Recruiters: Stop With The Clever Job Titles

From 'guru' to 'ninja', is your quirkiness making you miss out on quality?


If you work in recruitment or have been on a job vacancy site in the last few years, you're bound to have come noticed job titles like 'customer service guru' or 'admin wizard', or maybe even 'human resources ninja'.

This has been another side-effect of the general appropriation of Silicon Valley habits into other industries. Apple first made the trend mainstream with their Apple store geniuses. Since then, these playful turns on traditional roles have spread across America.

Wired magazine has a weekly series called 'Is That A Real Job' where they examine the most recent in ridiculous job titles. It sounds unusual, but with roles like 'customer success manager' and 'growth hacker' being wildly used by employers and recruiters, it does beg the question... are these real jobs?

A customer success manager, for example, isn't as foreign as it sounds. While the role does incorporate some new elements from different roles, according to Holly Files, the senior vice president of customer success for Puppet Labs, it's nothing new. With more than 30 years under her belt in customer-facing roles, she points out that she basically did the same thing back when she was a boring old account manager.

So, if the roles are all basically variations of jobs that already exist, what is the point of changing the job titles? Like all rebranding efforts, it is to make the roles sound more exciting to entice more people into them, especially millennials. The prevalence of these titles has markedly increased in line with the uptick of millennials entering the workforce. Indeed, the jobs platform lists the 5 most wildly used 'weird job titles'; guru, genius, rockstar, wizard, and ninja. Rockstar and guru are the two most frequently used with a 19% increase in posts containing them over the past 2 years, while Ninja has seen a 35% decrease in use since March 2017.

However, Paul Wolfe, Indeed's Senior Vice President of HR, thinks it might be having a negative effect on recruitment. 'When you do your [job] search, you’re not going to put "ninja” in the search box,' he argues. This puts a very impractical roadblock in the way of people looking for a specific job they have experience in. If you have worked in Human Resources all your life and you're looking to switch companies, you're unlikely to type in the phrase 'time ninja' - an actual term currently being used to advertise a role in the field.

Not saying the titles aren't fun or that they don't serve some purpose. 'Companies use these to express what their culture is like,' Wolfe continues, 'but there are other ways to get that point out.' And he's right, there are a number of ways you could advertise a role in place of a silly job title. Methods ranging from fun videos on job sites to less traditional descriptions of what the office culture is like would all have similar, if not a better, effect.

Yet, these fun job titles are doing more than just hindering the experienced from discovering vacancies. These job titles are unconsciously dissuading women, minorities and people over the age of 40 from applying for roles they are perfectly qualified for. Research from AI startup, Textio, showed that these groups are less likely to apply for a job if it has the word genius in the title. 'These examples are coded to select for white men,' explains Kieran Snyder, the co-founder, and CEO of Textio. When the company eventually took out the language from their site, one of their customers, Nvidia, reported a 250% increase in women applying for roles.

This use of language has an even more dramatic effect on older applicants as ageism is still a serious and largely ignored social issue. Snyder elaborates, 'They assert a really strong commitment to hiring women or veterans or people of color, but their use of language indicates that they are actively discriminating against older candidates'. Even more puzzling yet is, companies looking for more experienced staff to fill roles will still use job descriptions that only attract the young.

Across the board, these job titles harm the recruitment of quality candidates. Australian tech company, Atlassian, revealed in a recent diversity report that it had also noticed similar changes ever since it changed its language. They had a massive bump in underrepresented minorities (13.1%) and over a third of their new hires since August 2017 have been women.

So whether you are using a quirky job title as a bit of fun or you are just following the market trends in adopting these monikers, you have to consider what your motives are. Are you unconsciously excluding massive chunks of society from applying? If so, maybe it's time you go back to more boring but more inclusive descriptions.

Town hall

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