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“Happiness Advocate.” “Chief Bearrister.” “Residential Renaissance Man.” Job titles on business cards have taken on a playful air.
It’s something Paul Lewis has observed as head of marketing for Moo.com, a Rhode Island-based online printer of business cards. He’s noticed that startup companies and Web 2.0 enterprises have been using “real cool and funky titles” on business cards since about 2009, “trying to get more traction.”
“Even the [company] founders are giving themselves these names more and more,” he said. “Instead of being a CEO you’re the head cheese. It brings a bit of humor to a business title,” Lewis told SHRM Online.
The most creative titles Moo.com has come across, and their traditional meanings, are:
Such titles are not limited to creative sectors such as marketing and public relations companies, Lewis said, pointing to jobs such as plumber.
“It really just helps individuals in their own company or these smaller companies that are growing … even if it’s a 1 percent advantage” over competitors, he said.
At Total Home, a 14-year-old Kansas City, Kan.-area remodeling company whose services include door and window installation, the person in charge of production is “Residential Renaissance Man.” Another employee is “Window Warrior,” and owner Pat Strand is “Head Chef.”
“‘President’ is just boring,” Strand told SHRM Online. He and his eight employees created their own titles. “It just seemed a little more appropriate to do something a little more entertaining.” An added bonus, he said, is that “it kind of filters potential annoying customers away.”
It’s also a way to stand out among competitors that generally brand themselves by their quality work and reasonable prices.
“[You] shouldn’t need to state the obvious,” he pointed out. Adopting funky titles “just goes back to being a little different, enjoying what we do, having fun.” It “ties in with the tongue-in-cheek feel of our website.”
While Lewis has noticed that small businesses tend to use wacky titles, some large employers go the nontraditional route as well. At Ben & Jerry’s in Burlington, Vt., for example, the global brand development director also is known as the “Great Brand Mother,” according to a LinkedIn search.
It can be a way for employers to extend their brand.
Maxine Clark, CEO at Build-a-Bear Workshop Inc., is "Founder and Chief Executive Bear." The company’s chief workshop manager based in the New York City area goes by the title “Bearitory Talent Scout,” and the company’s compensation and benefits person at the corporate office is “Director-Compbearsation, Bearnefits & Bearvelopment.”
A call to the company’s St. Louis area office elicits a list of departments with names such as Inbearmation Technology Bears, and a recorded voice wishes callers a “beary nice day.”
“It’s part of our language. We include ‘bear’ in all of our marketing, all of our communications with our guests. It’s an extension of our brand,” said Kathy Price, senior manager, Bear and Human Resources, at the company’s St. Louis area corporate office. A new, junior member of the HR team has “bear cub” as part of her title, Price said.
Personal Brand or Stumbling Block?
Adopting an unusual title plays a part in social and personal branding and how people present themselves to the world, Lewis said.
Steve Robbins calls himself the Chief ‘What If’ Officer at his Grand Rapids, Mich., consulting services firm, Steve Robbins Group. A web page with internship openings at his company advertised online for a “PHP Ninja” and a “Folklorist.” The first job includes solving problems with “communicative, elegant code;” the second describes a “a storyteller, a raconteur, a bard for this day and age.”
Emily Miller, PHR, employee relations representative, Cessna Aircraft Co., said that unusual titles can be a stumbling block when looking for a job.
“I’m all for creativity,” she told SHRM Online in a comment she posted Nov. 18, 2011, on the SHRM Connect blog, “but I think the problem with some of these titles is that they don’t truly reflect the responsibilities and accomplishments behind them.”
She recalled seeing a recent job posting for “Vice President of People.”
“Though I understand the fresh approach the company is taking with the title, it strays from the traditional way that people can easily associate with actual job activities,” she wrote. “My question if I saw this title on a resume would be ‘does that mean employee relations, recruiting or organizational development?’ And do I have the time to figure it out on my own?”
That can be an issue, Lewis warned.
“You have to be careful that you don’t confuse people as to what your actual title means,” he said. “It’s got to be done in the right way that it helps you stand out.”
Done properly, “you’re able to convey a lot more about who you are, your personality and your skill set rather than just ‘marketing manager.’ ”
When Price posts a job opening on Build-A-Bear’s public board, she identifies the opening with its more traditional title, sometimes with the corresponding “bear title” in parentheses.
The unusual titles are seldom a problem, she observed, and job applicants cognizant of the culture often will incorporate bear references into their communications.
“Almost resoundingly, everyone smiles and [is] somewhat intrigued” by the titles, said Price, senior manager, bear and human resources. “Very seldom does it become a problem, but for some, they see title as status” and question whether such playful titles can get in the way. How will a vendor, for example, recognize that a person with such a title also has authority to negotiate prices?
“Just speak to it,” Price advised. The titles are “part of our brand and how we speak, but also we’re equally respectful of each other. We don’t need the title or the status for someone to listen to you … [or] to approach someone with a suggestion or an idea. It’s open communication—at all levels.”
She said that using unusual titles, though, “needs to accurately reflect your culture and your environment.
“Something as playful as this isn’t going to be appropriate in all businesses. Maybe if you want to set your company apart as a more casual fun environment … [but] it’s not going to be right for everybody.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.
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