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A Job Title Just for You: The Rise of the Custom Position
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A Job Title Just for You: The Rise of the Custom Position

Larissa Faw
Business Journalist

JULY 14, 2021

With the unemployment rate hitting the lowest level since 2008, even the happiest employees are deciding to investigate their career options. Three in 10 employees regularly search for new job opportunities even though they are currently employed, according to CareerBuilder.com.

Lately, companies have begun luring top talent via a novel incentive: the newly created position.

In the last few months, Horizon Media introduced the first Chief Invention Officer; DigitasLBi created a Chief Data Scientist; Ogilvy & Mather unveiled a Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer; Hearst Magazines introduced the first Managing Director of Brands and AOL nabbed an industry veteran with the newly created Head of Independent Agencies.

But are these companies really developing innovative new positions — or are they merely making superficial name changes to appeal to egos? After all, Disney is famous for referring to its front desk representatives as "guest relations," yet that title elevation doesn't really fool anyone, particularly employees.

Is Horizon Media switching "innovation" to "invention" just to land its intended target? "It's a good first step [to address employees' needs]," says advertising executive Jeff Fromm, Barkley U.S. "But [newly created positions] are easier than really developing meaningful programs that matter in the long run, like a good work-life balance. It's just trying to be cool. It's better than nothing at all, but it still is a short-term fix."

Yet, others say these jobs are designed specifically to meet today's executive in today's workplace. In order to land currently employed top talent, employers must offer entirely fresh top-level positions with no pre-existing instruction manuals and the ability for new executives to hire their own teams. Formerly top perks like half-day Fridays and in-house chefs are no longer unique or sufficient.

Many of the executives attracted to these new roles say they weren't specifically looking for a new job, but once approached by these companies, they cited the excitement about new opportunities. For instance, advertising veteran Suhaila Suhimi Hobba jumped to the media side of the industry as AOL's Head of Independent Agencies after conversations with key AOL executives made her realize that she could leverage her skills in a new manner at the Internet platform. Likewise, DigitasLBi nabbed Scott Donation from rival Interpublic Group with the hefty job title North America Chief Content Officer (as well as a full fleet of responsibilities).

Indeed, these customized positions send a powerful message: We're building this role just for you (even if we are also talking with three other executives).

For companies hoping to keep current employees, the key to counteracting this trend is to follow their competitor's lead. Although it is difficult for current employers to counter-offer when a competitor is willing to underwrite an entirely new adventure, companies should suggest a customized new role and work with their employees to set the parameters. Again, it is important not to inflate titles without reworking specific responsibilities. Some 52 percent of workers feel as if they have a job, not a career, according to CareerBuilder, so this trend is an opportunity for employers to help their employees find their passion.

While the majority of these new positions are for mid- to high-level roles, the trend is likely to filter down to even entry-level workers. Ultimately, customized positions speak to the desire to be appreciated. And everyone likes to feel wanted by their employer, from C-Suite execs to the people at the front desk. Er, guest relations.

Photo: Can Stock

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