Why job titles matter more than (almost) anything else

By February 15, 2016 No Comments

In contrast to the world of mainstream music, where the artists are put up on a pedestal to be worshipped by fans, in hardcore there’s no difference between the guys/girls on stage and the people in the crowd– we’re all on equal footing, and if someone tries to act like a rockstar they get put in their place with the quickness.

This “flatness” is one of my favorite parts of punk/hardcore culture, but it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword in that it can make us blind to the times when hierarchy DOES exist. Hardcore might be flat, but the rest of the world usually isn’t.

In the beginning of my career I never really gave a shit about job titles and hierarchy. Who cares? “No gods, no masters,” right?? I just kind of rolled my eyes and wrote that stuff off as meaningless crap, telling myself that the only things that really matter are your ideas and work ethic.

I didn’t know the difference between a Manager and VP and a Director and I didn’t care. BIG MISTAKE!! I could have shaved several years off of my career advancement if I wasn’t so ignorant about titles (and too arrogant to think that I needed to learn about them).

I know this stuff seems like a bunch of corporate bs, and to some extent it is. But I’ll give you a couple good reasons why you should care: $388,000. That’s how much a Director at Amazon makes. Or $145,000, the average salary of a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft. Wanna make that kind of cash? Then you need to understand how the game is played. And even if you don’t want to work at a big company, this is still mission-critical knowledge.

You might think job titles are bunk, but the reality is that they matter a LOT. In fact, aside from networking they’re probably the single most important part of building the career that you want.

Now that I (hopefully) have your attention, here’s what you need to know in order to game the system and use job titles to your advantage!

corporate cheat sheet copy

In order to climb the ladder, first you need to know what steps are on it. I actually didn’t know all this until my late 20s, so don’t feel bad if it’s new to you. Nobody tells you this shit.

The above is a pretty typical org chart, but note that every company is different so exceptions will definitely apply. I’m painting with broad strokes here and I encourage you to investigate specifics on your own.

Let’s say that this is the marketing department (or in corporate speak “marketing org”) at a big company.

You’ll start out at the bottom as “Marketing Specialist” or something like that, then get promoted to “Marketing Manager” after a few years. There’s a relatively large number of these jobs— for example at Abercrombie & Fitch there were around 50 people in marketing at the management/entry level when I worked there (out of around 1200 people in total at the corporate home office). Expect to make $50-150k a year while you are in this band.

Bust your ass as a Manager and you might make it to the Exec level. There are a lot fewer of these jobs— at Abercrombie there were only 2-3 Directors in marketing. It usually takes a long time (~10 years) to work your way up to Director, and the competition can be fierce. Directors make $100-500k a year.

I’ll keep the rest of this short, since it won’t directly affect you at the start of your career— just know that VPs report to Senior VPs/Executive VPs who report to “C-level execs” like CMOs (Chief Marketing Officer) and CFOs (Chief Financial Officer) who report to the CEO. And the CEO reports to the Board Of Directors who (in theory, at least) act on behalf of the shareholders.

So what does all this mean for you?? Why should you care? Here’s how to use this corporate shit to your advantage:


The main thing you need to understand is proper etiquette. Execs (Director and up) are REALLY busy people, so trying to get 30-60 minutes of their time is kind of a big ask. Not that you shouldn’t ask, just be aware of what you’re asking for and make VERY sure that you’re not wasting their time. Execs usually have assistants and it’s kind of poor form to bypass them, so be careful about calling/emailing an exec directly.

For example, when I was a product development consultant, I was fortunate enough to work pretty closely with several Directors at Procter & Gamble (P&G own gigantic consumer brands like Tide, Febreze, Swiffer, and made $19 billion in 2015). But since I didn’t understand the way corporate org structures work, I didn’t really get that a Director at a company the size of P&G is what you might call “a big deal,” and probably made myself look like a rookie by doing dumb shit like emailing them directly rather than going through their assistants.

evangelist guru

It is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your career that you have the right job title. Why? Because you only get one chance to make a first impression, and the wrong title makes it likely that the first impression will be “I’m not really sure what this person does.” Which is BAD BAD NEWS!

Have you ever seen titles like “Innovation Visionary” or “Business Systems Evangelist” and wondered “wtf does THAT person do??” Well, that’s what everybody thinks when they see those titles.

Weird or unintuitive titles can be the kiss of death when job-hunting. Pretend you’re a hiring manager: who are you going to be more interested in, the “Innovation Visionary” or the “Sr Product Manager”?

The general rule is, do everything you can to get a job with a title that appears on the “cheat sheet” above. You want people to immediately understand what you do and how it adds value to the business as soon as they see your job title. If you only take ONE THING away from this article, it should be this!

If you have to explain your job to people you’ve already lost, because instead of talking about why you are an awesome candidate, you’re spending the whole time just describing your job. And that’s assuming you even get a chance to tell them- if they’re just looking at your resume, you won’t have that opportunity and your resume is probably going to the bottom of the pile.

For better or worse, people will primarily assess you by your job titles (unless they’ve worked with you). For example if your title has the word “marketing” in it, people will usually assume that you understand marketing. It’s that simple!

To convince people that I know what I’m doing in terms of marketing all I need to say is “I did marketing for Abercrombie.” People will very rarely ask about the details of your work, they just take the title at face value.

This is SUPER IMPORTANT to keep in mind when you’re looking for jobs. You need to look at the job’s title just as much as (if not more than) the job description. There will be jobs where the description is right but the title isn’t, and in my opinion that’s usually a dealbreaker.

Since people will judge your ability primarily by title, having the wrong title on your resume can set your career back by years so don’t fuck it up!


Last but DEFINITELY not least, you should think about your resume as a story. Like a story that builds from the opening scene to the big finale, you want to your resume show an upward trajectory of steady growth. Each entry on your resume should either show an improvement in either title or company. For example, going from Sr Manager to Director, or going from Sr Manager at a lesser-known company to Sr Manager at a prestigious company.

A perfect example of this from the music world is my friend Blasko, whose career trajectory as a bassist goes like this: first Cryptic Slaughter, then Danzig, then Rob Zombie and finally Ozzy Osbourne. Every move is a very clear level-up. (Watch this interview with him and you’ll understand that this didn’t happen by accident)

We can’t all be rockstars like Blasko, but you should try to create a similar upward trajectory.

Essentially what you’re doing here is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: If people perceive you as someone who’s going places, they’ll treat you as such.

Let’s be real: titles shouldn’t matter. We should all be judged by our skills, ideas, and work ethic. But that’s not the world we live in— we live in a world in which your title usually matters as much or more than those things.

But instead of getting pissed about how much job titles matter, use it to your advantage. Make sure that the titles on your resume “prove” that you have the skills you want people to think you have, and be strategic about changing jobs so that your resume shows a steady, upward trajectory.

Leave a Reply