When I was 29 years old I interviewed for a business development position as a step up from my current job. Although it offered more career opportunities, the title wasn’t any different: “Account Manager.”
Before accepting the position, I decided to approach my new boss—a tidy and efficient woman with a cropped head of hair resembling burnt straw—with a bold question. Would she mind if I changed the job title to include the word, “Director?” That sounded so much more sweeping and official, as if a sea of resources were at my disposal. Even though I was really only going to be a one-man show.
Plus, I wasn’t about to accept the fate of being an Account Manager the rest of my life.
“Sure,” she said, shuffling a pile of papers on her desk. “I don’t care what your title is, as long as you get your job done.”
At the time, all I was thinking about was my resume. Building it up. Making it sing. That swanky Director title would forever mark my position as, well, I don’t know—what exactly does a Director do? Whatever. Perception is everything, and leveraging that title would certainly ensure that my next potential employer viewed me at a higher pay grade than that lousy Account Manager role.
One of the speakers at the Leadership & Spirituality Summit I attended last week reflected upon authenticity in leadership, and pointed out the downside to looking at a job as just a title. Cynthia, an executive in the life sciences field, told the story of the transition from her former company, and the search process for her next position. “When I began this job search,” she said, “I decided that it was not going to be about the title. It was going to be about who I am.”
This rang out like a large gong in my little head. How liberating it must be to use your true self as the criteria for both the job and the employer! Wouldn’t you be more authentic and transparent? Wouldn’t you have more energy and passion? Wouldn't you be more aligned with the organization's goals and mission?
Cynthia went on to describe her interviews with dozens of companies, accompanied by a myriad of potential titles: Chief Operating Officer, Division President, CEO, General Manager, Executive Vice President. As she left each interview, rather than dreaming of the font size on her new business cards, she asked herself the question, did the job and the company culture match her core values, her strengths, her personality style, the essence of who she was as a whole person?
Cynthia told us about the struggle of staying true to herself, especially upon receiving offers for positions she was not sure about. “Knowing that the clock is ticking away, it was tough not to make a purely economic choice,” she said. But she stuck to her guns, and sure enough, in time, the right mutual fit came along. It was with a company who appreciated not just her experience, but also who she is as a whole person and what that uniquely brings to the organization.
A swanky title is nice, yes. But who you are is a much stronger criterion to build a career upon.
How would that change what you do?
Image by Kelly Sauer. Used with permission.