offbeat job titles is motivated partly because companies want to come off as trendy, creative, innovative and forward thinking. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the titles seem to make millennial workers happier with their jobs. Surveys show that younger workers aren’t fans of traditional workplace rules and hierarchies, and instead of being a small cog in a firm, they like to consider their roles to be crucial to their employers’ success. In which case, a pumped-up job title fits, Susan Heathfield, a human-resources expert for about.com, told the Globe:
‘Generation Y, or our millennials, were groomed by families to have an overly inflated emphasis on their own self-worth,’ said Heathfield. ‘You are going to see this increasingly reflected in job titles. They are not going to have a title like receptionist and feel rewarded.’
So are these job titles anything more than ego boosts to employees who want to be known as more than some generic assistant?
Well, the titles can be memorable attention grabbers, putting smiles on the faces of clients and prospective employees and setting the business apart from the pack. That can be good for business. But there’s a downside to too-cute job titles, as one design firm CEO (very traditional job title) told the Associated Press a couple of years ago:
One hundred percent of customers would rather get their needs taken care of splendidly by a boringly named customer-service representative than get mediocre service from a cheerful and fun but less effective satisfaction advocate.
A marketing manager quoted in the story said a nontraditional job title could also be “a huge résumé liability” because few HR employees are scanning for quirky keywords such as guru or ninja. While millennials like the idea of getting rid of old-fashioned workplace hierarchies, career paths become even more confusing and muddled when old-fashioned job titles disappear. Per the Globe piece:
‘Folks love trendy titles, but does it create a career path?’ said [monster.com's Kathy] O’Reilly. ‘Where do you go from ninja? To samurai? Not likely.’