The other day I was on the train and I was asked to show my ticket, not by a Ticket Inspector (which describes what she was doing) but by a woman with ‘Passenger Host’ on her name badge. She certainly didn’t fit my idea of a host – there wasn’t a mushroom vol-au-vent in sight – but it was obviously meant to make me feel cared for; something the rail company in question is spectacularly failing to do right now.
Whenever I think about job titles (which is not often) there are two titles that come to mind. A woman I’ve respected and admired from afar for several years describes herself on her business website as ‘Chief Muckety Muck’. Muckety Muck is defined in the dictionary as ‘an important and often arrogant [so self-important] person’. I know the person concerned is using the title with her tongue very firmly in her cheek so I’m wholly comfortable with it and her.
The other job title sticks in my mind for a different reason – it makes me cringe because I don’t think the title-holder is using it in a playful way. I have also respected him from afar for several years but not his [self-selected?] job title – Driver of Ideas. I don’t understand what it’s trying to achieve – unless it’s meant to sound a bit, er… edgy. Don’t we all sort of ‘drive ideas’ in our, possibly more mundane, roles inside and outside of our jobs?
Moving from the very specific to the more general, take a job title that includes the word ‘executive’ – what does that suggest? Throughout my career I’ve understood that a job title with executive in it (other than Chief Executive of course) is likely to be badly paid and of relatively low status; that the inclusion of the e-word is intended to make the post-holder feel more important to compensate for the terms and conditions. The dictionary definition of executive is associated with power and responsibility – which is maybe why it looks good on a CV when read by people who have never been executives themselves. And might people value the information they receive from an ‘executive’ more than if they receive it from an ‘adviser’?
Another important sounding, but vague, title is ‘consultant’. I’ve always associated it with people who are between jobs (the actor’s euphemism for being unemployed) but don’t want to admit this publicly. It’s usually coupled with something like ‘I’m currently looking for new projects/ challenges’ to muddy the water even further.
Coach is a role I’ve never understood and this may be because it means different things in different contexts (and I don’t mean talking about a vehicle with four wheels and lots of seats). So there are job coaches, sports coaches, life coaches and lots of other kinds no doubt. And how does a coach differ from a mentor or a counsellor? I imagine it’s to do with the relationship with the person being coached but I’m not sure – I probably need an adviser to put me straight on this.
Which brings me to further confusion – around the role of an ‘adviser’ (which can also be spelt as ‘advisor’ to complicate things further). While we’re here, have you heard about SPADs – in different contexts they can be ‘Special Political Advisers’ or ‘Signals Passed at Danger’ (but don’t get me started on confusing acronyms).
Back to advisers and I’m still confused because I’m not sure about the difference between advice and guidance (although my mental image of a guide is quite different). This is not unlike the problem I once had with the difference between ‘helping’ someone and ‘supporting’ them. Then a colleague suggested that helping someone implies there’s a solution to their problem and you’re going to find it for them. In comparison, when supporting someone, they will find the solution and you’ll just be doing your best to give them a nudge in the right direction. So support is more empowering.
This all begs the question as to what a job title is meant to achieve. It is intended to look good on a business card, website, or even on a name badge? It is meant to describe what the role involves – to the post-holder, to their colleagues, or to clients (or all three if that’s possible)? Or is it something more subtle – to create an impression (however inaccurate) about the post-holder?
All advice or guidance welcomed!