I originally posted about getting distance on yourself a few months ago, but as I am thinking and writing about job interviews this morning (perhaps inspired by INALJ’s recent post about interviews?), this topic seems as relevant as ever!!!
Seeing yourself as others see you is so very challenging to do, yet so very crucial in searching for a job. Job searching is really just a string of texts (or highly textualized moments of interaction): From the inquiry e-mail to the resume, to the job interview, then the thank-you note, and on through the negotiation process. Through this series of texts and interactions that you are run through as jobseeker, you really have no choice but to look at yourself as others see you, but having the ability to step back and achieve distance on your language is invaluable!
As linguists, we focus on language AND we know lots of linguists as friends who do so as well, so we can ask for help with talking about ourselves as if the person speaking and the person being spoken about are not one and the same. Goffman’s production format might be particularly useful here: we are endeavoring to author and animate something about which we are the principal (we believe strongly that we are a good fit for the organization), but we are trying to speak as though we are not the figure in the story world. And crucially, we are looking for assistance with identifying aspects of authorship or animatorship in our professional self-presentation that might be getting in the way of our effectiveness. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be painful, but because of it’s importance, I argue that it is a productive use of some of our precious energy in the job searching process!
Which is why I love to use storytelling as a way of thinking about the process of professional self-presentation. In storytelling, we cultivate a practice of looking at our stories with distance. We tell true stories but we know that we are packaging them for consumption by an audience and that we will have to do some work to help our audience understand who we are and what we are trying to say. The story is about the figure in the story world. But the performance of the story is all about the author and the animator. When you think about a resume as a story, you start to think about the agency that you have in telling it. …and maybe, just maybe…. the fun that you can have doing so as well 🙂
Part of the fun is that you get to choose what aspects of identity that you want to highlight / others that you may not. The choice to say one thing is a choice to NOT say something else. The choice to say it one way is a choice to NOT say it another. Even silence carries meaning here! As we all well know, we make these choices every time that we talk, but the need for clarity of focus is especially true in high stakes interactions like a cover letter or a job interview.
An irony in job searching (at least as I have sometimes experienced it) is that I get offers when I do not want the job. But of course received wisdom is that the way to get a job is to show enthusiasm for the job. So how to reconcile this?
I want to suggest that this is the same apparent contradiction that we encounter in storytelling about rehearsing. When you rehearse only a bit, the story sounds stilted and rough and it also loses its spontaneity. If you were to hear the story at this stage, your advice might be “don’t rehearse!! better to sound a bit unpolished than to sound stilted and stiff!” However, as a storyteller, when you push through this awkward phase and continue rehearsing, you actually break through to the other side where the story has been rehearsed to the point of KNOWING/OWNING. With distance, you can now appreciate it differently as a performer and the telling starts to sound fresh again.
So maybe what this means is that when we show up for a job that we DON’T want, it is the lack of immediacy and the achieved distance on yourself that the employer can hear and is attracted to. There might also be the happy bonus of not sounding nervous. With more practice, maybe we can talk in ways that achieve the same distance for jobs that we really do want.
Focus on cultivating your inner animator and tell that story about that figure in that story world! Whether you believe it or not in the moment, talk like you know that you are the thing that this organization is looking for. Whether you feel it or not, speak in ways that communicate enthusiasm, and finally without presumption or arrogance, talk like you already see yourself in the job. Obviously you don’t want to come off as obnoxious here, so here is a place to really practice, but what would it sound like if you were picturing yourself in the job? Help the employer picture you working in the organization by using storytelling to plant visual images of yourself working there!
….and let me know how it goes!