No one runs an ad for "spy." Spies don’t walk
around with business cards identifying their secret role. Likewise, the attorney who brings in the most business
to her law firm may be called “the rainmaker” internally, but outside the firm,
she may be officially branded as a Senior Partner or Business Development Officer. If prospective clients know the person
calling on them is the designated Super-Saleswoman, they may not be as
susceptible to her sales pitch. People
renowned within their organization as the mentor (the go-to person for help)
usually don’t carry official titles of “guru” or “teacher” even though that may
be their most important actual function. No, their vital role as the unofficial historian, political counselor or source of legacy wisdom may be disguised under the bland title of "Analyst IV."
recruiters (commonly termed “headhunters”) don’t advertise their roles as
talent-pirates, either. Despite the simple fact
that they may be used as cut-outs by HungryCo to steal top talent from FatFirm, they are too smart to identify their positions as personnel
hijackers. Not to depreciate their
ethics or to criticize their work, of course, because they play an important
part in keeping the labor market competitive, but who would openly welcome a "raider" to pillage their valuables?
The recruitment sector has inspired at least one memorable new
title: sourcer… one who locates
pools of talent to be fished by recruiters. That's a previously hidden job that now holds a specific name.
Sometimes, if you
make the mistake of clearly publicly identifying a valuable worker with a glamorous title, it
can backfire on you. I once had a friend
titled VP Creativity, so (a) everyone expected golden ideas to flow in a
continual stream from him and (b) he was recruited away pretty soon by a rival
organization impressed by his title.
The smart employer hides their talent from the view of jealous competitors. Makes sense to use general titles that mask essential staff rather
than call attention to key contributors and attract predators looking to hire away
the very people who make your enterprise successful. Hiding the true nature of the job from outsiders can make good business sense.
Of course, a glamorous title can be very inexpensive compared to cash compensation, even if it doesn't truly explain the work being done. It used to be a joke that any exempt employee at a bank would carry the title of vice-president; but sometimes today they won't even meet the new professional exemption standard. Status symbols will not pay your bills, so most people will accept a modest or obscure job title if it comes with impressive pay. In these troubled economic times, however, one is more likely to experience title escalation in lieu of income. That is not a bad trade-off if you have already decided to leave, of course. A manager denied a raise but offered a compromise consolation prize of being up-titled (without a promotional increase) to director then has a much better chance of capturing a vice-president job at a peer enterprise.
Official titles don't always clearly identify the content of the work performed. Hybrid positions created due to budget pressures rarely hold labels that accurately describe their real content. When you have an accountant straddling an unrelated marketing function, for example, the job usually cannot be benchmarked for survey input nor credibly reviewed for competitiveness; then, the value may be hidden, as well. Other hidden jobs can confuse outsiders while insiders find their value to be quite obvious despite the disguise. Sometimes that may be all the competitive advantage you need to survive or prevail.
What interesting hidden jobs have you seen?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
Creative Commons Photo "Playing Hide N Seek" by webhamster