Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

No Place For Ninjas At Work

with 7 comments


AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa

When I was a child, every Saturday afternoon, my sister and I would turn on Channel 5 in New York and watch the latest kung-fu movie, complete with bad dubbing and well choreographed fight scenes.  Then we would proceed to become ninjas, complete with black mask, and beat the tar out of each other until our parents came home from the grocery store and punished us for destroying out home.  I’m not sure why they would get so mad; that’s what ninjas do.  I can’t get the image out of my head of Storm Shadow from the GI-Joe cartoon, complete with his traditional ninja garb.  Now, apparently, we can add a business suit to the mix.

I guess we have never outgrown our desire to be a ninja, because suddenly, the word ninja has crept into our job search.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some 800 current or former ninjas have public profiles on LinkedIn.  No longer can we just inform people that we are a social media specialist…and don’t use guru, that’s so passé.  Today, ninja is the term that means specialized skills.  Again, we can simply call them specialists, but what do I know.  A ninja sounds cooler.  Look next to you; Jack from accounting – the one playing Solitaire on his computer – yes, he is actually an accounting ninja.  Bet you didn’t know it from just looking at him.  He’s not wearing a mask.  He doesn’t carry a cool sword, but almost as simultaneously as he missed that the Jack of Spades should be placed on the Queen of Hearts, he did the company’s entire payroll. It took him mere seconds.  Ninja!

Anyone can be a ninja.  I would change my title to Communications Ninja if the business cards saying I was a Communications Manager had not already been printed.  I have a black belt in press pitching.  Decided you need a change, just take the last part of your title out and replace it with ninja.  Unemployed – become a job search ninja and sneak up on a new career.  And yes, there are those who label themselves job search ninjas and yes, if you haven’t realized it by now, the idea of using the word ninja on a professional site, in your career search, or <gasp> on your resume frightens me.  We are still in the middle of an economic crisis that is only starting to show signs of life again.  If you think you can get a job calling yourself an investing ninja assassin, an actual title LinkedIn data scientist Monica Rogati linked to and discussed in a San Francisco Chronicle article, I have some stocks in Lehman Brothers I would like to sell you.

A ninja, as I said earlier, is something we pretended to be when we were children.  It’s time to grow up.  We are in a business world now.  It’s time to act like professionals.  Let’s not bring LinkedIn into the Myspace age, where everyone is 15 and has ninja themed profile pages.  In a world that strives for professionalism, the use of such a childish phrase as ninja may sound cool (it’s not that cool – Vanilla Ice made a song called “Ninja Rap” once…yes…Vanilla Ice), but it devalues the job search and the very careers so many people have worked hard to obtain.

This is just my opinion.  Someone else at Vault may disagree.  The readers may disagree.  Let me know what you think.  Am I over analyzing?  Am I being a buzzkill?  Am I correct?  Or is there a better word to describe experts in their field?  What’s the next best job title – maybe my little nephew can grow up to be a public relations cowboy!


7 Responses

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  1. Hs Ha ! this article is great ! so true, too.

    Jen P.

    April 12, 2010 at 8:12 am

  2. This is terrible advice.

    Your resume should give some personal touch. If you’re the kind of person who would refer to yourself as a ninja, indeed you have a childish streak, and a great deal of confidence. Like anyone on your resume, you need to be able to back it up in reality. But if this is who you are, using the term on your resume will help you get an employer who appreciates that attitude (And many do, while many do not).

    Telling people hard and fast rules for this kind of thing will get a lot of page hits and sell some website ads, but it’s stupid advice. If you best describe yourself with a metaphor like ‘ninja’, and are comfortable with that kind of impression, that’s a valid term.

    In fact, it will probably get some attention. That’s why the author of this banal article used the term. It’s not for every job or applicant, obviously.


    April 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm

  3. While I do not agree with you, I do appreciate your opinion and the time it took you to respond to this blog. Not sure if I like some of the words you used to describe the advice, but you are obviously passionate about your reasoning and I respect that. While I don’t like the ninja term, I hate the idea that this could open the door to so many other terms that could end up being far worse (i.e. my PR Cowboy reference). I also can’t see an employer hiring someone who uses the word ninja in their resume. I wonder how many people who were hired used ninja in their resume to get the job. I think they changed their job description on LinkedIn to ninja after they already got the job. I could be wrong, and I would love to hear stories from people who use the ninja term. They can be posted right here.


    April 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  4. I can’t help but be reminded of my all-to-prudish reaction to the title “Chief Evangelist” once held by Guy Kawasaki of Apple fame. But then, having read and seen him, it suddenly fit. Some people *do* deserve the more amusing titles.

    Then again, Jon is probably right about proportional success… much safer to have a nice grey title to get through the automated screening process.


    April 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    • That is my point. Somewhere out there, some quirky boss is willing to pay a lot of money for a Ninja, but most places are looking for an expert or a specialist and may be turned off by the Ninja title. The law of averages suggests that you play it safe when it comes to the job title. That said, by reading the job description and even by researching a company on, you may get a better sense of the company culture and how they may view your out of the box thinking in using the Ninja term. And then again, if everyone starts using Ninja, how out of the box is it to follow the herd?


      April 15, 2010 at 7:24 am

  5. I have been in Human Resources a long, long time. Keep in mind, there are a great many resumes out there in this market. If a person can support what they do with facts and figures(after the title) and it matches the business need of the department, I would send them to the hiring manager after I laughed out loud. People who differentiate themselves in some way AND can prove that they do, what they do WELL in a consistently manner are often the ones who get hired.


    April 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

  6. Well, I’ll accept that then. It’s good to hear from someone directly in HR. Thanks for the feedback.


    April 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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