“So what do you do for work?”
Whether you’re on an awkward first date, at a party or even at a networking event, if you work in SEO then this has got to be amongst your top 10 dreaded questions.
Whilst the work we do may be complex and challenging, the fact is if a neuroscientist can explain the work they do, then there is no excuse for us as an industry to not be able to put it simply to people.
So this blog is going to cover how we define ourselves – but not in an inspirational sunset picture with rubbish font and motivational statement kind of way.
Our sector is a service industry; if we can’t explain the role we have in delivering that service then how can we expect anyone to really buy into it? The start of this has got to be what goes on our LinkedIn profile, business cards & email signatures, and that is our job titles.
This isn’t about being a kill-joy or stopping a business from having a personality. As a comparatively new industry, we have the opportunity to grow and shape itself. This means everyone has a part to play in earning the image we want to present.
Let’s shape the industry into one that earns respect & attention when we speak, not one where we have to tackle the perception our work is just memes’. Our job titles need to support the day to day life of your role, so before picking a title think- What would a day in the life of a digital marketing superstar-ninja-hero really look like?
Pick your nouns wisely…
Are you skilled in the Japanese art of ninjutsu?
If the answer’s no, then sorry but you’re not a ninja.
Or perhaps you’re a Hindu spiritual teacher?
Odds are no, which means you’re not a Guru either.
Do you recreate Led Zepplin’s greatest hits whilst writing meta descriptions?
Not a rock star.
It’s difficult to pick a noun for a job title that is truly reflective of most roles in the digital marketing sector. There’s a reluctance to describe yourself as a consultant when you’re implementing the work you’re recommending too, whilst just calling yourself a ‘marketer’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
So how do you solve this? It’s important to work alongside your boss in defining what your title really is. One way to do this is to consider defining your role by outcomes and what you achieve, rather than the actions you take. If the results of your work are more tangible to an outsider than the processes undertaken, then this can be the easiest way of expressing your job role to others.
Levels, Levels, Levels
Traditionally an executive job role would refer to someone who is ultimately responsible for the project or organisation, yet in marketing it is often the inverse and an entry level job into the industry. The levels and seniority in your job title may not correlate with other industries or employers. At Facebook, employees are intentionally given lower titles than the industry standard, in order to ensure they are in a position relative to their performance within the company, rather than against the whole industry. This means that long-standing employees are not overlooked when experienced, new staff are bought in.
Without a well thought out, disciplined process for titles and promotions, your employees will become obsessed with the resulting inequalities. If you structure things properly, nobody other than you will spend much time thinking about titles other than Employee of the month.
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing about Hard Things
This is difficult to overcome as an issue, as most importantly the seniority in your job title needs to be relevant to the others in your business as well as the outside world. A bit of a cheat, but the easiest way around this is to make sure you clarify the title in a description of your job, whether that’s a CV or LinkedIn, you need to justify how the title differentiates you from other employees and what you did to earn it.
Why does all this matter?
Benefits to Employees
Primarily, a job title helps an employee to understand their place within the business- their responsibilities, who they report to, how their career could progress. Terminology, such as a Guru, can be difficult for an employee to place relative to a Ninja. It also helps to be comparable to other departments in your business, be it between an SEO and Social department or across Marketing and Legal.
A clear job title is also comparable across other firms which can be useful for when an employee is looking to move roles. If you’re trying to map a horizontal move to another firm, or a promotion at a new agency then the ability to match your job title to an equivalent at a new role is infinitely harder. If you’re a Digital Prophet at AOL (this is an actual thing) then what would that make you at MSN?
To understand what it is you were doing in your Digital Prophet role the future employer is going to have to look a lot deeper at your CV and the information you’ve provided in it.
In theory, not a problem. In practice, the average employer spends 6 seconds looking at your CV for the first time before deciding if you’re worth a closer look. Those 6 seconds focus on your name, current company, previous employment dates and education; that’s not a lot of time left to deciphering that quirky job title of yours. When 34% of employer’s have noted an employee lying about a job title on their CV, the extent to which this is a problem becomes apparent. This shows that many employees are feeling like the title they hold could hinder their chance of employment, and not fully represent the work that they do.
Benefits to your Business
Having one person in your organisation responsible for client relationships can be useful. Whether that’s an Account Manager or a consultant for each client, building a personal relationship with clients is ideal.
But, what if they phone the office and their main point of contact is out? If your structure is clear to someone outside of your firm, then they’ll know exactly who they want to speak to. Being transferred away from the person they regularly communicate with and handed over to a Director of First Impressions isn’t going to fill them with confidence.
There are so many decision-makers who simply don’t understand the digital marketing sector at present, so it is up to us to make it relatable to the sectors that they’re used to working with:
How to do this in practice?
- Is this job title relatable?
- Does it reflect the reality of what I actually do?
- Who else do I know with this job title?
As an employee, don’t be afraid to push back on your job title and ask the difficult questions about why it’s been chosen. If it doesn’t relate to the company culture, and is something you’d be reluctant to tell your mates down the pub then there’s not a lot of benefit in being quirky. Think about your own home, if you needed a builder would you really choose to hire a ‘brick guru’? When you’re looking to hire an expert, it can be difficult to work out who really is knowledgeable, and as a job title is one of the first impressions made, it is crucial to someone’s purchase decision.
A good job title is a small, but very important, part of the process of making our industry mature. Rather than earning points for style or personality, it will help build trust with those looking to invest large budgets in a grown up marketing agency.