Skills: Navigating complexity

Holly LinkedIn headshot

Navigating complexity – using your training in linguistics to make complex decisions about career like about workstyle preferences

Career Linguist “it’s all about skills!” series

Linguist Holly Richardson’s career story will be profiled in Bringing Linguistics to Work, coming soon.  In the meantime, I thought I would share an idea from her story as a way of also kicking off a new series on this blog “it’s all about skills” in which we reflect on the skills that linguists utilize professionally (and as part of the career search).

While in graduate school, and deciding about what her next steps might be, Holly Richardson found that her developing linguistic training was giving her practical, transferrable skills, such as the ability to navigate complexity. Holly saw the fundamental project of linguistics could be seen as identifying the constituent building blocks of complex structures. She recognized that these analytical skills could be appropriated for the task currently in front of her: weighing the relative influence of the workstyle preferences that were influencing her decision-making process about what kind of work she was looking for:

  • Work-life balance
  • Type of organization
  • Sector of work
  • Level of ambition that she was after
  • Outcome or end-product that her work would be about
    Myers-Briggs type
    Work relationship preferences

It is perhaps owing to the fact that her father is a career counselor that she was already so cognizant of these constituent pieces – but it was her own awareness that the skills that she was cultivating in class were making her better able to take the influence of myriad factors into consideration in decisionmaking. Readers of this blog will recognize these factors from Karen Newhouse’s Beyond the Ivory Tower.

Career venn

 Kane Newhouse compass

Holly knew that she needed to know as much as possible about her own preferences for each of the above and then learn as much as she could for each of the jobs that she was researching, so that she would be able to identify the best matches on as many points as possible.  For example, she knew that she was looking for a job that would enable her to also have time to travel, and to start a family, so expectations about work-life became something to ask about in networking and informational interviewing, as it mapped onto the types of organizations and sector of work.


She also had to do some reflection and soul-searching about what really motivated her on the job, including intrinsic and extrinsic motivators like work outcomes or influence and recognition.


She worked with a career coach to learn as much as she could about her skills using the Strong skills inventory and used her Myer’s Briggs type to look for similarities with those of the people who gravitated towards the kinds of careers, sectors, jobs she was looking at – so that she could ask questions in her job interviews about what kind of management, team dynamics, workplace collaboration style she was looking for.


Reflecting back with me on this process years later, she also sees now the importance of asking questions about the opposite: what kind of management, team dynamics, workplace collaboration style preferences don’t work in this environment.  She would encourage those of you who are jobseekers who have taken the Myers-Briggs and the Strong to also pay close attention to the “not”s.  The information that these test revels about what does not work for you in terms of workplace environment.  What skills are not your strongest?  Holly has learned to talk about these in a job interviews and performance reviews and just regular conversations that she invites with her supervisors.  And I would end here by suggesting that this skill – the ability to navigate potentially difficult conversations – was one that was also honed in a linguistics classroom.


What linguistic skills did you use as part of your jobsearch?

To be featured in the “It’s all about skills” series, reach out to @careerlinguist

Stay tuned for a more in depth version of Holly’s story in my forthcoming book


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