Kim Shepard (1/2)

Career Profile: Analyst in Leadership Development

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.

Meet Kim Shepard:

Linguist and anthropologist Kim Shepard has translated her skillset into a personally rewarding position as Senior Analyst for Leadership Development at Goldman Sachs, a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm.   Kim describes her role as half program management for executive development, half communications lead for a global team with offices in NYC, London, and Hong Kong.  Ask her how she began to assume these responsibilities, and Kim explains:
“My team at the time kept saying, we need to work on our communications – Kim, can you do that?”

Talk the talk:

  • Marcom – Short for ‘Marketing Communicators or Marketing Communications.’ Encompasses the practice of advertising, branding, graphic design, marketing, public relations, and promotion.
  • Leadership Development – Executive-level learning programs for managing directors, partners, and clients of the firm.
  • Headcount – The staffed positions within a professional group; those on the payroll.

According to Kim, her position has evolved over time, along with her role and responsibilities:

“Headcount opened up for a senior analyst role, as a communications analyst, and the description was vague. I knew the team didn’t know what exactly they wanted this person to do, but I had ideas and knew I needed to talk them through with people.”
What kind of ideas? First, Kim, says, she knew a greater importance had to be placed around how the team communicated. The preferred communicative medium of corporate America, PowerPoint, required fluency in a mode of visual storytelling in order to resonate with its audience. While fluency in PowerPoint is essential, there is more to communicating effectively than creating slides.  She considers fresh ways of engaging audiences to be essential to reaching her communications goals for the team.

Second, Kim’s wanted to think strategically about her team’s brand. Strategic brand development, at its core, is a deeply linguistic practice, which relies on asking and answering questions about an institution’s collective identity and voice.

 “On a high level my job involves [exploring questions like] ‘What is our narrative? How do we communicate X message to Y audience? What are we saying about our team, our brand, our mission, and our strategy? How does this narrative need to evolve based on who it is going to, and its goal?’”
She also notes that a linguistic mindset ultimately improves the approach to and quality of her work:

“On a more granular level I think I care about things non-linguists don’t care about but which benefit me and the deliverable… I’m known as the PowerPoint guru, and I have to ensure global consistency in terms of how our communications look to people. Before taking on this role, it drove me crazy because some don’t notice the differences in these communications details, but they do make an impact on people …. and I said, this is part of my job description.”

Linguistics as key qualification:

She hadn’t been attracted to marcom from an industry standpoint—media, entertainment—it wasn’t for her. But she had an undeniable knack for the skills it required. Her ability to think critically about positioning, narrative, and audience design led to her current position at Goldman Sachs. [See also: Kim’s Top 3 Tips for Personal Career Development.]

Thinking outside the ivory tower:

Kim is currently engaged in an initiative analyzing data from a collection of development action plans, looking at the emergent themes for leadership. This practice will be familiar to most social scientists: coding language data into quantitative data. Working with an organizational developer, she has encountered the issue of intercoder reliability:

“I’ve been trying to pull out the high level categories about ‘communication’ or ‘developing direct reports’ and she takes much more granular approach. It’s interesting to see how different researchers analyze data differently.”
And how are such sociolinguistic investigations used in a corporate setting?
“All of that very rich data is ultimately distilled to a teeny tiny metric or data point (which may be disappointing to social scientists). I’m not so tied to my academic underpinnings, so I’m not disheartened that I spent all this time for a single bullet point on a single deck. I lean towards that high level framing, because that is what is meaningful for my audience.”

How she got there
 – A linguist looks inward:

Kim’s undergraduate studies in Anthropology at Barnard College in New York had left her with an interest in pursuing a law degree, but she wasn’t all in. On the contrary, she was interested in it all. Her senior year she took the LSAT, GRE, and applied for jobs in sectors spanning paralegal, marcom, editing, and human resources (HR).

I asked Kim if there might have been an underlying theme to these seemingly different pursuits.

“Language,” she replied, “at its most basic level, and at its intersection with peopleThe practice of law is based on an interpretation of language. Even rules and behaviors governed by language as supposedly inarguable as to be ‘writ in stone’, are actually a matter of interpretation and argument, wrapped up in a very human-centered process.”

This underlying interest led her to pursue a professionally-oriented linguistics degree for graduate school. By the time she began her studies at Georgetown in the MA in Language and Communication (MLC), Kim had already begun to prioritize and articulate her functional capabilities:

“After undergrad, people would always ask me, ‘what are you going to do with Anthropology?’ And now instead of also being asked, ‘so what are you going to do with Linguistics?’ With the MLC, I had the confidence to explain ‘I study people and culture and people and language and here is what I can do with that.’”

Read part II of the interview with Kim

Sectors profiled in the “Profiles in Linguistics” series: Corporate Social Responsibility, Healthcare Communications, Library Science, Knowledge Management, Program Evaluation, Publishing, Social Media Marketing, Naming, Tech, User Experience Research.

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