Who Cares About Job Titles?

One way to solve rubik's cube

One of the more frustrating and yet fascinating aspects of coaching people on their careers is the importance most people place on job titles. I have seen more angst and energy expended on whether to use this noun or that noun than on discussing or thinking about the parameters of the job itself, its goals, its measures etcetera.

The more cynically minded often resort to ever more grandiose titles — often with the words, “senior,” “vice-president,” “director,” and “executive” used interchangeably like a kind of job title rubik’s cube. This usually results in job title inflation where, after a period of time, the title “Vice-President” or “Senior Director” has little correlation to job scope or intellectual bandwidth.

From The Economist, March 10 2012

A recent Economist article shows how the folks at LinkedIn have analyzed the frequency of job title use. The results are an interesting window into the which names are currently in vogue:

Official statistics can tell you how many workers were jobless last month, how many had college degrees and how many worked in construction. But they cannot tell you how many know Hadoop, a software for managing data that is much in demand these days.

LinkedIn, however, says it knows that, and much else gleaned from the profiles of its millions of members. The social-media website for professionals can tell you that one of the fastest-growing job titles in America is “adjunct professor” (an ill-paid, overworked species of academic). One of the fastest-shrinking is “sales associate.”

Researchers already mine the internet for hints about disease outbreaks, the national mood or inflation. LinkedIn thinks its data can do the same for the job market. It has more than 150m members worldwide, 60m of them in America. That should be enough to draw accurate inferences about the entire American labour force.

At the request of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, it calculated which industries and job titles were experiencing the biggest gains and losses. Scott Nicholson, a “data scientist” for the firm, says LinkedIn can potentially track such changes in real-time, rather than the weeks or months government surveys take. It can also follow occupations and industries, such as e-learning, that don’t have their own category in government tallies. It can trace shifts between regions, sectors and occupations. Are people quitting law firms to become law professors, moving from Arizona to North Dakota, or what?

The firm hopes to be able to track the nation’s evolving skills base. Members routinely pick up new skills and add them to their profile. LinkedIn can see how often job-changers mention a particular skill, such as Hadoop. Jeff Weiner, the firm’s boss, imagines that eventually every job opening and its requisite skills will be digitally searchable by every potential candidate, reducing the friction that lets millions of vacancies co-exist with high unemployment.

What’s my title? I’m leaning towards “Senior Adjunct Executive Group Director”, or perhaps “Hey You.”

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