The Veteran’s Guide to Decoding Trendy Civilian Job Titles

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Jenn Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness at XPrize. (Courtesy of XPrize Foundation)

I remember the look on her face when an Army veteran I was coaching said she’d received an inbound inquiry from a recruiter for her dream employer. She was elated.

“I’m so excited that these months of brand building and being intentional about my value proposition paid off, and this company is contacting me for an opportunity.”

What followed next was more remarkable: “But, the position they want me to apply for is titled, ‘chief happiness officer.’ What on Earth is that?” she asked.

If you’ve begun your transition out of the military or already have separated, you may have noticed that job titles in the civilian sector do not follow the systems of consistency you’ve seen in the military.

The title of your military specialty was clear. You knew what your job was, as did others around you. If someone saw your résumé, there’s a good chance they’d know what you do. The civilian sector, on the other hand, follows none of those norms, with only a few exceptions. You will find similar job titles and job descriptions in technical fields at times, as certifications and licenses align with those jobs more closely.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently published an article on the unique and creative titles companies use to attract new talent. The author noted, “Job titles evolve to reflect the changing times. The human resources field is a prime example. Traditional ‘personnel’ titles have become chief people officer, chief happiness officer, adventure coach and whistleblowing coordinator for some companies.”

The article promotes the idea that many of these creative and trendy job titles are designed to appeal to a younger, hipper generation of workers. Regardless, they are likely here to stay and understanding them will become increasingly important to job seekers.

What Does This Mean for the Transitioning Service Member?

Previously, to transition out of the military and into the private sector, you may have been encouraged to demilitarize or civilianize your résumé. “Simply switch out words for their civilian counterparts,” was often the advice offered.

Today, that won’t be as simple.

To be effective at promoting yourself and your skills into companies and positions where you may excel, you have to do some decoding. You have to learn to read job descriptions, become skilled at understanding company culture and keep abreast of trends and happenings as they occur. This might lead companies to create new, innovative positions (and job titles) to address them.

Consider this: If you’re pursuing a career as a financial analyst and you’ve approached the big investment firms in your area, you’ll likely see some consistency in job titles: junior financial analyst, senior financial analyst, analyst level I, II or III, quant analyst and so on.

On the other hand, if your interests lie more in marketing and advertising, you may see job titles such as marketing coordinator, content creator, brand ambassador, digital specialist, SEO strategist and so on. These titles encompass marketing, with some specialization included.

How to Decode These Job Titles

Understanding these job titles actually can be fun. Broaden your perspective out from what you think the job should be called and inquire about openings you see that sound interesting. Resist the urge to move past a posting, because it doesn’t sound like something you’ve done before. You actually may have the skills and talents, just not that exact job title on your résumé.

Pay attention to what these titles mean for the company culture. When companies list their team members by fun and creative titles, it can indicate a fresh, upbeat and energetic work environment. If this appeals to you, great. If not, pay heed.

By reading the full job description and understanding the company culture, you’ll have a sense for the position and environment. Always check this against what your peer group, mentors and other advisers can provide insight into.

One client I worked with was turned off from a seemingly “silly” job title at a company offering him a senior-level position, only to learn later that the company was rebranding to set themselves up for an initial public offering (IPO). It turned out to be a great time for my client to join the team.

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