Do you sometimes look at your business card and wonder ‘what the hell does that even mean’? Do you even use business cards? Do you have to explain what you do to others because it’s not nearly as straight forward as dentist, accountant or high school teacher?
The discussion of job titles has been popping up more and more recently and I had a specific request from one of our community members to talk about it and write about it, so here we go.
What’s my opinion on job titles? They don’t matter nearly as much as a lot of people give them credit for and at the end of the day it is not about the title. The value of your work, the quality of what you deliver, the way you carry yourself, how you treat others, how much you share with others to help them grow, the difference you make every day, the way you help your organisation grow and develop – that is what really counts. Not the goddamn words on your business card.
Yes, I feel very strongly about this, but I have my reasons. I recently came across the following quote:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
To me this quote does fit quite nicely with our topic, because the same rings true for people who want something before they’re ready or without putting in what is required to get there.
The way I see it
Of course titles matter and they matter to people. Heck, I’m stoked I get to call myself Tableau Evangelist because it fits with what I do and in the community people understand (I hope) what it means.
When I worked at Deloitte I was pumped when I moved from being an Analyst to calling myself a Consultant and after 3 months at Commonwealth Bank I progressed from solution design analyst to senior solution design analyst. Of course it mattered to me and it would be fairly arrogant to claim otherwise.
But what I want to suggest is to not make the title the object of desire. Don’t aim for a title. It’s just words. Aim for the type of work, the difference you want to make, the people you want to work with, the boss you want to work for, the cause you want to be involved with, the legacy you want to leave behind. Not the title. It’s just words.
How do you get there?
Let’s assume you have identified the type of work you’d like to do and the responsibilities you want to have as part of your role. What now? How do you actually move there?
You have to be it before you become it. You have to be the Senior Analyst before you can become the Senior Analyst. You have to lead the team before you can become the team leader. You have to show that you can do the job before someone will give it to you.
Put yourself into your bosses’ shoes: would you take the gamble and put you in charge of a project, a team or a bigger budget before you’ve proven you can handle it? Or would you prefer to give you a chance to demonstrate your maturity, expertise and professionalism to then give you the promotion, the team, the overseas posting?
What I’m suggesting is that you acually have to operate at the level that you’re aiming for rather than the level of your current job if you do want to move ahead.
Not very revolutionary, but some people seem to forget about this.
What does that look like?
It’s your behaviour, it’s taking responsibility, it’s running projects and initiatives in the way you would with that ‘bigger title’.
It’s also your appearance. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If you want to lead the team, then reflect that authority and responsibility in your attire. Dress professionally and you will feel more confident, which in turn will impact how others perceive you.
If your job involves representing the company in a sales role or through marketing, etc., then do make an effort to represent your company accordingly. That doesn’t require layers of make-up or suits from Saville Row, but the appropriate level of effort being put into the image you display. Those roles come with responsibility. Don’t underestimate it.
But that sounds like a lot of work…
Of course. Because it IS a lot of work. If it was easy, anyone could do it. To get the role you want and the job that fulfills you, that excites you and that challenges you every day is not going to be easy. But it will definitely be worth it.
So prepare yourself by
- setting realistic expectations: how hard are you willing to work, what compromises are you able to make, what is required to get to your next goal?
- talking to people who (seemingly) have the roles or jobs you are aiming for. Ask them what they did to get there and be very very honest with yourself about whether that is really what you want
- shifting your focus from the title on your business card to creating value for people and your organisation.
If you’re not creating something worthwhile for your team or the products and services your organisation offers, why would they want to promote you?
Think about how you can make the environment better for others, improve processes, generate new ideas and insights and help others become better in what they do. This is never a wasted effort and you will improve your own work in the process. I promise.
- having a good and honest look at your current skills, knowledge and the portfolio of your work. Is it ‘so good they can’t ignore you’? Does it send the message that you are ready for that next step? Does it show to your boss, your team, your department, your professional community and your industry that you are an expert, a leader, an advisor and a person people would really want to have in their team?
If not: what can you improve? Do you need to update your technical skills? Do you need to grow your professional network? Do you need to have better visibility of the work other people do across your organisation? Do you need to find a platform to share your knowledge and skills more effectively? Do you need to become more visible by sharing your work?
- taking action. Work on any development areas identified above. Find out how you can make a difference. Act ‘on the next level’. Don’t be satisfied with mediocre, strive for excellence. That doesn’t have to be a quest for constant study and relentless self-improvement which can turn into stress that doesn’t help anyone.
Instead identify a number of steps that you can take now that will work for your situation and will move you further on whatever ladder it is your climbing.
In all of that don’t forget the others. Don’t try to get to the top by stepping on others. Always, always help those who need ‘a leg up’. Caring for others and improving the whole team instead of just yourself will get you further than any selfish career crusade ever can.
You want to move ahead, you’re ready to put in the hard work and you’ve figured out a couple of things that you want to address. Great! Just get started. If your initial plan doesn’t work for some reason, then after trying hard enough shift your focus to a different area of improvement or talk to someone and seek their opinion. Ideally someone who is where you want to be.
Don’t give up and especially don’t give up when it starts getting hard. It’s meant to be difficult and it’s meant to challenge you. Otherwise how can you get better? It will be hard but it will be worth it.
And lastly, remember that the best community leaders, entertainers, strategic advisors, army generals, kings and those who changed opinions, nations, who made history and left behind a legacy – all of them who really mattered behaved as leaders, influencers and change makers long before they were officially recognised as such…