Friday, February 10, 2012

What’s In a Job Title?

Every semester without fail, my classmates and I begin each new graduate course in much the same way  by taking turns sharing information about our professional backgrounds as they relate to that particular class and the master’s program as a whole. While this is a helpful and appropriate way for our professors to get to know us, I’ve also recently found myself in social situations where friends and relatives are instantly judged, for better or worse, primarily on the basis of their job titles and professional roles.

Though someone’s chosen career path is often a good reflection of her interests, talents and ambitions, judging someone’s worth primary on the basis of an arbitrary title or job position strikes me as being undoubtedly short-sighted. For one thing, in today’s economy, many skilled and determined people are either unemployed or underemployed at best. Furthermore, I’ve come to know plenty of individuals who may boast lofty titles and seemingly admirable qualifications when it comes to the work world, but who have demonstrated an incredible immaturity and cluelessness when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

Someone's profession is only one piece of the puzzle defining who they really are.
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As a case in point, while some of those I interacted with on Capitol Hill and elsewhere surely relished their high-ranking positions, they were also very often the first to treat their employees dismally, suffer severe dysfunction in their marriages, and battle ongoing problems like alcohol abuse. Are these the people we as a society want to uphold as having achieved an ideal we should all strive toward? On the flipside, I’ve known others, including lawyers and lobbyists, who have been far too quickly pigeonholed by their peers into fitting the classic stereotypes of their professions, which couldn’t be farther from the truth in these particular cases.

In the end, I believe that someone’s professional status is only a single puzzle piece representing who he or she really is. That's why, when I meet someone new rather than automatically jumping to the old standby, “And what do you do?”  I try to focus on posing questions and engaging in a conversation that will help me really get to know the person as a whole. By trying to be less quick to judge, I often find that it’s those whose surface qualifications may not be the most prestigious who actually have the most compelling stories and inspiring ambitions to share, although those ambitions may fall outside the realm of a person’s daily 9-to-5 activities.

What do you think? Is it accurate to judge someone’s character based largely upon his or her professional identity, or is this something we as a society have a tendency to rely upon too heavily? 


  1. I believe that a career is only part of a person's identity. While it is true that we spend the better portion of our days/lives working, it does not make up the majority of our personalities. Job titles mean something, but they don't mean everything.
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  2. I get really bummed when people attach any kind of anything to someone because of their job or career.
    Like you said with this economy, it doesn't always allow for one to be selective when getting a job.

    I believe that everyone is an individual and that no one thing about you defines You, especially not a job choice. Great post, Heather.

  3. I say a big fat NO! Job titles in different companies mean different things. My husband is just "Sales" but he is so much more that that. And it's not door to door sales or anything like that. "Sales" just doesn't describe any of the guys at his company.

    Jayme @ Her Late Night Cravings

  4. unfortunately our job title often times defines us in the eyes of others.

    Sure I am a daycare provider, but I am so much more!!!

  5. Heather, I couldn't agree more with your post. It is absolutely true that people will judge someone based on their career, job title, and couple with their age. I don't think a job or career should define a person and agree it is short sighted to deem a person 1 way or another. My current job and profession is making it hard to transition into something different...I wish you were a hiring manager and you could see I am so much more than my current "job."

  6. Agreed! Yes, my title is "Music Teacher". I also teach reading resource, direct a band and choir, coach speech team, help make sure music happens at school Masses, and direct a musical. No two word title can ever sum up what I am responsible for on a daily basis!

  7. Just like the saying "Never judge a book by its cover" same goes with judging people by their job title. The fact that you have a certain position/job doesn't even mean you do it right or deserve it.

    Great post!

  8. This is a great post! I'll admit that I'm guilty of jumping to this question right away, and often without thinking of what it means or why I asked it. I've also lied about being a lawyer when trying to rent an apartment, since some landlords don't like to rent to lawyers under the assumption that they will look for any excuse to sue. I'm going to make it a personal goal to stop defaulting to this question when I first meet someone!

  9. i agree. i think a title can't fully convey everything someone does and their worth.


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