Increasingly, I’m convinced that corporate job titles are obsolete. Let’s face it – in many cases an individual can label themselves with any title, and it may or may not have any meaning either within the context of the organisation, or in comparison to similar companies. The head of a major corporation can be described as CEO, but Joe Normal can be CEO of his own one or two-man band company too. It’s perfectly valid. Many organisations have champions, evangelists… job titles are morphing (conversation architect? social media marketer?)
I’m frequently asked what I do, as if a title can cover and explain my role in a couple of words. The first answer is that I work for IBM. OK, but that’s a very wide field, if you know anything about the company – it could be something in hardware, software, consulting services, research, management. So I was then able to narrow it down by using the word “Consultant” – one of those titles so broad that it covers all kinds of activities. So then I’d say I’m a software consultant working with WebSphere Integration products for IBM in the UK. But, of course, that wasn’t everything I did, if you factored in my social software and virtual worlds “hats” and additional interests. Recently my formal job title has become even less useful in describing what I do to people outside the organisation.
IBM also has a formal professional development careers path linked to The Open Group and British Computer Society – in that, I’ve moved from being a Senior to a Consulting IT Specialist. Unless you know the structure of the profession, you may not know the difference between Senior and Consulting levels, or what an IT Specialist does in comparison to an IT Architect or Software Engineer or whatever else. “Consulting IT Specialist” is a reasonably useful label, but still doesn’t go far enough.
So if job titles are dead – what now? I’m finding that my personal brand as social bridgebuilder | photographer | techie is as useful a label or as a starting point for a discussion as anything. I recently updated my About page and moved my technical background further down the bio. As organisational structures shift and morph to new models (you should take a look at Gary Hamel’s excellent book The Future of Management to read more on this) it is becoming more important to maintain a personal brand – linked to a corporate identity – and to be able to explain what you do and can offer in a concise manner.
Storytelling. Visual CVs. Skills. The rise of the real-world avatar. Non-traditional ways of presenting oneself through tag clouds and visualisations. All of these things are replacing the job title. Don’t tell me your corporate title. Tell me who you are, and what you do.
Side thought: as I write this, and some of my other recent entries on paper, I ponder – am I a “writer”? a blogger, a writer of prose, an architect of ideas, or what?
Update #1: I realised, thanks to Paul’s rather brilliant point in the comments about context, that I should probably explain where this post came from. A couple of inspirations, really. Firstly, a couple of months ago I was talking to a colleague at work and he said “so what is it you do all day, social bridgebuilder or something?” and I had to explain that no, my day job is something specific and related to WebSphere software. Secondly, last week I was introduced on a conference call as having a “really cool job title” and again, I noted that it was James Governor who gave me the label / reputation as social bridgebuilder as a result of what I do, rather than it being a formal title.
Update #2: I’m interested in a couple of the related posts links that WordPress has put in for me. The first, Your Personal Brand IS NOT a Job Title, kind of makes the same point… I suppose… I suppose it is saying that job titles still have a relevance within the context of an organisation. The second, A Rose By Any Other Name, also has relevance here – I particularly liked the line When your staff are asked, outside work, what they do how easily can they simply quote their job title? which is something I’ve struggled with in the past. Nice work on the automatic links I think!