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We're All Senior! (Death to Titles)
By: Matt Shuford
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You know how it actually means something to call someone a senior at his or her position? I sure don’t.

Growing up, when I heard positions preceded or followed by the titles senior, manager, director, etc., it instilled a sense of confidence regarding that person. I felt I could undoubtedly learn from that individual. Why? Because attaching such distinction to your title says to me that you’ve been around long enough, with a consistently high level of success, that others in your industry respect you and the work you’ve done. That’s what I believed when I first started my career, but now I’m not so sure.

Senior Merchandising Associate – 2009 College Graduate
Senior Editor – 2008 College Graduate
Senior Design Manager – 2010 College Graduate
Senior Research Analyst – 2010 College Graduate

That’s a quick look at some of my LinkedIn connections, and there are many more similar to that sampling. I just don’t get it. No way some of these people only two or three years into their careers are now undoubtedly so much more senior than they were as recent graduates. No way they have the insight, experiences, and refined knowledge to undoubtedly mentor younger, junior colleagues.

No way. Not in my opinion.

I think about this often. Has it always been this way? Have people always claimed seniority in hopes of propelling their careers, even if their experience doesn’t warrant it? Are LinkedIn and other job search sites at fault, compelling professionals to claim exaggerated titles and experience in hopes of sneaking onto a search results page?

I don’t know the reason or the catalyst. But I do know that the over-self-promotion (or even legit promotion) of my colleagues and friends unfortunately leaves me skeptical. It’s unfortunate, but true. I ask myself, “Are these senior-level colleagues really folks I can and would want to learn from?” I hate to say it, but the rapid promotion and title tagging nowadays doesn’t do anything for my confidence in them. For me, the senior/manager/director title has genuinely started to lose its importance and validity.

But I guess that’s the great thing about being in advertising: the work speaks for itself (and for those who create it). After meeting, following, or connecting with a new creative, the absolute first thing I do is check out her portfolio site. Title, position, years experience (I understand the irony here) is irrelevant to me at that point. I check out his work, and if it inspires me or provokes genuine thought — which is what I believe great advertising is all about — then I’m sold. That’s instantly someone I want to follow and learn from.

In reality, at the end of the day one’s title is meaningless. Perhaps that’s why I appreciate the titles that Raleigh agency Baldwin& provides to its team. For example:

Visual Therapist (aka Art Director…?)
Fire Juggler (aka Account Executive…?)
Recon Op (aka Interactive Director…?)
Lead Guitar (aka Owner / Creative Director…?)

I provide uncertain translation to their titles because honestly I don’t know what these folks would call themselves if they had to. It isn’t clear on the site, but I like it that way. I love what they’ve done here. I learned more about these people from their playful titles than I ever would from a three-, four- or five-word professional one.

Maybe that’s the answer to all of this. Perhaps I should stop being Matt Shuford, copywriter, and instead present myself as an idea chemist, thought missile, copy wrangler. Hell, as I type those I’m already more engaged. Differentiation is key.

I suggest we follow the Baldwin& approach before everyone becomes senior — which really at that point makes no one senior.

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About the Author
Matt Shuford is an idea chemist. With a little over five years to his career, he's a driven copywriter and problem solver who takes pride in keeping things fresh, interesting, and intelligent. You can expect his posts to reflect those of an admirer and critic of advertising, life, and the relationship between the two. Feel free to contact him at his website or on Twitter

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