Status Anxiety & Its Impact on Our Careers

psychDo you suffer from status anxiety at work? Alain De Botton has done a terrific job in his book ‘Status Anxiety’  explaining how and why most of us are ‘consciously or unconsciously’ status orientated in life and work. As the excerpt below from his book clarifies so succinctly.

“This is a book about an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us; about whether we’re judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. This is a book about status anxiety. We care about our status for a simple reason: because most people tend to be nice to us according to the amount of status we have (it is no coincidence that the first question we tend to be asked by new acquaintances is ‘ What do you do?’).”

My interest is how status anxiety relates to our careers – our worklife in fact. I think it starts with our parents. They can have a huge influence over our careers and how we view career status. As adults we tend to hear our parents engaging in job title status related discussions with their friends about how well X,Y, and Z are doing in their careers. There is nothing worse than having to listen to your parents tell you how well your contemporaries are doing on the workfront and or their partners! Worse still when you are unemployed! Many parents seem to want to show how ‘successful’ their children are and having status orientated job titles and jobs seems to be an effective way of doing this. Unfortunately a great sounding job title does not equal job happiness – and when do you parents brag to others about your job happiness?

While job titles are not all bad, a negative aspect is that they are a label and labels can be misleading. They can also lead to segregation and all sorts of other negative associations. Job titles can be truly un-helpful in our careers as people may not look too much into the content of the job but rather be swayed by the job title. From resumes to job ads to workplaces – a great sounding job title seems to give you a lot more status and career progression. The content of the job seems to play second fiddle to the title!

While I don’t expect this to change anytime soon, I do believe there are a few ways to manage status when it comes to job seeking.

What is behind the job title?

It begins with looking beyond the job title when job seeking and looking at the content of the job ad and position description (if available). Don’t be fooled by a great sounding job title or put off by a lame one. Sometimes people don’t apply for their dream job because it has been mis-labelled and they think they are over or under qualified. I have seen this occur on a regular basis. If you are not sure, do as much due diligence as you can on and offline around the job. A good place to start is ONet if you are not sure about certain job types and titles.

Selling your achievements

When job seeking your job title can hold a lot of weight and in those instances when your job title does not reflect the core job and what you have achieved, it is important to include relevant achievements stories. While listing your responsibilities is good, achievement stories have a much greater impact on the reader. If you can flesh out your transferable skills that are aligned with the job you are targeting and demonstrate these in achievement stories it can help position you better.

Job titles

I certainly don’t advocate making up jobs you have done however if your employer has given you a completely obscure or irrelevant job title that is not relevant to what you do, then it is fair to change this to be more aligned with what the general market uses. An ill fitting job title means that recruiters may overlook your experience. So if for example your job title is Accountant and only a small part of what you do is the actual accounting work and the remainder is more operations and staff management, you may be better for example to have either, Operations Manager or a combined Accountant / Operations Management. You could even try to get your employer to change your job title if you have a good business case to do so.

Networking

Networking is important in the job search as a resume cannot do justice to your career to date and where you want it to go and why. This comes through best when you meet with people face to face and they can see your passion and listen first hand to your story. Putting yourself in networking situations that are relevant to what you are targeting on the job front is a must. It avoids the focus being so much on what your current job title is and enables you to talk about what you want to be doing in your next role and what you bring.

 

At different times throughout our careers, job titles can have both a positive and a negative impact. In those instances where your job title is not working for you (as highlighted above) there are a few things you can do to better position yourself and your career.

Please share your views on status anxiety and how it relates to our careers.

 

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