Most job titles are normal, but some situations can get weird. Here at Ongig (the video job description platform), I spend a lot of time looking at job titles and noticed these 5 job title pitfalls to try to avoid in your career:

1) People With Multiple Titles (For Just One Employer)

People using more than one title at a time are typically flexing their egos.

If they use three titles (e.g. President, CEO & Chairman), there’s even the risk that they are showing one of the 7 Signs Of A Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leader.

If you want to be known as the boss, act like one and just use CEO or some like-title.

Exception: If you’re a co-founder of a company, I think it’s great to put co-founder in your title because there are normally just a few founders at a company and they should be celebrated!

2) Co-CEO Situations

The vast majority of Co-CEO situations do not work because they were the result of:

  • Two young founders who naively think it’s most fair to split the CEO duties.
  • Two companies of roughly equal size that merge and the boards of directors want to try to appease the CEO of each company with a Co-CEO title.
  • A board of directors staging a “bake-off” competition of two internal CEO candidates against each other.
While a small percentage of Co-CEO positions (including Research In Motion’s Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis) have blossomed for years (though RIM’s co-CEOs may lose Co-Chairman titles), the Co-CEO situation doesn’t work for the same reason that Co-Generals aren’t used in war and Co-Presidents aren’t used to run countries — at the end of the day, someONE has to make a decision.
Paul Graham of Y Combinator emphasized the need for one clear leader in the #3 tip of  3 Tips For Startup Founders.

3) “Too Many ‘Chiefs’ In The Kitchen”

I’m bummed when I see a small company (15 people or less) who have three C-Level officers on their team. Often they have a CEO and then two or more of these:

  • Chief Technology Officer
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Chief Revenue Officer
  • Chief Architect

There are two reasons this is usually a bad idea at a small company:

  1. By simple math, having 3 “Chiefs” at a 15-person company is already becoming top-heavy
  2. A small company is likely going to have employees who are good at their jobs while the company is small but will not be the right fit for their jobs when the company grows bigger (e.g. try telling your 25-year-old CMO that they have to change their title to Director of Marketing; or trying telling the new CMO you want to hire that they have to give the old CMO a junior title.).

4) Managers & Directors…Who Do Not Manage Or Direct

The tech industry is now littered with “Manager” and “Director” titles for people who don’t actually manage or direct any people…huh!?

You might argue that Managers or Directors with no people on their team are “managing” or “directing” projects or products and are thus deserving of the Manager or Director title.

Perhaps.

But trust me:  if your title is Director Of Engineering, and you don’t actually “Direct” the Engineering team, the world would be a lot simpler if you were just called an Engineer.

This will be especially apparent when you grow to a larger team and need to hire someone between your Director of Engineering and your VP of Engineering!

5) Beware Excessive Layers Of Titles (“Senior,” “Associate,” Etc.)

There’s far too much use of seniority-type qualifiers in people’s titles.

Be cautious to give someone a promotion from Manager to Senior Manager just because you don’t think they’re ready for the Director position yet.

The extra layer of titles that you create will likely increase unnecessary politics and resentment.

If one “Manager” you have is more experienced than the other Managers, consider giving them more money or more responsibility instead of adding “Senior” to their title.

Some Tips To Make Titles Work

Some tips on how to have healthy titles in your business:

Keep Your Titles Purposeful —  If the person’s job is to lead software engineering, consider calling them Lead Software Engineer.

Eliminate Titles Internally — Think hard about what the purpose of a title is internally. The last business I was with, Hot Topic Media, didn’t use titles internally except to say that this person was the “Lead” on this project and this other person was the “Lead” on another project. We only used titles externally because it helped partners understand how to interact with us.

Keep Your External Titles Loose — You may find that you need different titles for different meetings/partnership opportunities. If that’s the case, you may be better off being very general (e.g. “Business Development”) or put nothing at all on your card so you can make up your title depending on the situation.

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About the Author — Rob is the Co-founder & CEO of Ongig, the pioneer of video job descriptions. Yelp, Autodesk, GoDaddy and BMC Software are among the early customers of the Ongig Cloud software.

Other top articles written by include:

The Top Applicant Tracking Systems Annual Report (2017)

Improve Your Recruiting with Video Job Descriptions

7 Steps to Writing the Best Job Descriptions

20 of the Best Company Career Sites (and Why!)

15 Must-Haves for Your Company Career Site

20 Creative Ideas for Your Company Career Site

Rob Kelly

Co-Founder and CEO at Ongig
Ongig is the video job description platform that helps you attract the best talent faster. Ongig supercharges your job descriptions through video, images, and other media along with live chat, social sharing, and careers microsite creation. Early clients of Ongig include Yelp, GoDaddy, Verizon Digital and Autodesk.

by in Career Development

  • The “no title” business card thing is hard as it confuses people (being a new pattern).

    this is one of those things where you need to get everyone together and agree that everyone will use “descriptive titles” (engineer, business, etc) or then everyone will use whatever they like on their business cards/linked-in etc.

    I am waiting for the day when I get handed a card with something like “lowly pixel pusher” instead of “chief senior head design lead” 🙂

  • Rich Lehmann

    What should a person that is the only marketing employee call themselves. I have worked for a small e-commerce site right out of Grad school for the past 2 years. I do all their advertising from adwords and print to booking radio and podcast appearances for the CEO, I do their branding and marketing materials for conventions, their social media, their beta testing the website, created their surveys etc. In the future as the project winds down and I look for different marketing work, I was wondering what an accurate title would be. Do you have a suggestion?

    • How about any of these:
      • Chief Marketing Officer
      • VP of Marketing
      • Director of Marketing
      • Head of Marketing
      • Marketing Lead

      Good luck!

      • Kevin Colburn

        Rob, I liked your article, but your response to Rich contradicts points 3 and 4. Can you help me reconcile? Thanks!

        • You are absolutely right, Kevin. My mistake – I rushed my response. Thanks for calling me out.

          My recommendation for Rich would be to go with something like “Demand Generation Lead” or “Marketing Lead” I prefer to be purposeful wherever possible and it sounds like Rich would be “leading” efforts to drive demand for his co.’s products and services. Since part of Rich’s functions include PR/marekting/communications, he might also consider “MarComm Lead”.

          Thanks again, Kevin.

          • Kevin Colburn

            Thanks for clearing that up, Rob! That makes sense.

  • Christine

    I have been working for a small company (200 people) for just over 3 years. I was pretty much told that I was hired because I am able to do everything. My current job title is Legal Specialist and Contract Administrator. I started off doing corporate compliance and legal. As the company grew so did my job responsibilities. I am doing licensing for (Title/AMC/Escrow/Broker) many of the business lines. This is n the national scale. My additional responsibilities include contract compliance and regulatory compliance. I have my JD/BA with about 5 years in the financial services industry. My title in no way matches my job responsibilities. What is your advice on what my title should be.

    • Wow, Christine, that’s a tough one. As a CEO, I refer to people like you as a “Swiss-Army Knife” because you have so many tools at your disposal.

      The way I would approach what your title should be is to first consider what the purpose of your title is. Some examples might include any and all of the following — a title that:

      1) helps you get your next job (internally or externally)
      2) describes your role internally at your organization so that the other 200 people there better know how to work with you
      3) is easy for a client/partner to understand
      4) is easy to describe at a BBQ or cocktail party

      I assume you’re not managing anyone (if you are, you might want to include “manager” or “director” in your title if your company is ok with that.

      If you are not managing anyone, I would recommend you consider the following format:

      [Subject Matter – Lead]

      E.g.
      Administrative Lead
      Operations Lead
      Business Affairs Lead

      Also know that there can be internal and external titles. For example, many small businesses are ok with you taking liberty with your title for external purposes (e.g. on LinkedIn) while internally.

      I hope that helps!

      Best,

      Rob