Are You Cursed with a Confusing Job Title?

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Back in the 18th century, you basically had 3 choices of jobs–you could be a blacksmith, a butter churner, or a carriage driver.

Okay, so maybe there were more choices than that (how about tailor, butcher, barber, milk maid, footman), but the point is that there were well-known job titles already in existence for every occupation.

If you were hangin’ out at the local tavern and someone asked you what you did for a living, all you’d have to say is “I’m a blacksmith”, and you’d instantly be greeted with nods of acknowledgment and understanding.

Not so with the internet jobs of today.

To folks who aren’t online much, the internet seems like a sketchy place where folks look at porn and gamble at online casinos :) –sort of a boulevard of broken dreams and sleazy get rich quick schemes, not a place where you conduct a reputable business.

As a result, many of us who are very active within the blogosphere or work online run up against a lot of blank stares and misjudgements when we try to explain to our offline family and friends what in the world we do for a living or why our blogs are so important to us.

This isn’t surprising–we web workers have some of the freakiest and most confusing job titles on the planet.

Off the top of my head, ones that make sense to me, but I know would puzzle 99.9% of mainstream society are:

ProBlogger, Community Evangelist, Online Business Manager (this is me), E-marketing Consultant, Web Developer, Blogging Coach (or any type of coach for that matter).

Especially if you’re an online entrepreneur, chances are you’re a trailblazer in your field, and you don’t have the convenience of having a job title that everyone understands.

The upside is that we get the chance to create our own job titles.

The down side (asided from folks not understanding what our jobs are) is that if we change our job titles too often people end up asking us, “So, what are you calling yourself now? Are you a web developer or an online publisher or a problogger or what? Who are you today?”

The big amorphous “Huh?” that many of us encounter when talking about our online businesses or our blogs doesn’t seem like it would be that big a deal, but it can be.

Even extremely successful online entrepreneurs usually don’t get to soak up the glory with their friends and family because victories in the online world don’t translate into offline life.

(Be patient though–despite Bruce Sterling’s ominous prediction, sooner or later everyone will know what a blog is!)

I know this “confusing job title” phenomenon isn’t restricted to internet folks, so I’m wondering…

1) Do any of you have trouble explaining what you do for a living to your friends and family?

2) How do you deal with it? Or, how do you explain it in such a way that people understand?

3) Sidenote question: Do your offline friends and family read your blog?

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  1. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I used to have a problem explaining what I do until I realized I was making it too complicated. Most people don’t need to know the nitty gritty of what I do every day. So now I just say I’m a writer and editor for a media company (b5media) and leave it at that. And, yes, I’m proud to say that my friends and family read my work, even those who are not as tech savvy as those of us who work online.

    Great post. I enjoyed it. :)

  2. Hi Hsien,

    Thank you, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about not giving too much info.

    Now that I think about, the place where I always lose folks is when I try to explain how I work remotely with clients and that we never actually meet in person. The minute the word “virtual” comes up, people get a glassy look in their eyes, and I know they’re envisioning something out of the movie “The Matrix” :) .

    So, although the virtual global collaboration is a big deal to me, maybe I’ll leave that out of my future explanations to non-internetty folks.

    And do you know what–my mother does read my blog. Remarkably, she’s been the only one to embrace and understand the idea of blogging, while the younger members of my family think I’m insane to spend so much time on what they probably think is an online diary.

    I think they imagine that I’m socializing with teenagers via a MySpace page (totally not the case at all BTW). Oh well…

  3. Sharon, you echoed what Liz Strauss said (either over at Performancing or to me over Skype): that people don’t always understand what it means to write online. (Keep in mind how long it took for people to really understand the Internet alone and try it out. I know people not much older than me that never have, don’t have email, and not even a cell phone.)

    As for the virtual meetings, I think maybe it’s easiest just to say you are having a meeting via teleconferencing :)

  4. Hey Raj!

    Yes, this is true–perhaps we complicate things when we say that we write online–why not just say that we write without qualifying what technology we use when we write? This would probably save some confusion for non-internetty folks. Writing is something that’s universal that everyone can understand. :)

    The part that confuses folks the most is that the entire relationship is virtual, that I work very closely in business partnerships with people across the globe who I’ve never met in “real life”. This is the part that boggles the minds of most people who have traditional jobs.

    It’s like they wonder–”But how can you trust or know someone who you don’t physically see and who you’ve never met in person?” That one is a challenge.

  5. Well, its not what I do for a living, but it will be. I maintain a blog of my own and also contribute to a blog for the Gainesville Sun (local newspaper).

    I generally tell people I write online about journalism and online media and that I contribute to the Sun.

    If I remind them with an email link, my friends and family will read it, but few of them check religiously.

  6. A question for everyone here that runs a blog… what job title are you using on your business cards to avoid confusion?

  7. I have Writer/Editor on my cards. :)

  8. So does Ze Frank get the job title of professional Scotch Drinker?

  9. @Megan–Oh, that’s so cool. Don’t you love having a job that’s blog oriented? I do. One thing you have going for you that many of us don’t is the connection to mainstream media via your local newspaper. It seems like when you say your job has something to do with a print newspaper that there’s instant recognition of “Oh, you’re a journalist.” That’s a plus.

    @Terry and Hsien–you have business cards? Wow, I’m impressed!

    If I had business cards for my own blog, I would put writer/editor, but if I had more than one blog that I ran (like if my business was creating and building blog after blog after blog), then I would skew it more towards “web developer”.

    If I made my living from the blogs I ran, and the blogs belonged to me, then I would call myself a ProBlogger. I don’t care if anyone understands it or not. I just think that’s a cool job title, and I would wear it proudly. :) Being a ProBlogger is akin to being an astronaut.

    For my biz, I do blog managment as part of the larger service I provide, which is managing the entire business (blogs and all) of my clients. Since all my clients own internet businesses, I call it Online Business Management. Anyone confused yet?

    @Greg–hey thanks for sharing that link! Yes, I think Ze Frank’s business cards do say “Pro Scotch Drinker”. :) I also like how in that article they just call him “Performer, Ze Frank”. Now that’s an open ended job title!

    *Oooo hold on–I just found the perfect job title: Web Rockstar.

    This is perfect. I’m going to have that put on some business cards pronto. :)

    Found it over in the comments section of this post

  10. Superior Being always works for me. ;)

  11. I used to call myself a problogger. But with all the people raising eyebrows and asking “huh?” I decided to refer to myself as a more generic writer.

    But then of course, I can always say Blog Overlord. Or Editor. Or something to that effect.

  12. Web Rockstar! That’s what I have on my cards. ;)

  13. I really like the job titles that are coming in here.

    Along the lines of “Superior Being”, I was thinking maybe I could just call myself “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. That’s very straightforward and not confusing to anyone at all.

    I also really like “Blog Overlord”, but I wonder what the female version of that would be. Would that be “Blog Overlady”? That doesn’t sound quite as cool.

    It seems like “writer” always works. (As does “Web Rockstar”. ;) )

    Sometimes folks call themselves “web publishers”, but I think they’re underselling themselves with that title.

    What does it take to publish something on the web? All you have to do is push a button. It’s not like we’ve got printing presses set up in our rooms or anything.

    Clicking the “publish” button is the easy part. Writing the content is the hard part. Better to call yourself a writer, IMO. (Or a web rockstar :) )

  14. I guess it depends on who you’re telling. When I was interviewed late last year for Canada’s CBC TV national news hour (about RFID chips), they put the title “technology blogger” under my name. I’d asked for “technoblogger”. No go.

    But when someone asks what I do, if they don’t understand when I say “blogger”, I add, “I write online.” They usually nod their heads knowingly at this point.

  15. Oooo, I like that. I wish I could call myself a technoblogger. I don’t write about tech stuff, so I think the closest I could come to that would be “essayist”. I would leave off the “blogger part” cuz “essay blogger” doesn’t sound as cool as “technoblogger”.

    BTW, Raj–congrats on getting to be on TV as an expert of something :) . That’s so cool!

  16. I don’t like web publisher. It really gives the wrong impression and pigeonholes you into being a “writer/editor.” I feel as a blogger, designer, photographer, and developer… that there is no one encompassing title that conveys what I do for my blog.

    Web Rockstar the best thing I could come up with to engage interest when people looked at my card. The first response is usually… WOW!!! WEB ROCKSTAR?! What’s that?

    That allows me to tell them exactly what I do. Either that.. or they think I’m some famous guy on MySpace with a million friends. :p

  17. Yeah, Terry, there are very few people with internet jobs who *only* do one thing. It’s incredibly hard to find a job title that encompasses everything.

    It seems like sometimes folks choose their job title not really to convey what they do for a living, but to sort of “fit in” with everyone else. I think this is what “web publisher” does. To folks in the mainstream work world, the title of “web publisher” sounds respectable and normal (whatever that means), but it doesn’t convey the full scope of what a lot of bloggers do for a living. It’s sort of a non-job title, in that respect.

    “Web rockstar” is an interesting, attention grabbing title. It’s not a “I just want to fit in” title. It gives you the chance to really explain what you do, which is cool. :)

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