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Originally published Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Job Market

Too serious for silly job titles

That even the Grand Poo Bah himself would not discuss the significance of job titles says it all: Offbeat job titles are falling out of...

The Record (Hackensack, N.J)

HACKENSACK, N.J. — That even the Grand Poo Bah himself would not discuss the significance of job titles says it all:

Offbeat job titles are falling out of favor.

That became evident when the Head of the Hive for Cranium (translation: director of public relations) said Grand Poo Bah Richard Tait (CEO) wouldn't discuss his title because "it doesn't really fit" with the "strategy" of the company he founded in 1998 with Chief Noodler Whit Alexander (head of product development and manufacturing).

"The truth is, we're really trying to focus more on our brand right now [and] titles are just a small part of our culture," said Head of the Hive Heather Snavely.

Even the Chief Popperating Officer (or COO) of basketball legend Isiah Thomas' popcorn company, Dale & Thomas, declined to talk.

The reason?

Some say it's because Corporate America is a lot more serious these days. Whether you're selling toys or popcorn or widgets, so much focus is on the bottom line that precious little energy is left for being lighthearted.

"In the '90s, we did have titles like Chief People Pleaser, the Head of Customer Wow and other silly titles for common positions, but that's no longer very popular," says Marc Cenedella, CEO of TheLadders.com, the executive job-search service.

"The dot-com bubble that introduced a whole mentality in the business world that business should be fun and zany is over," Cenedella says. "Companies are more focused on making customers happy and giving shareholders real benefits, not the zany titles."

But exceptions remain.

Take dot-com survivor Yahoo. The thriving company maintains its playful name (as does competitor Google), and Yahoo co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filos, each worth more than $2 billion, are officially known as chief Yahoos, even though they no longer run the day-to-day operations of the company.

Some nonprofits also have a playful side, especially when they deal with toys.

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In Paramus, N.J., Toyrarian Cori Blake heads the toy library at the Turrell Child Development Center, which serves needy children.

"I like the title," Blake says. "The toy library is something different and new, and the name really reflects that."

But these titles are clearly the exception these days.

Perhaps it shouldn't shock, what with more folks saying that unless a change in job title is backed up by more rewarding work, more money or more perks, they aren't all that interested. "To some degree it is 'call me what you want, I'd rather have a raise,' " says Cenedella.

In a recent survey by TheLadders.com, some 84 percent of 677 job seekers in the six-figure salary range said they'd rather have a 10 percent raise than a bump in title.

"But a title, if it reflects a range in job scope and responsibilities, is very important, especially to senior executives making $400,000 or more," says Cenedella.

"There's a very big difference between a CFO and a VP of finance."

Neil Lebovits agrees that titles tend to take on more meaning as a career progresses.

Before he became president and chief operating officer of Ajilon Professional Staffing, money trumped title.

"Early on, it was 'just pay me. Forget about the name,' " Lebovits says. "But, eventually, you do realize you need the recognition too."

But for David Kennedy, who participated in TheLadders.com survey, titles are rarely as important as compensation.

"Titles follow money, as far as I'm concerned," says Kennedy, a human-resources consultant in New Jersey with expertise in the construction industry.

"I've seen people handling millions of dollars, and titles mean nothing. It's not about what you're called, but what you represent to the business in terms of financial productivity or leadership capabilities."

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