About a year ago, when I was in the throes of a massively-depressing job search, I got to go out to Seattle and talk to some company about a content marketing job. It was a fairly nascent company spun off from some other company, and if we’re being totally honest here, I really didn’t even understand what the job would be. I just needed a job. Sometimes, that’s life. So I’m in meetings and discussions with these people, and one of the things I remember clear as day is that one of the dudes sat down across from me and we start up the process of small talk, as most discussions commence. So within the first 30 seconds, I ask him, “Well, what’s your role here?” He looks me dead in the eye and he goes, “I’m the CGH.” I was like, “Oh, OK. (pause) What’s that?”
“Chief Growth Hacker.”
Lo and behold I go back to Minneapolis, where I was living at the time, and I look up this guy on LinkedIn. Sure enough: “Chief Growth Hacker.” I ultimately didn’t get that job — they were “interested,” but wanted me to relocate before they’d give me an offer, which seemed kinda intense because Seattle has a fairly high cost of living — but that stuck with me. I know “growth hacking” is a thing, and I know dozens of people on LinkedIn that use it to describe their job, but … sheesh, we need to have a conversation about this for a second.
In the past couple of months, I’ve seen a few other titles like this on LinkedIn, including:
- “Deep-Soul Storyteller”
- Brand Warrior
- Digital Overlord
- Chief Thinker
Let me unpack this for a second, if I may:
- LinkedIn is a very cluttered place, yes: By some measure, there are close to 300 million professionals on there. That’s like almost the entire U.S. population on one site. (Now, there’s absolutely nowhere near that many people active on the site; millions of people set up LinkedIn and are totally happy/not moving in their jobs and never check it; also it works better for certain industries than others.) But there are all kinds of studies out there saying that LinkedIn is a better referral engine than Facebook for certain kinds of businesses, so companies and would-be “thought leaders” (**raises hand**) flood the zone. There’s a ton of noise and clutter and honestly, most of it doesn’t even have to do with professional advancement (sad). So I understand that giving yourself a title like “Data Marketing Ninja” might make you stand out, and people probably do believe that.
- Old-School vs. New-School: There is not a single goddamn “old-school” business person who would see a job title like “Analytics Sensei” and not spit their coffee in your face laughing and guffawing at your bastard millennial sensibility. For better or worse, in most professions and in most cities right now, hiring managers still belong to this class of people. (That’s a generalization, yes.) If you slug yourself on LinkedIn as “Chief Thinker,” all you’re guaranteeing yourself is that the first five minutes of your interview will be awkward as shit when some gruff Baby Boomer is all up on you like, “So wait, what is a Chief Thinker?” People are comfortable with boxes they understand; that’s how stereotypes and generalizations about work and business get passed down. You can’t go all “Brand Warrior Guru” on an average HR person/hiring manager and expect them to get it. Fuck, if we’re being honest … recruiters barely know how to use LinkedIn properly as is. Don’t make them navigate your weird-ass job title.
- “But I’m Trying To Shake Up The Norm!” Amen, and we love you for it. Here’s the thing, though: do that with your performance, not your job title on LinkedIn.
- “I Do See Myself As A Ninja In My Role” You have very limited understanding of what a “ninja” is/was within historical context — and if you see parallels between yourself and a ninja, that’s fine. First thing: get a therapist. Second thing: ask therapist to prescribe meds. Third thing: change your LinkedIn profile to whatever HR at your current company has you slugged in the system. You may believe yourself a ninja, but payroll calls you “Account Manager II.”
I absolutely love LinkedIn and their open-forum publishing (although that seems to confuse a lot of people too), but people really need to keep themselves in check on there from time to time. This isn’t necessarily “Facebook For Professionals,” where you can be zany and tell your real story. You can do that, but do it with the content you publish and share. With the titles and what you’ve done, play that close to the vest. Until we have a generational shift and more people start calling themselves “Finance Wizards,” it’s probably unnecessary for you to be at the forefront of that arc.