Should you staff your company with "rock stars"?

Unusual job titles are on the rise in the U.S., as the number of companies advertising positions with the word ninja in them rose 90 percent between October 2017 and October 2018, according to career site Indeed. Job postings for "geniuses" and "rock stars" also grew during the period, rising 21 percent and 17 percent, respectively. While unconventional job titles like "evangelist" have been around for years, falling in and out of favor, some entrepreneurs consider creative titles to be an important part of their company's brand.

Who's looking for these evangelists, geniuses, and ninjas? Companies including Amazon, Mercedes-Benz, and Bonobos are just a few of the brands that are advertising creative titles, according to Indeed. While entrepreneurs say there is an advantage to giving job titles a makeover, there are also potential drawbacks to this strategy.  

One business owner who favors unusual job titles is Tara Gilad, co-founder of the Walnut Creek, California-based acai bowl-focused café Vitality Bowls. Staff members at the company hold the title of "superfood ninja" to reflect Vitality Bowl's playful environment and describe the multitasking skills prospective employees must have. "It speaks highly [of us] that we are trying to create a fun environment," Gilad says. "It goes with our culture--that we like to have fun and have unique team members." 

Unconventional titles can also help employers stand out in the crowded labor field, where job seekers are sifting through hundreds of open positions online, according to Rebecca Toman, the vice president of the survey business unit of executive compensation consulting firm Pearl Meyer. "This is a really competitive job market, and companies have to go above and beyond--titles are one way to do that," Toman says. "It's attractive--employees like the fun titles."  

Michael Heinrich, the founder of the Burlingame, California-based Oh My Green, which supplies offices with healthy food options, began tinkering with titles when he launched the startup in 2014. Warehouse stockers are "happiness ambassadors," the human resource department is known as "human evolution," and in the near future, Heinrich plans to change the operations division to the "bliss division." He says that the titles help create a positive environment for employees, but advises entrepreneurs to be true to their company culture when crafting new names for positions or departments. 

"Don't go with what everyone is trying to do," Heinrich says. "It lacks the uniqueness and authenticity. Figure out the company's mission and invent titles around that."

There are potential drawbacks to giving your job titles a makeover, however. Because newfangled titles like "data wrangler" and "rock star analyst" aren't what job seekers typically search for when job hunting online, open positions with these titles might be harder to find, says Sarah Stoddard, a community expert at the employer review and careers site Glassdoor. She adds that unconventional titles can also create confusion around the duties, salary, or required skills for open positions.  

"It's in a company's best interest to leverage job titles that are descriptive and clear to attract top talent," Stoddard says.

Entrepreneurs and HR managers looking to give existing employees new titles that are more creative should be transparent about the reason for doing so, according to Paul Wolfe, the senior vice president of human resources at Indeed. He adds that new titles should also come with a clear road map for growth within the company. 

Whether you're changing job titles at your company to create a more positive environment for existing employees or to attract different candidates, the key is ensuring that new titles accurately reflect your company's culture and job descriptions. "A big part of recruiting is storytelling," Wolfe says. "You want candidates to learn something about the job and company."

Published on: Mar 1, 2019