Title Matters

As I was having dinner with a former classmate the other day, he passed me his new business card, featuring his new title: Chief Marketing Officer. My first thought was that he got promoted, but my friend quickly corrected me. “I’m just a small boss at a small company in charge of two people in a marketing department,” he said, laughing.

All of sudden, he became the one with the most important title in our friend circle. However, his job duty and authority haven’t changed.

Title inflation has become common in big commercial cities such as Shanghai. Companies like to give employees fancy titles. Even a small company might have a couple of marketing managers and operating directors. Some people try every means to add titles on their business cards to make them look more important. Employer gives employees a big title instead of promoting them with a bigger payment.

There is a joke about the title inflation in China: a brick fell from the Great Wall and crushed six people – five general managers and one assistant manager. It shows the serious problem of title inflation in China.

Chinese are famous for saving face. Most people, especially white collar workers and businessmen are sensitive about their titles and reputation. We care a lot about titles when contacting with people. An ordinary salesmen with a title of regional sales manger could not only help him develop his business, but also gratify his vanity in daily life.

It goes without saying that title inflation serves a purpose. It makes people feel good about themselves and boosts their standing with others. But my point is that one’s ability has to fit one’s title. When the titles or positions of President and Managing Director don’t mean why they used to mean, that’s a good sign that title inflation has been blown out of proportion.

When a person represents an organization or a company, it’s crucial that he at least appears to be on par with others at the table. If not, it’s likely that he and his company will get burned. When the title is hollow, the individual and everyone will know it.

I once held a position with the title of senior research analyst. At one meeting, a client deluged me with tough questions about my background and skills. As a junior, I didn’t have a lot of experience, but the client expected something deeper from someone with “senior” title. It made for an awkward encounter, but fortunately, the real senior analyst rescued me from the disaster.

Title inflation is also bad for the next employer who will take the employee’s former title as a reference and improperly evaluate the person’s ability. This would interfere with productivity, lead misinterpretation, and what’s more, cause a crisis of credibility.

However, on the opposite to title inflation, sometimes employees do a lot of work and take a lot of responsibilities but don’t get the title they deserve. Unfortunately, in reality, titles have a lot to do with salaries and career progression.

Whether it’s title inflation or deflation, both impact one’s business and career. Human resources should give appropriate titles to employees based on their experience and background.

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