Who cares about your job title – tell me what you DO!

Business card

“What do you do for a living?”

Whenever you meet new people, some variant of this question is bound to come up, and probably pretty early on in the conversation too.

And here’s something I’ve noticed: When you ask people what they do, most people will give you their job title. As in
“I’m an engineer” or “I’m a project manager” or “I’m a writer”. Or consultant, speaker, software developer, manager, contractor, freelancer, secretary, or…

But that’s not what you do – that’s just your title. It really says nothing about you or your job, so I always find myself asking follow-up questions. “So what kind of projects do you manage.”

Some titles DO say what you do. If you’re a pilot you fly planes. Teachers teach. Builders build. Coaches coach. But most titles are more ambiguous.

So think about it for a moment. How much does your job title really say about what you do? And what would be a better way of telling people what it is you do in just a few words.

Whenever people ask me, I always tell them that “I make people happy at work.” That is what I do.

This may look like just semantics, but it matters. See, your job title is never going to make you happy at work, but knowing what you do, may. Knowing your contribution, how you add value, how you make a difference – THAT can make you happy at work.

So now it’s your turn. Think of what it is you do in your job and put it a comment here.

45 thoughts on “Who cares about your job title – tell me what you DO!”

  1. For a long time I have been putting my job “role” on my resume. As apposed to my job “title”. For each of my Projects. The title no longer made sense. And the job “role” looks much better, anyway.

  2. my job title is “biomedical engineer” but what I do is…. I look at boobs all day long… ok?
    (I manage the photo database at a plastic surgery clinic)

  3. Currently, I’m temping in a multi-award-winning Tourist Information Centre.

    That is, I find answers to the hilariously random questions tourists ask, I sell a multitude of different tickets and souvenirs, liaise with local businesses and entertainment venues, and regularly use bits and pieces of several languages.

    My official job title? ‘Clerk’. :-p

    In my ongoing search for a more permanent job, I come across empty recruitment speak every day. It’s not just the job titles but the descriptions too. ‘A dynamic environment’, ‘should be motivated’, ‘will administrate activities contributing to the product’… 99% of job ads just leave me cold.

    What would entice me to apply would be a single jargon-free example of what a person in that job does.

  4. At my first job out of college, in a small children’s museum, I had the absurdly long title: “Administrative Assistant to the Director of Development and the Director of Education.”

    Somehow I acquired the nickname title “Random Chaos Girl” because I did a little bit of everything: wrote and designed the newsletter, taught bookmaking classes, researched grants, ran a yard sale, etc., etc.

    (Adam: the people on the front lines at the museum, which was what I started by doing, were called Visitor Services Managers. Your job sounds a lot like that.)

    The next job I had was a little more formal, so one of my buddies started calling me “Director of Entropy,” which is my favorite faux-title.

    Now I have the much-discussed (in my profession) title of Webmaster, with the addition of “/Internet Communication Specialist” — what I do think about what to do with the web and email for my employer and then put those ideas into action.

  5. I’m paid to break software. Or more accurately, to find and report the places where it’s already broken, but I find it more fulfilling to phrase it the less-accurate way. ;) I also like saying that I’m paid to criticize other people’s work. A friend who is also in software QA, describes her job as “professional bitch”. :D But really what I’m here for is to make software *better*.

  6. None of my job titles have ever indicated what I do. But when I say what I do: “I write policy for a bank”, that also usually elicits blank stares, too. Then I get to talk about my other work: community volunteering (design and assorted other work for a political campaign / setting up a community garden in my neighbourhood), which is much more interesting, more tangible and more appreciated, but unfortunately not renumerated.

    However, even the obvious titles don’t really convey the job. Yes teachers teach. But some of them teach adults, some of them teach children and some do research as well as teach while others, like my sister, take pride in teaching those deemed unteachable: she specializes in adolescent special needs education and teaches those kids afflicted with severe learning and behavioural disorders. Coaches will coach a subject and an audience. Builders build different things.

    “Consultant” is the worst title. My dad, a blue-collar oil worker turned rig manager, is a consultant. So are the legal researchers I worked alongside in a previous job. So are the IT guys who come into the bank for 6 month stints. There’s nothing in common about those jobs except the title.

  7. For 25 years I got people into shape physically and emotionally. I was a personal trainer. Now I get paid to motivate audiences based on that experience. Sometimes I do!

  8. Make what you do into a story. Everyone has a story to tell, and I never get tired of hearing them, which is why I’m a journalist. So, when someone asks you what you do, tell them a story that illustrates it. They’ll never forget you, and you’ll make whatever you do more interesting even to yourself!
    Anita Bruzzese
    http://www.45things.com

  9. So, I’m an internal communication manager. At first, I said it was internal PR. Which was fine in the corporate world, but not outside that. So I now tell people, when they ask, that I take what a company wants to say and turn it into what employees want to hear or something they will actually listen to. And I completely agree with Anita’s idea to turn it into a story – it works best with kids (and simple minds!).

  10. I surf the web all day while waiting for my computer to do stuff. Occasionally I change a few words and make it do some more stuff.

    I’m a “software engineer”, apparantly.

  11. I make it happen.

    Whatever it is, whatever my company needs, whether it’s in my job description or not, whether I am officially trained for it or not – I make it happen.

    I am a nuck non-passer.

  12. Funny you mention this Alex,
    Ever since I came to work for the US Government I never liked my job title because “Secretaries” are badly seen in Mexico, especially if you come from a private school, private uni, & you know “mid-upper class”.
    So at first I did not say I was Secretary to the Information Resource Officer, I called myself an Assistant, out of embarrassment really.
    Now whenever people ask me I tell them I work at the Public Affairs Section, with the IRO giving out information about the US or any Information needed to the Embassy community, however people find this explanation confusing and long so they actually stop asking questions and that is perfectly fine with me…
    If I were to tell people what I DO here, it would be: “Studying at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute on-line. Answer the phone when it occasionally rings and or just watch people pass in front of my station.” but that would be extremely boring to say so I just keep the long version of it.

  13. Great question! This is a problem I’ve always struggled with. So far, I still fail to get my parents to understand what I actually do, let alone total strangers.

    It takes a long description to really give people an idea, and half-way through, people lose interest.

    The fancy way (which makes me sound more important): I ensure the compliance of my company’s products to the regulatory authorities of the governments of various countries in Asia Pacific.

    The short (and lazy) way: I compile and submit documents to various governments.

    My actual job: People give me some documents, I put them in the right order, type a coverletter, and give them to someone else.

    I’m a “Regulatory Affairs Associate”.

    My job really is not a popular topic of conversation with people….. ;)

  14. Greg: Exactly. And what is your role?

    Peter: That’s hilarious. And I thought I had the best job in the world!

    Adam: “Clerk,” indeed.

    The other day a company asked me what they could do to their job ads to attract more applicants – and especially more happy applicants. I’ll pass your advice on to them.

    Sir Jorge: No please – tell us more. Much more :o)

    Elaine: Director of Entropy – now there’s a title. Even though it says little about what you do, it can at least inspire some guessing.

    David: Paid to break software – Bingo! Though professional bitch also has a nice ring to it :o) And remember, a successful test is not the one in which the software works but the one in which the software breaks!

    Kuri: Great point – even the obvious titles often aren’t.

    Craig: Fantastic! If you can motivate people to get in shape, you can motivate them do just about anything :o)

    And again, we see the difference between “I’m a personal trainer” and “I get people into shape physically and emotionally.” For my money, the second one is far more interesting.

    Anita: That is it exactly, it’s about telling a story (albeit a very short one) rather than just stating your title. Thanks!

    Fiona: That’s a tad cynical :o) But probably accurate in many cases…

    Massif: Yeah. I used to do that too :o)

    Hayden: That’s a great way to talk about your job. And Buck non-passer is hilarious. What’s your official title?

    Guilla: It’s funny how a lot of people look down on secretaries, when many of the secretaries I know are the lifeblood of the company.

    But your job doesn’t sound like the most exciting in the world…

    Matt: Excellent – though maybe a little wanky…

    Office Lady: I can see how this may be hard to explain. On the other hand, it’s crucial that your company’s products live up to regulations. f not the products could harm people or at the very least make the company vulnerable to legal action.

    Huddie: That is a great reframing of the “boss” role. Instead of “I’m in charge” you make it “I serve my people.” Have you read “Servant Leadership”?

  15. Legal Secretary. I have done everything from receptionist to paralegal. Maybe it’s just the industry but MAN do people anything they can to get out of doing work. I deal with that crap all day long.

  16. On the money as usual Alex. My title is Programme Manager; what I actually do is much more than that and I am lucky enough to have a role in which I do a wide range of things that I enjoy, lots of which have little to do with straight programme management – no wonder recruiters don’t know what to make of me.

    I’m thinking of putting a short profile on the back of my business card that actually tells what I do, not what HR calls me. Only problem is that my organisation may not be able to accommodate that; time for some innovative thinking on their part methinks…

  17. I think this is a great post!

    I, too, have one of those meaningless job titles. And while sometimes I think I’m nothing more than a key-punch monkey, I remember that in addition to punching keys I am also a problem-solver, dictionary, help desk, manager, friend and leader.

    Just as a job alone cannot fulfill all of our passions, neither can a job title fully express all it is that you do.

  18. My title is “Director of Happiness”. People always laugh and then ask, “no really, what do you do?”.

    When I’m not feeling chatty, I say I am a project manager. When I’ve got a bit more oomph, I say I do “air traffic control” coordinating the needs of our clients and the schedules of our staff to keep things moving, safe, and productive.

    I’ve had many other titles at different jobs I’ve had over the years, including “Director of User Experience”, and this one is the closest to what I do and who I am.

  19. Reminds me of a Dragnet episode where Joe Friday meets one of his partner’s neighbors.

    Joe: what is it you do?
    Neighbor: I’m a systems analyst.
    Joe: What does a systems analyst do?
    Neighbor: I analyse systems.

  20. Its interesting that you say that many jobs are more complex than their titles indicate but for teachers it is clear from their title what they do. I don’t agree. I know that teachers do more than teach. They often counsel students and parents. Coach sports. Write curriculum. Perform administrative tasks. Among other tasks.

  21. I’ll soon be Innovation Sociologist. Fairly unique title, at least according to Google. One of the reasons for me to choose it. Another one was it combines the two things I mostly work with: innovation and communities. What I actually do is:
    1. I imagine
    2. I meet people who imagine
    3. I try to understand how to increase the amount of imagination at work
    4. I share my insights with the world.

  22. My official job title is Director of Research and Development for Employment Advancement. But most people just call it unemployed for short. I was recently laid off (just before Xmas to boot). I find that my new job is a lot more stressful and difficult than my old job. Looking for a new position is exhausting work :( Hopefully something better awaits me. I look forward to the day when I can once again label myself with a meaningless title.

  23. Job titles are just titles; job descriptions do not always tell what you really do in your job. it is lacking, more often than not. But hey, who can complain? It’s doing your job well that metters, all the other blunders will soon fall into place, trust me on that.

  24. I am a teacher, but that doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

    What I really do is analyze people – students, other teachers, parents, authors – and use the analysis to get inside my student’s heads. I do very little teaching and spend most of my time “facilitating” and taking care of meaningless administrative tasks. I’m still new (this is my second year) and hope that as I come to understand the profession I’ll get to teach more than I do now.

    This job is nothing like what I expected. I can’t tell yet if that’s good or bad.

  25. I’ve told people before that I’m a supervisor of technical support if I want to keep it simple, but other times, I’ll tell them that the company offers a variety of roles for me so I like to call myself a professional juggler. I have what could be considered three or four full time jobs as my main roles, but since I don’t have that many hours in a week, I settle for doing most of them part of the time and living with the fact that I can’t do all of them in excellence.

    My outlook however, is that I’m thankful to have a job and a paycheck and that I work with nice people. That outlook makes the day much easier.

  26. Who cares!! I really hate my title, i hate titles. Most important is what you bring on the table.
    Loved your title, CHO
    LOL!!
    Now take a look at the other side – at the one who asks. Some folks ARE interested to know what your title is. I love Tim Ferriss’ response to such question from his “4 hour workweek” book – “I am drug dealer”. Who cares!?

    BTW, my title is 4-hour-workweek-searcher-in-charge

    Loved the topic, loved the post. In-your-face style!
    Subscribed! StumbledUpon too.

  27. I ran into this issue trying to explain to my family what I do. They didn’t get what a “PM” was. What they did get was when I said either that I “write books’ or that I ‘help our customers put the legos together.’

  28. THIS OLD GUY I KNOW, RETIRED, LOVES TO TELL ME “I AM AN ENGINEER” OR “I WAS AN ENGINEER”… WHO CARES AND I AM NOT IMPRESSED BUT I HAVE TO BE COURTEOUS. YOUR COMMENTS, THANKS.

  29. When it comes to the pros and cons of working at Teleperformance USA in Abilene, Texas; it becomes a three ring circus with only two visible acts and one invisible. I call it the good, bad and the ugly. There’s the professional ACT and the fun playful ACT and there is the “I am in control and can change the rules as I see fit ACT.” I have yet to physically see an EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK. Management will say one thing to your face, ex. (yellow and blue) but then turn around and send a supervisor to tell you as he is writing you up because of that yellow and blue that; YOU misunderstood, they meant (green). They tell you, you can not ask to change your schedule until you have worked there for at least 6 months, but they are allowed to make dark alley deals towards you if they know you are needing a schedule change for outside personal reasons and if you put in for this change yourself -it will be denied because it is not available but they we will give you kind of what you want “IF” you do this or that, then those days are available.
    Now if you say no to this deal because of the principle matter of this con job, you are now on the list, the one that says, ok this schedule change you want is now a known ISSUE, if you call in sick for this particular day in the future, it may lead to more then a write up, you may be automatically terminated. Now I am so paranoid that something will happen, sickness, or car wreck on this day because I was also told a doctor’s excuse will not be enough because again– it is a known issue. If I put in for a request to have this day off in the future (let’s say for a wedding or family reunion a few months down the road) and it is denied and I still miss that day, it is an automatic termination; when others (not on the list) would normally just get a write up.
    They tell you from day one, “You pay yourself here” in regards to clocking out for longer then you should for lunch or to go to the bathroom, and if all those few minutes add up to enough, you won’t make your differential. OK, I can see that, but then they turn around and tell you, you HAVE to make this time up, so exactly how are you in control of “PAYING YOURSELF”??? The saddest part of all this is I really like my job, I mean the part of it that is work, the sitting there on the phone with someone who has called in and probably been on hold for up to an hour and stuck with it because they had an issue and need my help to resolve it if at all possible. And it is the greatest feeling to hear the response of “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for fixing that. Without counting transfers to other departments, I do resolve over 90% of my shifts real trouble shooting issues, I score 100% on feed backs from the surveys, My monitor scores average over 90%. Where did I go wrong? I can’t believe that asking for a small schedule change would cause such an attitude that treats me like “a bastard child at a family reunion.” At one time during all this I did throw my hands up and say “Oh well, I can’t fight them and winner take all” I no more felt this and walked out for some air and still upset and defeated feeling, I vented this out to a co-worker when another around the corner over heard my story and came around and said, threaten to quit, I did, she explained her story of how she wanted to change her schedule (just because)– not for elder sick family reason’s like me, she just wanted too and they told her the same part of “how it was not available” She then said ok, then I quit and started walking off and the manager quickly said, “OH wait, wait, wait, here it is, it is available after all. This co worker has only been there for a little over a month.
    There really is no job security when you are being threatened of termination and it causes the environment around you to feel depressing and gloomy. I can’t just quit, I need the money even more now that I didn’t get that particular day off, I had to hire someone to do my family responsibility, which I am paying $12 a hour for a 12 hour shift and I make $9 a hour for a 8 hour shift that day. Thats $288.00 every 2 week paycheck- to be honest I am now looking for a second (part-time) job so I can pay that and I had to drop my insurance benefits. Like I said before, winner takes it all and sometimes more. You really have to be carefully of the old watch what my one hand is doing, so you dont see what the other one is doing.
    Call Center Agent

  30. i was looking under the title of how to become the sucessful person that i wanted to be, and it ended up landing on your website. there are a whole lot of job titles out there, but yet not enough to choose from. besides, where are the easy jobs? i do not want a very hard, hard, job to do, i want an easy job. why doesn’t society make at least some things easy for us? people do not offer jobs anymore where they are willing to sit there and train you, and allow you to learn at a pace. they just tell you if you are not experienced, we are not hiring you. this becomes UNFAIR, BECAUSE NO ONE WANTS TO BE OTHERSIDED ABOUT THE MATTER. THIS IS MY CRY TO YOU. SPREAD THE WORD

  31. One of the things I do (no jobtitle) is coming up with new job titles. Three things, amongst others, very important for a good jobtitle: some immediate understanding, igniting curiosity for further conversation, and it inspires you to do whatever you already wanted to do, for a living.
    I coach people finding theirs or invent new ones the world might need. Follow #newjobtitles on twitter and or start inventing your own.

  32. I have a new job title.
    It was inspired by an article I read about a Mom who is also an entrepreneur so she calls herself a MUMpreneur… which I think is quite cool.
    But since I am both, a full time mom and a translator I decided to call myself:

    MUMslator

    I might even make my own business cards ;-)
    I love it! :)

  33. Just coming back into the workforce- have been a stay at home mom for last 9 years. School teacher prior to that, and customer service prior to that. I enjoy writing, reading and encouraging others. I am very good at editing papers, and detail oriented. I am an excellent multi-tasker and I have initiative and follow through to complete the job with excellence. When applying for a job and they ask for my current job title, I am at a loss… the thought of listing the word “homemaker” makes me shudder….I am so much more than someone who cleans and makes a home inviting. I do a million things in a day including but not limited to: family alarm clock, meal planner and preparer, shopper, pet caregiver, family defender, nurse, behavior modification supervisor, author and role playing partner, personal tutor and project manager, home organizer, hygiene control and cleanliness supervisor, financial planner, budgeting specialist, activities coordinator, chauffeur,event planner, team cheerleader, baker, motivational speaker, disciplinarian, nutritionist, spiritual guide, home maintenance assistant, lawn beautification, decorator, laundry mistress, and so on and so on….HOW DO YOU Put that on a job application?

  34. Be proud of what you do. Anyone with a job is contributing in one way or another.

    One thing I cannot stand is when people alter their job to make it sound more professional, or less blue collar. It’s really sad that society has placed so much emphasis on what someone does for a living, that we now feel ashamed to speak about our jobs.

    I think that explains why we have a surplus of college and trade school graduates. Only problem is that now there aren’t enough jobs. So now the people who flooded the schools to avoid being labeled mediocre are serving drinks.

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