Pocket Examples

Among the things you should have ready for the job search are:

“Pocket examples;” these are little stories that exemplify how you work, how you think, and what you are passionate about. Here I will share some of my thoughts about how to find, polish and deliver them in a job searching context.


Pocket examples

I call them pocket examples because they should be easily accessible: handy and at your fingertips, and ready to pull out at a moment’s notice. Also, they should be pocket-sized: They really do need to be short, ideally no longer than a minute (and a minute goes by quicker than you think when you are talking!). Finally, I like the metaphor of the shirt pocket because you can kind of picture that having more than a handful would really be too many and they would start to feel and look chaotic and sloppy. Three to five fill up the pocket nicely, as one might have done with a handkerchief or a pocket square – that last little flourish and that final touch to help you express yourself with style as you head into that job interview or that networking event.

Finding pocket examples

As you are going through and preparing your resume, be thinking about experiences at past jobs. For every bullet describing your skills, duties and responsibilities, there are probably moments that come to mind, example projects or interactions or situations that exemplify how you showed up at work. Jot them down. You will collect a healthy set of these stories, over the years, dozens and maybe even hundreds of them. But remember, pocket examples need to be short, so probably a typical story that you might tell about work, like say a “typical day” description, would have maybe 4 or 5 constituent pieces to it. Within each piece there are probably a handful of candidate pocket examples. Pick one. A piece of a piece of a piece of an experience that shows something about how you work. So, for example, say you want to talk about a class that you taught. You are trying to show something about the way that you teach. Do you use innovating or cutting-edge technologies? Do you have a unique way of facilitating discussions? Was there a particular interaction with a student that you handled particularly well? Was there a data set or activity that you created that was particularly successful?

I keep a folder in the professional development folder on my computer that is just pocket examples. They are grouped thematically by job, by skill, by interest, etc.  And of course, one *must have* for linguists will be the “about linguistics” pocket examples!

Anticipate the questions you will likely be asked

Every linguist can be sure to be asked “what is linguistics?” I think a great answer to that question would involve a pocket example that briefly describes a current research project or topic that you are passionate about.

Some other likely candidates:

  • How did you discover linguistics?
  • How can linguistic research be applied?
  • What can you do with a degree in linguistics?
  • What does linguistics teach?

I like to get creative in finding pocket examples. Sometimes I use free-writing exercises where I list all of the jobs I have ever had before, or all of the research projects I have ever been interested in or all of the people that I have every worked with. These always generate lots of ideas and there are always many pocket examples in there that I had not remembered or thought about in a while. Also, one of my new favorite ways of being creative about stories is to use Rory’s story cubes. There are 9 dice. You roll them and look at the 9 images. At least one of them triggers a memory of an experience that in turn exemplifies a skill or an interest or an ability.

Making them short

If you are writing them out, a minute’s worth of talking is a short paragraph. However, most of the time, these are going to be delivered orally. My advice would be to use iMovie, or whatever video software that was built into your computer and record yourself answering one of the classic interview questions “tell me about yourself” for example. How long is your answer?   If you are just starting this process, likely your answer was 3 minutes or longer. Listen to yourself, as uncomfortable as that can feel, or ask a friend, a colleague or a mentor to sit down with you as you do this.  You are looking for a 30 second to 1 minute piece of this answer that is the nugget. The best of the best. Then we can turn to polishing this nugget, to make it really shine!

Portraying agency

Pay attention to your role within this pocket example. Are you a character? You should be the main character, the hero. Often when people talk about work, they use “we” (“we exceeded or fundraising goals”) or the impersonal “you” (“you had to work under a tremendous amount of pressure”) an omniscient pov (“there were significant cognitive and mental demands of working in this high-pressure environment), but even though you worked as part of a team, this example is about you! If you are not using the pronoun “I,” you need to force yourself to do so, no matter how uncomfortable that might feel at first. Find a way to be sure that you are highlighting your contribution in this context.   Your vision. Your perspective. Your decisions.

Pay particular attention to the transition points between events in your pocket example. If it is “this thing happened, and then this other thing happened” consider whether you might show your role in making these events happen, rather than talking about things that happened to you.   “I recognized an opportunity to change the way we did things..” “I saw the miscommunication and misunderstood it and decided to take the following steps to address it…” “I chose to pursue this line of inquiry…” “I supervised the team that ..”

An example

I will end here by sharing a pocket example of my own. I used this one recently at one of my “what can you do with a degree in linguistics?” workshops.

On the plane coming out here today I did like I often do, I started chatting with my seat mate. Inevitably the question comes around to “what do you do?” and then inevitably I get asked “how many languages do you speak?” To navigate a better understanding of what I do, I usually try to lead with listening. If I can figure out where the communication puzzles might present in this person’s workplace, I can then show them where the skills and training of a linguist might be of use by way of explaining what it is that we do. Today was a bit of a gimmie because he was a pilot. Last week at Georgetown, we had Barbara Clark as a guest speaker, talking about the work that she does as founder of You Say Tomato doing communications consulting for the airline industry. He was also in the military, so I was able to chat a bit about the work that I do as a consultant on the “Good Stranger” project working with the Social Interaction Research Group (SIRG) developing more sophisticated cross-cultural training with about-to-deploy Army soldiers.

How did I do with presenting agency in this pocket example? Do you get a sense for me and how I think and how I work? I welcome your thoughts!

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