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Sandwich Artist,' 'Brand Warrior' Among Most-Inflated Job Titles of 2019

Are overly important-sounding job titles a morale booster or a hiring nightmare?

A group of business women talking to each other in an office.

​What is an underwater ceramic technician? A therapeutic integration specialist? How about an actions and repercussions adviser?

Those are fancy titles for dishwasher, teacher's aide and human resources officer, respectively. And they're among the most-inflated job titles for 2019, according to Fit Small Business, a digital business publication headquartered in Manhattan.

Others making the list from the hundreds evaluated from a range of industries, responsibilities and salaries:

  • Sandwich artist—a Subway restaurant employee.
  • Director of first impressions—receptionist.
  • Loss prevention officer—mall security officer.
  • Meat distribution engineer—deli-counter staffer at a local supermarket.
  • Trusts and safety wrangler—a community moderator who polices online sites for malicious activity and content.
  • Waste removal engineer—trash collector.
  • Reprographics associate—person specializing in making copies and sending faxes.
  • Customer happiness hero—customer-service representative.
  • Vision clearance engineer—window washer for high-rise buildings.
  • Brand warrior—marketing associate.
  • Digital prophet—marketing manager.

"Champion," "warrior," "engineer" and "manager" were commonly found in inflated titles, according to Kelly Main, marketing writer at Fit Small Business. Often, the job in question did not involve managing or engineering in any traditional sense.

Companies may opt for important-sounding titles such as "waste removal engineer" versus "garbage man," she said, because they sound better, boost employee morale and remove gender from the position. However, she noted, overly inflated titles also create challenges and issues. 

"[The practice] sort of devalues some positions as well. They sound great, but it's become known some of these titles are inflated and people are becoming skeptical," she said. "It's great to have titles revamped, but you don't want to misrepresent what that job entails."

 'A Minefield' 

So-called fancy-schmancy titles have been around for a while. The Plain English Foundation—a communications company in Sydney—has had its own list in years past that included destination counselor (travel agent), knowledge navigator (teacher) and dispatch-service facilitator (postal worker).

And while they may seem harmless, or even humorous, such titles can cause unanticipated problems.

"Job titles have very much become a minefield as roles have developed over the years, which can often make employing people and whittling candidates down more difficult because in reading a role title [on a resume or job application], you might not know exactly what it entails," said Matt Dunne. He is the hiring manager at Healing Holidays, a global spa retreat based in London.

They often are a sign, he noted, "that the company the candidate is coming from encourages fancier titles because it offers less promotional opportunities and less money. This is often the case with smaller businesses."

That was true for The Knobs Co., an Omaha, Neb.-based retailer of cabinet and other decorative hardware.

"Many years ago, I had read that a strong way of boosting employee satisfaction was to give impressive-sounding job titles," said Dave Mason, CEO. He was the only person with a C-suite title at the company that employed about a dozen people. "I thought if it could boost satisfaction, why not start handing out titles?"

The bookkeeper became the chief financial officer, the employee dealing with logistics became the chief operating officer, and the head of the marketing team became chief marketing officer (CMO). 

While it helped morale in the short term, employees used the inflated titles to jump to jobs paying more than what Mason could offer.

"I wasn't paying my marketing person a CMO salary, after all, just giving out the title. But now that they could put CMO on their resume, they could apply for CMO jobs at other companies at far higher salary points and often get them. Today, I prefer a flat structure as much as I can pull it off. We're all team members. If competitors want to try poaching my talent, they can figure out each person's value for themselves."

First Impressions 

Inflated titles make Aram Lulla, general manager of the HR division for Lucas Group in the greater Chicago area, question the candidate's credibility.

"My first impression is that [the person] may be trying too hard to make their position appear more than it really is," hurting his or her credibility, he said. "Plus, if you inflate your title, you also run the risk of being passed up for a role you want for fear that you are overqualified or [it's assumed you] wouldn't be interested." 

Such titles can attract more applications, but the applicants' qualifications may not be as good, according to Lilia Stoyanov, CEO of Transformify, an HR software and freelance platform based in London. When she was building an outsourced team of accountants on short notice, there were 200 applications in a week for the job of "business controller." The same job, with the title of "senior accountant," attracted only nine applicants.

However, she said, her company's data shows that funky titles such as "Excel guru" instead of "data- entry assistant," and "Java ninja" instead of "senior Java developer" are unlikely to attract top talent.

Besides, she added, "most recruiters are focused on the responsibilities and achievements; the exact job title is not that important."

Simon Royston finds inflated job titles confusing, unnecessary and misleading. He is founder and managing director of The Recruitment Lab, an agency in Aldershot, Hampshire, United Kingdom.

"The problem is when you do receive an application from a 'chief inspiration officer' or 'accounting ninja,' it is incredibly hard at first glance to understand where in the hierarchy this person sat and what role and responsibilities they had," he said. "As a recruiter, I want to have a clear picture of what you are and where you should be going in terms of your career."

Receiving resumes with such titles means "I'm going to have to dig deeper to try and build a picture of your skills and capabilities."

At the same time, he understands the fun factor of calling an HR manager a "happiness officer" or a fast-food worker a "sandwich artist."

"[It] can better describe someone's role within an organization and maybe it does empower more junior members of the team to step up and contribute beyond the normal call of duty," he acknowledged. "One of the key problems many organizations have is their most junior members of staff are the ones on the front line dealing with customers and creating first impressions. If a funky job title helps that process, where is the harm?"

For Mark Webster, co-founder of marketing education company Authority Hacker in London, the harm was a lot of wasted time and money processing and interviewing the wrong types of applicants. 

His company was recruiting for a junior marketing assistant—someone with minimal marketing experience who could be trained in-house—and used titles such as "relationship building executive" and "outreach and business relationship manager." 

The result, he said, was confusion.

"People applying for the role had no idea what they were actually applying for, what experience level was necessary and what their salary expectations would be," he recalled. The salary issue, in particular, "became a big problem as we took our applicants through the recruitment process. This led to complications, and many applicants were disappointed by our offer" when they realized it was an entry-level role. 

"From here on out," Webster said, "our job titles will be much, much simpler."