Are you limiting yourself by focussing too much on your job title?

Girl boss name plate on work desk with books limiting yourself by focusing on job title

Does your current job title REALLY reflect the work you do?

If yes, then you can probably skip this blog post.  If not, then you should realize that organisations have a tough time with job titles because they are generic, and you are not.  You are unique. And you will have developed your job in a way that suits you.  Your job ends up morphing and expanding beyond the original scope, and that affects how you perceive your career. And that’s when you need to start thinking about how to define a career beyond a current job title. Otherwise, you could be limiting yourself.

Why we think job titles are important

In some respects, job titles are nothing more than a way to explain your job in as few words as possible. But job titles seem to matter because of how they are perceived.

Those perceptions are:

  1. Your job title explains your role in the company.
  2. It defines your position in the company relative to others. If your job title includes “associate,” that indicates you’re a lower-level employee. But if your job title includes “lead,” that indicates you’ve got some experience and are, perhaps, a leader or decision-maker.
  3. A change in your job title indicates that you’ve taken on new and increased responsibilities. It suggests you’ve moved up and into supervisory or leadership roles.
  4. Your job title impacts how much money you make.

Living in a box

No doubt you will have found yourself at a party or some social setting where you meet new people. One of the first things people often say in such a situation is “So, what do you do?” A typical response may be, “I’m a Technical Brand Manager for P&G.” Another example may be “I’m an International Training Director for Avanade.” These are both job titles I have held at different times.

So now they have labelled you and made assumptions. Those will be based on their experience and knowledge of that job title as well as their personal biases.

Disempowering beliefs and thoughts

When you do this in a work setting you are putting yourself into a box. That box will draw assumptions about your skills, responsibilities and authority.

Such labelling might be empowering and motivating.  But it may also work against you and contribute to disempowering beliefs and thoughts. For example:

  • Self-worth and perceived status. If your job sits a few layers down in the organisation structure, you may see yourself as “just” a Customer Service Officer or “just” a Plant Operator. With this thinking you have limited your authority and subconsciously told yourself you’re not important or you don’t matter much, limiting yourself.
  • Coping with change. When you see yourself as a job title you limit your ability to cope with change. If your job is made redundant there is a risk, you see no future for yourself in the current organisation. Then when you search for another job, you will often look for the same job title and become despondent when few similar roles are available.
  • Adding value to the organisation. When you see yourself as a job title that also implies a skill set and a position within the value chain or box in the organisation chart. You do not want to be a job title. You want to be someone who makes a difference.
  • How the organisation sees you. Despite having skills gained elsewhere, you may get frustrated because you don’t get the opportunity to utilise these skills. The organisation has pigeon-holed you and that’s where you stay.
  • Differentiating yourself – When you equate yourself with your job title, you’re making yourself a commodity. That means you’re interchangeable with anyone else who has the same title. You have a unique contribution to make. To excel, you must separate yourself from the pack, positioning yourself as a unique and valuable brand.
  • How you experience life. Such limiting thoughts restrict new opportunities and growth (both professional and personal). This in turn would reinforce your belief that you are “just” a this or that and can lead to job dissatisfaction and resentment.

Perceptions of job titles are NOT reality

The fact is those common perceptions of job titles are NOT reality.  The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to job titles and remits.

  • Misleading titles.  Job titles can make a job appear more junior than or senior than it is. Or the title may not describe the role at all. Would you know what a Sandwich Artist was, without hearing it’s a job title at Subway?
  • Company variations.  Job titles can vary greatly from business to business and across industries. For example, A CFO in a start-up may be a Head of Finance within a larger firm. A Financial Controller within a corporate may find themselves as a Senior Business Partner in a smaller organisation.
  • Changing landscape.  Job titles are increasingly hard to create because jobs and the work environment are constantly changing. For example, a Marketing Manager these days will be heading up a team of digital marketing and data specialists rather than a traditional team of direct marketeers. Even where job titles are evolving, it can be just as confusing. Being a manager no longer means you have a team underneath you; it can mean you manage a product or specialism. And new headlines are being created every day to try and better align skills and remits with day to day working. There was no such thing as a Chief Happiness Officer ten years ago!

Are you limiting yourself by focussing too much on your job title? Hopefully, this has given you some food for thought.  In my next blog post, I’ll share some specific steps you can take to break out of the boxes, job titles put you in.

If you’re looking to develop in your career without limiting yourself by focussing on your job title too much, our Career Compass Workbook is designed to help you think positively and proactively about your career development and help you prepare effectively for career conversations with your manager.

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