Most job titles are normal, but some situations can get weird. Here at Ongig, 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:
- By simple math, having 3 “Chiefs” at a 15-person company is already becoming top-heavy
- 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.
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.
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.