Titles, you just can’t eat ‘em

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the importance people put on titles.There was an old skit from Cheers years ago (Millennials, ask your parents) where Rebecca tricks Woody out of asking for a raise, and instead he gets a title. Click here for a short clip, and please hold your comments regarding hairstyles…

While this episode will be 30 years old soon (yikes!) it takes a jab at something that we still see today, which is the weight people put on titles. Put another way, how important is a title to you? Would you change jobs over one? Would you hold out for a title and pass on an otherwise great opportunity? If you said “nevah! Not me!” Is that the logical you talking or have you actually been in that situation? I ask because you would be surprised at how many people fall into the same trap as Woody (hint: in that episode, “Our Hourly Bread,” Sam and Carla also fall for it. To be fair, there is a reason for this, but I won’t go into all that – mostly because I can’t remember… it was a LONG TIME AGO.

So why is this the case? Why do seemingly rational people put unnecessary weight on titles and pass up on other, more tangible things? Because it relays a sense of who we are; a sense of accomplishment. At one point in time I was the HR Director for a small manufacturing company, where I was what is called an HR Department of one. Meaning I had one direct report – if I looked in the mirror. I did everything. Did I fall for the title trap? Probably. I was actually between jobs, hit it off with the owner and it sounded like a fun place to work. I enjoyed my time there, but after a while I decided it was time to pursue other opportunities. During this time I remember talking to an executive at one company in particular who flat out told me his only concern was my title. Never mind that the company was 10 times the size and the pay was better, it wasn’t a Director slot. I was floored, but on the plus side, since it was a restaurant chain I got several nice meals out of the deal. 

Back to my example, this seemingly intelligent guy turned me down because my title was too big. I have a feeling he may fall into the camp of will turn down an opportunity because of a title. 

Look, I get it. In terms of career progression, you don’t want to appear that you are going backwards, but do you think being Director of Widgets at Willie’s One-man Widget factory carries more weight than Manager of Widget Manufacturing, North America for William, Wayne, and Watson Widgets Worldwide? Maybe, maybe not…

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