How to Win at Work: Don’t Focus on Titles

winning at work

You just got your self a fancy new title. There is nothing like getting a ‘promotion’ at work! When you are celebrating with your friends and they ask what you do these days you can proudly say ‘I’m the director of an interchange electronic mail design for the future.’ Those blank stares mean they are really impressed right?

No, no one is impressed. Just confused.

What is a director of the interchange electronic mail design? (I made that title up by the way)

You check the main email for the office. The main one But the nice title sounds impressive right? Not really…..

Titles have their place, but there is a right and wrong way to use them.

Keep it simple

Titles work well for hierarchical large companies. You have to have them or things would get confusing and inefficient. But they can’t be overly complicated or they will defeat their purpose. Team lead for product X, VP of operations. These titles tell you what this person does, which is the purpose of the title. If you have a question about product x ask the team lead. If you one go-to person it makes everyone’s life easier and more efficient.


Sometimes a sense of entitlement can come with a new title. Give someone with a big ego the VP titles your subordinates may feel it and you may be a world of hurt. Title inflation can happen in start-ups too. Everyone get’s the VP position even if they don’t have anyone under them to supervise. It doesn’t take much to get to senior team lead. But, does that title make sense if there are no junior associates? Employees will see through that quickly.

There is a leather company in New York that uses chief everything officers instead of actual titles. The reasoning behind the title changes is to boost the morale and confidence of the staff. Ok, that may work but if their chief titles don’t come with increased responsibility and pay employees will feel duped. I was not able to see the effectiveness of the title changes as it was not posted. But, if you start looking for another job, be advised that the chief title you hold with not chief responsibilities will look misleading to a recruiter.

Your title should tell people what you do

I know that makes me sound like captain obvious here. But, a title must state what you do with at your job. If you have a manager title but you don’t manage anything or anyone then you are not a manager.  These fancy titles don’t help you in your job search either if anything they hinder you because these weird titles that make no sense aren’t hitting the keywords hiring managers want.

Useless titles

Some titles are downright dumb. Ok, one that has recently become popular is the ‘director of first impressions’. I’ve seen this title at two separate companies in two separate states. The director of first impressions is the front desk secretary.

If this position was real, the person would roam the office making sure everyone is sitting up straight, smiling, and at least looking like they are working so a client first impression is not tarnished. Think Professor McGonagall for this job. She would be docking your pay for not being at your desk at 8 AM sharp. How does this help anyone?

Eventually, you will want to promote from within or get another job. You have to look at the long-term success of your career. Abstract titles that leave hiring managers scratching their heads will only help your resume find it’s way to trash can sooner. That’s the last thing you want. Hiring managers are busy they don’t have time to try to decipher what you do and what your title means.


Calling your secretary the director of first impressions is like telling a four-year-old you promoted them to the supervisor of their room. They will see through it. It does not make them feel special or valued. No adult wants to feel that way when they come to work it’s insulting.

Is it a promotion or not?

Sometimes, promotions are simply a change in title. Sometimes employers will give you a fancy new title in lieu of a pay raise. Even worse, sometimes that ‘promotion’ means less money. (Yes, that last one is true it happened to many disgruntled assistant managers at big car company and big coffee company). It’s important that you see through that. More responsibility for the same amount or less money is not a promotion.

Team names

Haveing a lead title like CEO is great. You probably worked hard to get there. But, that title does not leave room for growth. If you are in a start-up company it’s all hands on deck and you have the luxury of a flat organization. One suggestion Sapone makes is being more team focused. I work on the marketing team or technology team. This keeps things open for growth too. You can switch teams as reorganizations happen. You are not stuck in one title or position.

Titles have their place. They do and I’m not encouraging completely dumping titles altogether. But, I am saying they should make sense. Outrageous titles that no one understands will not help your career or make you look cool at a cocktail party. You have a career and brand to manage. Lofty titles that make no sense can breed resentment among people that actually worked hard to get where they are and make you look like a fake.


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