The importance of job titles in hiring for startups

Hiring the right people for your startup is difficult enough — but sometimes, it’s the most obvious thing you’ll get wrong…

A while ago, we were recruiting for our Head of Happiness at Triggertrap. This was, in fact the very same position that we had hired for a few months before.

In the first round of applicants, we had some really good people coming to us applying for jobs. In the second round, we were positively blown away: Every single person we interviewed brought something new to the table. Some were photographic geniuses. Some were social media wizards. Some were accomplished writers, TV presenters, etc. We even had a couple of rock-solid all-rounders.

Between the two rounds of hiring, something had changed. The company had a few extra months of extra traction, sure. We’d even racked up some additional press and reviews in the meantime. And we had stepped up our game in the social media side of things (I know, because I did it all myself).

When the time came to post the job, we hadn’t even changed the job description in our ads all that much. (Other than adding bold to the ‘no agencies please’ bit, because it turns out that recruitment agents can’t read to save their lives)

What the hell had changed?

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Whenever I see ‘Head of Happiness’, I think of this figurine, which gently bobs its head from side to side, smiling all the while.

Simple: We changed the job title.

The old job title was Customer Support Manager. The new job title? Head of Happiness.

Whenever I see the job title, it makes me smile. It makes me think of one of those bobble-heads that just constantly smiles, whatever is thrown its way.

Of course, changing the title of something hugely affects how something is perceived, too. One example is an article I wrote for Gizmodo a while back. My title was “The story of Triggertrap”. They changed it to “How I Invented a Gadget and Made Thousands on Kickstarter”, but didn’t actually change much of the story itself. I used to be in publishing, and I get it: The former makes sense to me. The latter makes a lot of people perk up and read it. My immediate reaction, however, was that the latter makes me sound like more of an arrogant prat than I’m comfortable with.

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It’s how we roll.

Anyway — Titles and perception are important, because they say something about the company. Only the other day, I offered our Operations Manager to pick a ‘fun’ job title, but he declined. “I have a pretty serious job, and I don’t think the people I have to deal with would sense the gravity of the situation if I had a wacky job title”, he said. An excellent point. The first job title I had at Triggertrap was ‘El Capitan Grande’, because I thought it was funny. Now it’s CEO. Has anything changed? Probably not, but our distributors take me a lot more seriously with my new business cards.

“Head of Happiness”, to some people, might sound beyond wanky, but to us, it means something: It reflects who we are, and what the job is. Helena, our new Head of Happiness, is good at doing customer support, but her job goes far beyond that.

“Don’t strive for satisfaction. Strive for happiness”

I think the penny finally dropped when, a few weeks after I posted the Head of Happiness job to our site, I had to deal with 37 Signals’ absolutely stellar customer support. On their customer support page, they mention that they don’t strive for ‘satisfaction’, but for happiness.

So do we, and it turns out that to attract the perfect candidate, all we had to do was to come up with a job title that distilled the job into an accurate phrase.

Haje is a founder coach, working with a small, select number of startup founders to build exciting, robust organizations that can stand the test of time. Find out more at Haje.me. You can also find Haje on Twitter and LinkedIn.]

Written by

CEO of Konf, pitch coach for startups, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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