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Saturday, October 23, 2021
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What’s in a name? Why titles matter in careers work

Do names matter to you? Do you react differently to people based on their name? We humans tend to associate certain characteristics with people based on their names – unconscious biases that can have serious consequences for some jobseekers. I think people like to “label” things, categorize them, put them into boxes if you will. It makes it easier to remember them and it provides some sense of order to our lives. Maybe most of us just prefer order over chaos. I don’t know – I’m not one of those people.

In the career development world, we are blessed with career development practitioners who go by many names: career practitioner, career coach, career counsellor, career facilitator, career mentor, career advisor, employment counsellor, employment specialist, job skills coach, and on and on.

Each one of these titles evokes some kind of meaning. Is there a difference in your mind between an employment specialist and a job skills coach? A career practitioner vs. a career counsellor? My guess is that there probably is, and how you define these terms will be based on your experience of them, the filters you may or may not have with respect to them, and what you may find out about them through research.

Herky Cutler will be presenting a virtual session at CERIC’s Cannexus22 conference, taking place Jan. 24-26, 2022, titled “Coach/Counsellor / Advisor / Mentor / Specialist / Facilitator? What the Heck Are We Anyway?” Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.

What about your clients? Aren’t they trying to figure out what you do based on your title? It’s possible that your title is creating confusion for your clients, or potential clients, around what you actually do, and I think that’s worth spending some time thinking about.

Hopefully, practitioners can clearly define what their title refers to with respect to the services they offer a client. However, in my experience, sometimes the parametres that a practitioner exercises in the performance of their job go well beyond what their title implies. 

For example, what does the title “employment specialist” evoke for you? For me, it suggests that this practitioner has the scope to help their clients with things that relate to finding work. I’m sure a list is coming up in your mind as you read this.

Now, does this mean that the practitioner doesn’t work with clients on other aspects of career that don’t apply directly to finding work, such as career planning, leadership development and education, for example? If the employment specialist is providing services in these other aspects of career, is their title confusing?

Perhaps a more striking example is the connotation one has with respect to the difference between “coaching” and “counselling.” Not every career practitioner who uses “counsellor” in their title is actually a trained or certified counsellor. The term counsellor, for some, may have negative connotations for some potential clients. Perhaps they attended personal counselling as a kid that they didn’t feel went well or helped them.

Names matter. Titles matter. Clients react to titles based on their experience of them, or the definition they give to them. So, what can practitioners do to alleviate this confusion?

First, I think career practitioners need to take an inventory of what they do and make sure that their title reflects this. Often, it’s an organization that creates the title. Practitioners apply for jobs, and when they get them, they acquire the title. But if the title doesn’t match the job description, then practitioners need to advocate for the organization to change the title.

Second, I think practitioners need to do a better job explaining to clients exactly what they do, and don’t do, right up front. This will hopefully alleviate any confusion, or fear, that the client might have about what to expect during the relationship.

And finally, maybe it’s time for the industry to provide more consistency around the language of career practitioner titles by defining them.

What’s in a name? A lot!

Herky Cutler Author
Herky Cutler is a Certified Career Development Professional, a lifetime member of the Career Development Association of Alberta and has been training career practitioners for more than 12 years. He has developed a number of unique career development tools and is a popular keynote speaker and presenter at conferences all over North America.
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Herky Cutler Author
Herky Cutler is a Certified Career Development Professional, a lifetime member of the Career Development Association of Alberta and has been training career practitioners for more than 12 years. He has developed a number of unique career development tools and is a popular keynote speaker and presenter at conferences all over North America.
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