It can be helpful to get a little primer on what titles mean before you dive into an interview.
A proper job title is made up of two elements: level of seniority and area of focus. The level of seniority is typically first in the titling construct and is usually a more traditionally understood level like “manager” or “vice president.” Sometimes people get a bit more creative with seniority titles like “head of” of “lead on/for.” Sometimes they get even a little more creative and employ terms like “master of” or “guru.”
If they come from a very traditional company like a Fortune 500 corporation and they are using titles like “guru,” you know ego is important to them. These people are very concerned with the external perception of them in their role.
It doesn’t mean that employee is going to be difficult, but it does mean you have to set expectations upfront about what they will be doing, and how they will be referred to for titles. If you have that conversation early, it can help establish a level of trust that can be mutually beneficial later.
I know this because I’ve used titles like “guru” in the past, too. I can look back and recognize situations where I may have been in a role that wasn’t a good fit -- and as a result, I was trying to save face by using one of these titles. Satisfying the ego to some degree makes it easier to accept and excel in a situation we otherwise may not have been excited about.
The second element of a job title indicates area of focus, and is probably the most important piece to consider. Once again, more traditional companies tend to employ traditional titles like “product marketing” or “demand generation.”. Many of these have begun to evolve as the industry has evolved as well. Job focuses like “growth” or “performance” marketing have come into vogue. So have things like “brand response” and “storytelling.”
These titles are interesting because they are typically indicative of people who think differently and are reinventing the ways a traditional role is used inside a traditionally focused company. If you see someone who has a series of these titles in their resume, and they have a history of four to five-plus years in these roles, that's someone you want in your organization. They are loyal (hence the time in their roles) and also innovative.
If someone has a series of these titles and each time it is a year or 18 months per stop, that’s a warning sign they are never happy in their roles and are unable to blend into a team. You need a combination of innovation and team-player mentality to succeed in these kinds of roles and have a positive impact on an organization.
In traditional work environments, people stayed 10, 15 or even 20 years with a company. I find those admirable, but not the norm today. Five-plus years with a company these days is indicative of loyalty balanced with a need to keep improving. Fewer than three years to me signals a challenge.
Once again, I know this from my own past history. I have tended to stay four to six years per place. I would have stayed longer in some of my roles but a forced change in scenery through acquisition can have a massive impact on the culture, which can trigger the need to to re-evaluate where you are.
So, in my humble opinion, job titles do matter. When you are evaluating people for your team, look at the roles they had, and don’t be afraid to ask them how they arrived at the titles of the roles they had. The story that comes from that discussion will help you to determine the fit for your current team. It can also drive an open and thoughtful conversation that can have lasting, positive ramifications on the relationship and the role going forward.