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The rule I'm getting is:

Capitalize if it comes before the name: Janitor Richard McGill was a fastidious man. Director Campbell slept in the office as McGill the janitor proofread his annual report.

But I often find that writing certain titles un-capitalized just looks plain odd.

Here are three sentences where I want to capitalize. Could you comment on the grammaticality of the choice to do so?

  1. Just recently I met Mr. Adams (previously Managing Director and Finance Director at ... (Could you also suggest a better SHORT sentence for writing this? Sounds clunky as I type it here. It is meant to convey that Mr. Adams was previously the managing director and before that a finance director at an organization. Also, I didn't feel the need to capitalize these titles as I talked about them in the previous sentence as I did when typing out the original sentence referred.)
  2. My work experience as an Assistant Accountant at ...
  3. Mr. Stephen Colbert, Hiring Manager -- at the start of a letter (this one I know is correct -- my search shows that the work title at the top of a letter is almost always capitalized)
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You capitalize titles when they are referring to a specific role in a specific organization, or a person that fills that specific role. This follows the basic principles for proper nouns: Mr. Rogers, Mrs. Doubtfire, Dr. Phil. For example, a chief executive officer leads a company, but Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg runs Facebook.

So, all of your examples are correct: you're referring to a specific role at a specific company. If you were writing about hiring managers in general, it wouldn't be capitalized.

As for your long example:

Just recently I met Mr. Adams (previously Managing Director and Finance Director...

You might use a shorter word, like "formerly" or something, but I don't think you can make it too much shorter, given the length of the title.

  • the advice you give is sound and I think there are no disagreements there. The bit I find confusing would be "Mark Zuckerberg, currently chief executive officer at Facebook, has decided to focus instead on ..." I've seen quite a few websites recommend not capitalizing in such sentences where the title follows the name, and especially where another word comes in-between. – Christine Chua Dec 23 '15 at 19:43
  • @ChristineChua Technically, you could choose to capitalize, or not, given that specific sentence, but the lowercase version suggests you're referring to the job of chief information officer that happens to be at Facebook, and not Mark specifically. You're no longer referring to a specific person, but a generic role at an organization (even though that role happens to be unique per company, as far as I know). – phyrfox Dec 23 '15 at 20:07
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My answer to this question has always been to capitalize when it is an extension of the proper noun, for example: First Lady, Melania Trump.

If it is simply the title, it is not capitalized, for example: We will be joined by the president and first lady at the conference today.

It looks strange for those titles to be in lower case, but it is correct. Also, if there is the word "the" in front of the title, it changes from a proper noun (name) to simply a noun (item).

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