Leadership English: Invent your own job title

More than just reinvention. Here's how to do it. Photo: Warner Bros.

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2013 – Whether you’re a worker-bee at Mega-Corp-Personified or run your own business from home, every once in a while you may run into (or seize) an opportunity to decide what your job title will be. For example, when I worked at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME, formerly known as MENC), there was a period of time when I wrote speeches, marketing copy, position papers, journal articles, blog entries, and whatever else they wanted (aka, “other duties as assigned”). These tasks were in addition to my main task as editor of various periodicals, books, and other materials published by that organization.

I was clearly more than just an editor. Yet I didn’t manage anyone but myself. So what was my job title, really? It was a happy day when I got the go-ahead to make up a job title for myself. My new, personally invented job title was straightforward and simple, to be sure. But from the moment I created the new title, being the only Staff Writer at the National Association for Music Education felt exactly right. It matched the kind of work that I did and the kind of work I wanted to do.

If you get—or grab—a similar opportunity, don’t hesitate for a moment. Take advantage of this golden opportunity. It will not only help define who and what you are in the corporate scheme of things. If you exploit the situation deftly, your new title could help promote you as a more important person in the organization, leading to greater opportunities for recognition. Better yet, it could lead to possible promotions and salary boosts later on.

A couple of caveats: If you run your own business, avoid inadvertently belittling yourself by picking any title that’s too cutesy or too clever by half. And don’t bother trying to get an okay for anything too lofty-sounding from managers who tend to justify their own lofty-sounding titles by annihilating upstarts. (Example: Queen (or Master) of the Universe likely won’t work in either scenario.)

The scarecrow was thrilled with his diploma. You might have the same feelings toward a new job title that better proclaims and promotes the unique things that you can do. (PR still: Warner Bros.)

Here are a few tips for coming up with your own new job title:

1. Evaluate your various functions. What do you do the most right now, and what do you really want to do more of if you can get the opportunity?

2. Over time, you will likely trend toward doing in the future whatever it is your new job title describes now. So what do you want to be doing a year from now? Aim in that direction. Avoid boxing yourself in.

3. Poll your coworkers and associates as well as LinkedIn connections. Even if you don’t decide in favor of any of their suggestions, you’re going to want buy-in from these key people in your network when you make your final decision.

4. Jot down two or three job titles based on your answers to 1 & 2 and input from 3.

5. Starting on a Monday, try each title out in your mind for a day or two during working hours. Don’t be in a hurry making and refining your choice if you can help it. Haste makes for mistakes that could be tough to undo later. Think each possibility through. Thoroughly.

6. Make your final choice on Friday or no later than Monday after you’ve had a weekend just to make sure. But don’t drag your decision out beyond this time frame.

7. Once he or she has agreed, have your supervisor announce your new title in an email or at a meeting early in the week that the final decision has been made.

8. Once the official word is out, change your email signature, order new business cards, and broadcast (with some subtlety) your new identity every place else you can think of. If you’re a one-person company, act like a supervisor and do the same thing. If you’re in a company that’s larger than a start-up (meaning they have to keep official records and comply with a thicket of Federal regulations and HR complexities), make sure your title change goes into your personnel file. Alas, such maneuvers as title changes are a good bit slower to resolve in such an environment, due again at least in part to regulatory compliance issues.

That’s all there is to it, generally. Picking your own title takes a little effort, but do it if and when you can. And when you do, going methodically through a logical process like the one outlined above makes a lot more sense than groping around in your psyche looking for the right “feel”—and regretting or rescinding your self-chosen moniker later (and in public) because it was a bad idea or simply didn’t work. 

Good luck, and happy title hunting.


Frances Ponick’s bookOnly Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and is now available at Amazon.com. She coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert at AllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with Frances at Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn 

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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from Amazon.com.


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