Does Your Job Title Matter?
A little over 3 years ago I started my role in leading a small fire protection group. It is a subset of up to 3 people within a multi-discipline engineering consulting firm.
The first week there I asked my boss about what my title should be.
He asked what I wanted it to be, largely indifferent to the outcome.
If it mattered to me, he said, I should think about it and choose what I feel is right.
A myriad of thoughts came to mind. A buddy of mine was just promoted to “Director of Fire Protection Services,” which I liked and sounded fancy.
“Team Leader”? Sounded too self-appointed (and too Star-Trek-ian).
Finding a Title
I asked my wife and it spawned a healthy discussion.
A job title should relate to the actual work accomplished so that clients can relate. Sure, that part is easy.
Maybe a fancy job title could impact future roles. Maybe a fancy one would make mom proud.
After thinking about it for some time I kept asking - does the job title really even matter?
I came to this role from a 500+ person company with an assortment of titles and even levels within each title.
At the new small company – what did the title even matter? I’d be doing design, engineering review, business development, project management, and low-level management. The work wouldn’t change whichever title I chose.
Sorry, I Still Get Carded
It was around that time, just six years into the industry, that a recruiter approached me. It was for a Senior Fire Protection Engineer position.
The recruiter said I paired up exactly with the role. He expressed disbelief when I wasn’t interested in the role, considering I was just an Engineer at that time. [side note: I’m somewhat convinced recruiters will say anything to set up a job interview.]
Why even have the term “Senior” in a job title if it is even possible for someone 6-years into the industry to have a crack at it?
I am not saying I would have gotten the job – I surely would not have – but to even suggest a 29-year old could be a “Senior” Engineer completely degrades the meaning of the term Senior.
Perhaps in large organizations the job title is the measure of prestige and responsibility. Perhaps it carries more weight where there is little else to distinguish thousands of employees.
But for the rest of the world? The small consultants & contractors? I can’t see it carrying much meaning, or at least nowhere near the importance of the role itself.
Your role in fire protection is so much bigger than your job title.
Whether you're an intern, engineer, manager, designer, or leader of the multi-hundred-person firm - you play an important role in protecting people and structures from major loss.
Your hands create the safety we want to see in the world.
That is far more important than your title.
Consider your role and your contribution to the world beyond the job title and I promise your work will be more rewarding.
So where did I end up with my new job title?
I chose “International Director of Fire Protection and Life Safety Design & Consulting Services”.
…just kidding, I stuck with “Fire Protection Engineer”.
What About You?
Where do you stand on job titles? Am I on an island, or have you had similar thoughts yourself?
I'm interested in your take - post your thoughts here.
p.s. This blog covers weekly takeaways in my experience as a Fire Protection Engineer. Some are thoughts on career while others are real-world technical applications. If you’ve found this interesting, consider sending to a friend.
7/31/2019 11:24:11 am
I tend to agree that in smaller firms, the job title is almost irrelevant. However, the larger the company the more weight it carries. A few years back, when I was applying to jobs I was given offer letters with varying titles from 'senior engineer" to "engineering specialist" to just plain old "engineer". The positions I applied to were all identical. Ever since then I don't put much into a person's title.
7/31/2019 11:35:53 am
I couldn't agree with this post more. When I was younger, I thought titles mattered, but now that I'm older, I really don't care about titles. My business card and email signature doesn't have any title listed. When dealing with other people, all I care about is if the person I'm dealing with is the one I need to talk to. There is nothing worse than contacting an "International Director of Fire Protection", when they are 3 management levels above the guy that actually has the answers you need.
7/31/2019 01:34:29 pm
I have though about my title over the years. I do construction fire inspections through the building department. So I am titled Building Inspector Specialist/Fire. Silly. Most people want to know why I don't work for the fire department. The way our City is made up our budget is created by fees or from the general fund. The fire department is typically funded through the general fund. The building department is covered by permit fees. So it was an easy way to get the inspections done, not cost it to the general fund and be cost covering.
7/31/2019 01:38:34 pm
After a few years in the Marine Corps where rank obviously is more important than a title other than two positions, I spent several decades in the Fire Service. For many title mattered once earned but in our department the respect that should have come with the rank from subordinates and even some superiors was not present. Some of the ranks were not the same as the national "norm" so for that title mattered more than rank. A Battalion Chief is pretty much the same nationwide but if you call it something else you tend to get raised eyebrows while teaching or presenting during conferences. Title and rank didn't matter all that much to me because in a lot of things I worked along side the rank and file because I liked what we did and working with my teams. On emergency scenes however, title or rank matters. It seems to lend credibility to the person in charge which matters a lot in those instances. I expected to be called "Chief" even if it was Dan during lunch. In my new world, Doctor seems to matter to many and it is a hard earned title so it is not trivial. The attitude held by some in both my past and current worlds is where the issue comes to play.
7/31/2019 02:14:23 pm
Dear sir, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments as to titles. I have 46 years of fire protection experience as a sprinkler systems designer. I am 66 and I find it hard to find a job because of my age. Recruiters, as you have mentioned , are behind all of these titles as it's an easier sell to their clients. Clients these days are looking for 29 year olds with 40 years of experience. lol.
7/31/2019 09:02:05 pm
I am just a fire sprinkler fitter/inspector. I've been in the trade 25 years and have held several positions both in the field and the office.
8/5/2019 03:22:35 pm
Very well said Doug. You hit the nail on the sprinkler head.
Interesting read. I feel Titles are needed for business development with younger generation of engineers and with non-technical project managers.
8/1/2019 09:55:45 pm
I found this entertaining article, Since I have lived and work in Asia for a number of years, I was taught a trick. Have NO TITLE on your card get some interesting responses and some of the end users are always on guard. I really do not think 6 years is a senior person, 12-15 is more appropriate, however everyone wants that “Senior” Title. (Go Figure)
8/6/2019 08:15:07 am
Interesting takes on this subject. I like Sean's especially since I fit in that category! I personally have thought about this a lot! Maybe too much, because seems like younger folks these days "need" a title to affirm themselves, to be considered "successful". I have been in fire sprinkler design for 37 years. I am currently "Design Manager" at my company (among many other things) but choose not to include a title on any of my correspondence. Right or wrong, good or bad, that's just the way I prefer it. I feel like a title sometimes paints us into a corner and I agree many people with a title can't live up to it or have not earned it anyway! So I have decided that my title should be "Vice President In Charge of Really Important Stuff". Hopefully some day I will even make president!
8/7/2019 03:20:29 pm
Titles mean nothing to me.
Comments are closed.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About