How to Create Better Job Titles

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Mar 24, 2021

Around 2009, some companies got a great idea that they would create unique job titles. Witty, right? These job titles would be ultra-unique and use hip buzzwords to differentiate their company from another company down the street with the same idea and open requisition.

I’m making this origin story up. I genuinely don’t know what happened around 2009, right before the bubble burst. If you were looking for a job or reading any articles on Mashable, it seemed like a right of passage. You had to have cool job titles at your startup to complement those ping pong tables and killer kegs. 

Some of the most creative job titles were in social media. I know. I was applying for all those Guru, Ninja, Jedi master jobs. I was laid off from my plain old social media associate position at a startup that ran out of funding and wanted to find a new social media job. I would search “social media” and then casually scroll through a list of jobs that looked a lot more like credits to a cartoon Disney movie than a list of jobs I could have.

You’ll laugh at this part. I thought it was the most incredible idea ever. I applied to all those weird job titles before becoming a Social Media Ninja (actual title, kept a business card to prove it.) I told every person I met that I was a ninja. “How cool,” everyone would say, typically followed by some witty line from a movie or questioning my promotion path with some comment like, “Will you get promoted to samurai?” 

The Problem With “Creative” Job Titles

It was all fun and games at happy hour. Not so much during an interview when the recruiter said, “What the hell does a social media ninja do?” It started to make sense why I wasn’t getting calls. Ninja isn’t exactly some standard title that lets people know more than the four bullets you have room for on a resume summary. 

I was lucky. I worked for a big brand, so the recruiter called me anyway. Had I worked for a small, niche startup, he likely never would have called. Most recruiters never reach out if they aren’t 100% sure you can do the job. A title like ninja doesn’t exactly tell the story. 

It doesn’t convey level either. It doesn’t check the boxes for anything a job title is supposed to do except being creative, which is not one of the requirements. That’s the thing no one tells you about cool job titles: No one can find you. Whether you’re posting a job or trying to be found, no one is typing “ninja” into the search bar. 

I mean, most of us know by the age of 7 we’re not going to grow up to be ninjas. I’ve never met anyone who types “ninja” into Indeed while looking for a job. 

Making Better Job Titles

There’s something else no one has told you about job titles. It’s the truth no one will admit: All job titles are made up. 

There’s no one uniform way that companies do it. Particularly in fields that are not licensed or governmental, it’s very likely someone ultimately made up your job title.

With that said, most people weren’t taught to write better job postings, and they indeed were not given the tools to select the right job title. Recruiters aren’t sure why they use the title other than a quick glimpse at historical data that called this req an Associate. 

What talent teams don’t realize is that the job title is often a reason you’re not getting traffic or suitable applicants. So, how do you know that you’re using a title that will drive the right traffic to your posting?

Try this:

  1. Google the job title and add the word “resume.”
  2. Click on the image search results. Voila, a lot of resumes.
  3. Look for alternative job titles. You need three to five. “Director of Marketing” produces different results than the “Marketing Director.” Try all the variations, too. 
  4. Go to Trends.Google.Com and enter those job titles to compare search volume, regional search traffic, and see if the job title is related to job search. (Hint: Ninja? Not so much.)

Note: I do not recommend this tactic for highly niche roles. Use the niche title if you’re looking for a niche person. But “Manager 4”? We can do better than that. 

If you’re struggling to get eyes on your job post, use job title research to get qualified traffic and more applications. Pulling in top candidates isn’t easy, and having the wrong job title is a guaranteed way to turn them away from your company. Get more qualified applicants by coming up with something they can see as their next best job. 

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