Job Title Inflation Continues

What title would you put on your business card if you could pick any one you liked? I’d pick “Project Janitor,” for myself because my job so often involves helping clients clean up problems and get projects back on track. Project manager job titles (and many other roles!) have been co-opted to new heights. Go to any PMI meeting and gather a few business cards. You’ll see quite a range of titles, some of which don’t quite seem to fit the maturity level of the holder.

Some folks may inflate their job title to appear more skilled or valuable. Companies have been known to offer fancy job titles in lieu of pay raises or real promotions. Whatever the reason, hiring organizations cannot rely on a previous job title to screen applicants. Last year, I offered a guest post, “What’s in a name—job title inflation hits project management,” that received many supportive comments. The trend continues….

It is not just in the world of project management, either. I recently saw this post from Sharlyn Lauby, suggesting that creative bartenders using farmer’s market ingredients should call themselves, “bar chefs.” Hmmm. “The Economist” in their Too Many Chiefs article reports that America’s International Association of Administrative Professionals—formerly the National Secretaries Association—has more than 500 approved job-titles, ranging from front-office coordinator to electronic-document specialist. Paperboys have become “media distribution officers.” There are even terms to describe the process of job title inflation:  “uptitling” and “title-fluffing!”

I have seen many people asking for help on titles – as the question posed on that asks:  what the “typical job titles were for those who manage projects.” In reviewing recent employment applications to Cognitive Technologies, we have seen:

  • Project Associate
  • Associate Project Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Project Coordinator
  • Sr. Project Manager
  • Sr. Schedule Manager
  • Sr. Project Scheduler
  • Project Lead
  • PMO Project Lead
  • PMO Director
  • PMO Project Manager
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Chief Project Manager (CPM) – my favorite!
  • VP, Project Management
  • Client Servicing PM
  • Technical Project Manager
  • Technical Project Lead
  • Business Project Manager
  • Business Project Lead
  • Program Manager
  • Sr. Program Manager

And the list goes on!!!

The Lesson: Screen Resumes for Experience, not Titles
Project management requires a range of skills from technical proficiency to leadership. Project managers must be capable of understanding a broad vision and supervising detail-specific execution. In a world of self-managing teams, skills as a coach and mentor are also important. When I review a resume on candidates for a project management position, I look for several key indicators:

  1. Demonstrated commitment to the profession of project management through training, certifications, and memberships.
  2. Willingness to work hard, as reflected in selecting a tough university (and graduating), holding multiple jobs to make ends meet early in a career  or during school – what Harvard Business Review calls pay-to-play skills, and gradually increasing responsibility within previous companies.
  3. Leadership experience in organizations that demonstrate a willingness to step up and be counted.
  4. Project management or team leadership that requires more involvement than just tracking the work of others.
  5. Demonstrated knowledge of PM tools beyond Gantt charts and PowerPoint slides.
  6. Previous experience working directly with customers.
  7. Understanding of why projects and process decisions were made, not just what or how.
  8. Also, consider the size of the projects previously managed, their complexity and the individual’s budget responsibility.

Sometimes it is just looking for basic skills and talents that people have and can apply to the job – beyond the titles, training, and certifications on the resume.  I wrote a post about staffing and finding the best staff last September (2010) which speaks to finding resumes and people – but did not address how to scrutinize their background.  However, you may want to read my thoughts in, “Staffing Projects for Success: Back to The Basics” by Cognitive Technologies – (free registration required).

So what are your thoughts on Job Titles?  Are you looking for the “Project Janitor” or something else?

One Response to “Job Title Inflation Continues”

  1. Raphael Says:

    The title has to contain at least some kind of “manager”, else it can’t be a good job and you could aswell become a toilet cleaner -> toilet manager.

    I totally agree on your blogpost.

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