The culture of an organization from its website

As I see it, as a jobseeker, there a number of ways that you can gain access to a type of “insider knowledge” about the culture of an organization. Many of these “ways of knowing” lie in your reactions the public self-image they present with their website.

Discourse Analysis of an organization’s website
Start by looking for content, but don’t stop there. Given that you are trying to learn about who these people are by how they talk about themselves, consider ways that you are positioned as reader. Are you assumed to be an expert? If so, how, why? What images do they use? How are they used? Why? Can you identify any narratives? What do they seem to DO? Are there any “noisy nots” (things that are not talked about, but which you might expect would be)? What do you make of these? Who do they OTHER in this text – this might give you insight into who their competitors are, or who they are confused for.

Noisy Not: an example
One of my favorite examples of the “noisy not” from a website is that of one of my favorite authors: Tony Hawks. As it happens, his name is quite similar to the skateboarder Tony Hawk and as such, he often gets fanmail about skating. To make matters worse, the skater Tony Hawk has created a franchise, almost every product of which is presented with the possessive e.g. “Tony Hawke’s Proving ground” a game for playstation, which explains why it is that if one does a “google search” for “Tony Hawks” almost all of the images are for Tony Hawk. This confusion aslo explains some strikingly unexpected deictics which greet you immediately upon landing on Tony Hawks (the author’s) official website, including a graphic of post-it note with an arrow indicating “me” and a Polaroid picture with the label “Hello skate fans”

http://www.tony-hawks.com/
That Tony Hawks is a comedian becomes apparent when you click on the “skateboarding” link, where he performs bemoaning the confusion between himself: Tony Hawks the “startlingly good looking British male model” (joke), and Tony Hawk an “American whiz kid skateboarding champion,” by going on to present some of the ludicrous fanmail which he receives (apparently intended for Tony Hawk), to which he obligingly responds for the merriment of his fans here:

This is a humorous example, but a quick glance at any website will yield compelling information not only about who they ARE, but who they are NOT which is likely to be illuminating to the jobseeker for myriad reasons.

A serious example of “othering”
Bain & Company is a world renowned consulting firm with a close relationship to Bain Capital (partners from Bain & Co, including Mitt Romney and others started Bain Capital in 1984). At the time of writing, Bain Capital is enshrouded in controversy about when it was that republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney actually stopped serving as the CEO. A quick glance at the Bain & Co website can tell you many things, but one of the things that this site does most effectively is to tell you what they are not affected by (temporary factors like location) what they do not have time for (jargon-ridden reports, hidden agendas, or politics):

http://www.bain.com/about/people-and-values/true-north.aspx

How do you do it: Virtual Ethnographies
Nowadays, one of the most valuable ways to glean insight into an organization, and perhaps even access to their “backstage” is to conduct virtual a ethnography, which includes not only seeking out places that the organization talks and is talked about online, but also logging your own reactions and responses in field notes. In field notes, an ethnographer captures different types of observations, which can be captured in the unfortunate acronym: “D.I.E.” for Describe, Interpret, Evaluate. Often this is done in to columns, with everything that you can “describe” on the left column, and everything that you interpret and evaluate on the right. The next step is to reflect on the Interpret and Evaluate column and think about how you got to the insights which are listed there.

Informational Interviewing
Perhaps some of this questioning, or one of the NOTs that you identify in your website analysis could become a question in an informational interview, provided that you have done enough homework to determine that neither would be likely to get you thrown out on your ear, and you have built a rapport with your informational interviewee during which you get the sense that it may be safe to do a bit of digging / reflecting. If your interviewee seems defensive, aggressive / impatient, I would not “go there,” and I might also encourage you to consider whether their response to you might be input about whether you ultimately want to “go there” (as in work with this organization).

Prepping for a job interview

It’s that time of year again: job interview season!!

Thought I would take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts about how best to prepare. I welcome your ideas in response. What has worked for you? What would you never do again?

From student to professional
A major theme of this blog is enacting the transition from student to professional, and I would argue that the job interview (while key to enacting this transition) is actually best approached as an opportunity to show that you have already enacted this shift. So for example, when you are asked to give examples of things that you have done well (or things that you need to improve upon: more about this later), give examples from a work environment. Or talk about school in a way that shows you understand it as a job and are thinking about it as your profession.  Do mock interviews with friends and family asking them to pay attention for ways that you may be approaching questions or responses from the perspective of a student (for example, seeming to be looking for guidance or asking for permission rather than working independently, taking initiative).

An activity
One exercise that I like to do to help me think about good examples to talk about in job interviews comes from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talked about as a Time Management Matrix from this blog. Now this is supposed to be an exercise to help you be more proactive in managing your time, because it forces you to think about your work habits and triggers, but it will also trigger recollections which you can recontextualize as narrative answers to job interview questions.

Any and all thinking that you can do about quadrant 2 (those things which are important and not-urgent) will be the most valuable. Here you will find your core motivators, your values, which are tremendously challenging to articulate on the spot, and thus bear some thinking about. Think about the job tasks that live here, and how can you take some time for them from tasks from quadrants 3 and 4. Incicdentally, 3 and 4 and your responses to those may be the seeds of an answer  to a question about your weaknesses, which you really do want to answer honestly.

How to answer the “tell me about a weakness” question

Find something to talk about that you have processed emotionally: if you are still angry or embarassed about it, that may spill over into the interaction and will not read well.  You want to display self- awareness and self-compassion: “I know enough about myself to know that I can get very anxious before an oral presentation.”  Then, talk about the strategies you have learned that help you manage this weakness.  ” I have learned that I need to write out a script and rehearse if possible.”  End by talking about how this might manifest in a team environment, “when I can, I will take the lead in managing the timelines for deliverables for creating the presentation so that I can be performing at my best on the day of the presentation.”

Get your “5 things” in:
Make a list of 5 things that you would like to talk about. Ideally, these can be in response to things that you will be asked, but if they do not come up from the interviewers, find a way to introduce them into the conversation. Actively incorporate some of them as keywords into your answers and examples, or just be ready with one of these should someone ask you “is there anything else you would like to say?” or even the dreaded, omnipresent “tell me about yourself.” How fantastic does it make you look if you have something that you are just bursting to contribute with enthusiasm? It makes you look good and it makes them feel good, probably because you have demonstrated that you view the interview as collaborative, and that you take equal responsibility for the interaction going smoothly, a move which absolutely reads as “professional” and not “student”. I would venture to suggest that you will also be listening in a different way if you are looking for an opportunity to bring one of your five things. In improv, we call this “active listening,” it looks different.

Some old tried and true advice, which still holds:
Prepare questions to ask THEM
And after you have prepared them, have another look at the job description. Be sure that there is nothing there which has already been answered.

Do your homework
Go beyond the website in doing your research. Who is talking about the organization?  What are they saying?  What are the social media outlets which may give you unique insight into the most current developments they are experiencing (Twitter, LinkedIn?). Imagine that you were about to write a literature review about this company, but instead of key journals and major publications, it is your task to identify the key individuals in your life who might have insight into this industry and who you MUST speak to in order to locate yourself in the ongoing conversation. Do this not because you have to, but because you want to, because are interested. Use this as an opportunity to show how you take initiative, that you go above and beyond.

Show up EARLY!
We have all fallen into the trap of almost showing up late for a job interview. I have actually been late TWICE! In both instances, it was the fault of public transportation, which is to say, both were MY FAULT because I should have left much earlier to allow for problems. The first time it happened to me, I was new to the DC area and encountered some unexpected single-tracking on the green line. I arrived at the interview flustered and completely stuck inside my own head. When my interviewer asked me about my trip, I started venting about Metro, at which point she shut her folder, stood up, and said “well, if I were to give you this job, that would in fact be your daily commute, so I know one way to solve that problem for you quite easily: we can end the interview right now!” I ended up getting the job, but it involved some MAJOR humble pie, and I honestly think they must have been in a real pinch. Demonstrate unequivocoably that you take complete ownership here.

Learn from past mistakes,
Ask for feedback, do at least one thing better each time.

As ever, I want to hear from you: let me know how it is going for you out there!

School is your job

As a graduate student, there are many reasons for treating school like work. First and foremost, I would argue that it is very good practice. Office politics are among the things that people speak to as being among the most difficult aspects of the transition from student to professional, but if you choose to treat school like work, and are actively teaching yourself to become more aware of the social and interpersonal dynamics that are always going on all around you, you will find that you are already in a place where you can begin learning about office culture, and practice the art of navigating within it.

Office Politics
In an academic department, just like in any workplace, there is much that is going on beneath the surface. There are allegiances, there are conflicts, there are historical ways of doing things, and there are forces of change. At any moment, any person with whom you may come into contact is likely dealing with many if not all of these things at once. Probably they are experiencing them in very different ways if they are a faculty member, an administrator, a student, a university employee – all of which bears thinking about. Perhaps I was more in tune with all of this because I came back to graduate school after a few years in a very hierarchical and competitive workplace, but as a student, to remain ignorant of all that is going on around is to do so at your peril. Use this as an opportunity.

Pay attention!
If nothing else, at the very least, choose to pay more careful attention to the people around you. Some folks are being paid to be here, and some folks are paying to be here, but we all come with histories and experiences that we can share. To recognize these is to recognize the many opportunities for learning and growth all around you, including perhaps identifying models for your own behavior. Reflect on what drives the people around you. What can you recognize about their skills and interests? What do you know about their values? Think about how you know this. The clues are all around you. Who do people talk about as being obnoxious? What aspects of their behavior are being called to attention? Don’t be like them.

Observe!
Glean information about the culture by listening and observing. And only after you have learned enough about HOW to ask (c.f. Charles Briggs), should you begin asking questions. There are likely to be projects in need of assistance, but your likelihood of receiving one such opportunity is likely going to depend on the way that you ask about it.

You are being observed
Not to make this all sound like Big Brother, but your colleagues form impressions about you by the ways you act and interact every day. If you are in job search mode, you want for your classmates and professors and department administrators to know it, not just because you say it, but because you SHOW IT. Tell them with your actions that you are responsible, hardworking, dedicated, and smart. Students are reminded to think about this when they ask for a letter of recommendation (that how you ask is going to be as important as who you ask), but EVERY TIME that you show up for class, or hand in an assignment, or raise your hand is an opportunity to communicate something about yourself.

Know when to have fun!
This is not to make you paranoid or make you feel like you can’t be yourself. People like to surround themselves with people they enjoy, so if people enjoy your company, this might be the reason they think of you when they hear about an opportunity at their workplace. If you are a silly and goofy person, the people you work with should know this about you, but knowing the time and place for everything is key. Boundary-setting is a crucial life skill, and here again is an opportunity to practice.

Your behavior reflects on others
Remember that who you are says something about who WE are because you are a part of a community. Knowing this is especially important if someone is going to recommend you for a job. They need to know that such a recommendation is not going to come back to haunt them years later when their boss says: “why on EARTH did you bring that guy to work here?” Again, you will need to communicate this not just with your words, but with your actions. If this awareness is new to you, use your time in grad school as a chance to get practice and feedback. Ask your classmates and your professors for input about how you are coming off. Frame it as important knowledge that you need for success in your professional future. People will share if they trust that you will honestly listen.

Cultivating Awareness of Skills
As it often does in this blog, it all comes down to increasing your awareness. To treat school as a job means also to pay attention to the skills that you are acquiring and cultivating. Think about it! Sociolinguistics is about being an expert at communication and culture, so it is only natural that we as a community have very high expectations about our members’ ability to recognize the elements of communicative competence for participating in our culture. Grad school is and opportunity for both learning and practice, and these skills are well worth it! Believe me, such awareness is going to be something that you will rely on for the rest of your life!

15 minutes for your jobsearch

If you are reading this blog, you might be a full-time graduate student in linguistics, with a hectic schedule of classes and probably a part-time job and on top of that, you are frantically searching and applying for full-time jobs so that you have something lined up for when you graduate and on top of that, MAYBE you are able to find time for friends and family. You are so busy in fact that there isn’t even time to think, let alone sleep or eat. But yet – here I am asking you to take 15 minutes to think about your career search.

Now, obviously, I am really hoping that you will find more time than that, because I want you to continue reading and thinking about career development and I am hoping that networking will become a life-long practice for you, but maybe 15 minutes now is the best way that I can convince you of that so…..

Let’s begin with two questions:
1) Tell me about a time that you did something that you were really proud of (can be a professional or a personal accomplishment).
2) If there were no constraints, if money were no object, if you could go anywhere or do anything, what would you do? Who would you work for/with?

Now the second question seems like the impossible one. This is probably the exact reason that you are in graduate school: you want help figuring this out, or you want to make the connections that will actually make this happen. And yet, I have never met the person who does not have an answer to this question. You may be stuck and stressed out and spinning, but somewhere in your gut you have the answer to this one. The first one is actually much harder, but through interrogation, you find the clues, the little breadcrumbs that you have left for yourself along the way, pointing you in one direction or another “X was easy to do and felt like fun rather than work,” “I got a great deal of satisfaction out of working on Y” “I find myself really drawn to people who do Z.” Now that you know where you are going (answer to question 2), how do you use your skills, interests, and abilities (answers to question 1) to help get you there?

The first of these questions looks back and the second looks forward, but in setting up a dialogue between these two you have your directions and your map.

Ideally, you could have this as a conversation with someone who knows you well , and someone who will challenge you by asking lots of “whos,” “whats, ““whens,” wheres,” and whys.” Maybe this person could take notes and even record you so that when you articulate exactly what it is about accounting that really floats your boat, you will have that language there to put into a cover letter, or to work it into your elevator pitch.

Maybe these could be a series of conversations that you have with many friends, and maybe these become questions that you turn around as you deploy them:

• Ask your friends and family to answer these about you: where and when did you see me really succeeding or really enjoying something that I was doing? Where do you see me working? What do you think would be my idea job?

• Ask your friends and family to answer these for you. In listening to them, you can begin to learn more about what makes them tick and why and how you connect with them, so as to ultimately learn more about yourself in the process.

And likely, there will be more than one answer, more than one dream job, especially if you continue having these conversations over time. Keep track of the nuggets of wisdom that you discover about yourself. After all, what could be more important than spending more of your time doing more of what you love?

The many worlds in LinkedIn

Let’s start with a quick “tour of the tabs” in typical “what the linguist sees…” style, exploring the interactional sociolinguistic work which is being done on LinkedIn


And there is much to talk about!

Screenshot 2015-03-18 00.29.44

Home
Here is where you see your newsfeed, updates that members of your network and companies that you follow have posted.  For jobseekers, probably the most worthy of note are the things that organizations of interest are saying.  Information is principally shared in the form of “updates” which are short posts, (much like Tweets) about current projects, announcements, events, or resources, which then appear in the “newsfeeds” of individuals who “follow” the organization, or if it is posted by an individual, by people who are connected to that individual.  A great way to join the conversation is simply to comment on and share those updates which you find to be particularly useful or thought-provoking or applicable.

Profile
In crafting one’s profile, the linguist brings a heightened awareness of tools at her disposal in crafting an identity, not the least of which is a familiarity with audience design. My advice here is to imagine your dream employer (whoever that may be) as your audience. What would you want him/her to know about you? Showcase your enthusiasm. Speak his or her language. And how do you do this? You may already be anticipating my answer…..

Connections
Get into the world of LinkedIn by connecting with folks who you already know IRL who are “in” there. What language do they use to describe their skills, interests, experience and accomplishments? Do these resonate with you? Identify keywords that speak to your background?

Jobs
It goes without saying that this is why many of us are on LinkedIn. I have read many a statistic that many jobs are posted on LinkedIn and nowhere else.  That said, many jobs are only posted as updates or directly on a company page, which may be foudn in

Interests
So you want to be as well connected as you can and following any and all organizations that speak to you.

Never before did applicants have access to insider information about an organization of interest like this. Take advantage of it. So here’s an example. LinkedIn just suggested Applied Storytelling to me as an organization of interest. Now, if I want to begin doing a virtual ethnography of this organization, I can look at the “official story” on their website and then compare to the version I get on their LinkedIn Company Page.  What can I learn by looking here? There are at least three sources of information (and please add to this list, I would love to hear from you all how it is that you use the site:

1. Who is following this organization? Whose radar screens have they pinged on? What does this tell you about their reach? How they connect with the public?
2. Who are their employees? How long have they been working there? What backgrounds and training do they bring with them? When they leave the organization, where do they go?
3. How many of them are on LinkedIn? What do their profiles look like? (to me this says something about the company’s attention to language) If you are actively wanting to network your way into the organization, see what groups they are a part of, what events they are attending.

Joining groups is important for many reasons. Being a part of groups is an organic way to find people with shared interests. The set-up provides you with the conversational fodder for networking, and it also helps in professional self-presentation. A quick look at the groups you are involved with can tell a visitor to your profile a great deal about you and what you care about.

How are you using LinkedIn?  share your stories with me on Twitter @CareerLinguist

Jobseeker: Take stock of the people in your life!

In their book So What Are You Going to do with That? Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius talk about using people as sources for research just as you have been trained to do with books as a graduate student. This series of activities is designed to help you enact that shift of perspective by looking closely at the people in your life.  By thinking about how they form the social networks that you currently participate in, what are some of the different ways that they can help you make connections?

For the first part of this activity, set up a quiet space for yourself to write.  Get a timer that you will set for 5 minutes.  I prefer to do this activity with a pencil and paper, because somehow writing by hand helps take my brain back to the past, but if you prefer to type, then do so.  Whatever is most conducive to free-thinking for you.  Beginning your timer, make a list of all of the people who you have known over the course of your entire life.   Try to just keep writing for the entire 5 minutes, don’t judge what you are listing, if you can’t remember a name, just say “that guy who sold me my car” and keep on going.  The idea here is to free up your conscious thinking and let your brain do what it does best: free-associate and forge connections.

When the timer stops, take a look at the list you just created.

People

Are there any names here that surprise you?   People who you had long since forgotten?  What was your connection to them?  What do you think made them appear here on this list?

Activities

Do you start to see any patterns here in terms of what activities you were engaged in that brought these people into your life?  Was it participation in sports, religious organizations, school, work?  For example, are these people that you traveled with or met while traveling, and if so, does this suggest to you anything about how you orient to or value traveling?  As you look at your list to see what categories and groups it suggests, break those out into the natural groups or networks that they fall into by drawing boxes around those who clump together and drawing lines to connect (thinking maybe about how you met these people, how you keep track of these people, when you will next see them, etc.).

Groups:

Now start to think about how these people are connected (to each other and to you)?   Be reflective about contexts that seem most conducive to making deep connections for you.  These can be illuminating not only for thinking about how best to approach your networking, but also in learning about your values.  For example, if many of the people on your list are members of your family / are people that you me through your family, perhaps this can give you some insight to a major motivating factor for you.  You may have an extended family who are well-placed to make connections for you, but you may also want to recognize that family are a priority as you make important life decisions like where you might be willing to move for a job.   The information contained in your list is most illuminating when you can discuss with a group and see how your group is organized differently from theirs.

Bringing your past into your present

Many of these people who you have listed will be from organizations that you used to belong to, or in cities where you used to live.  Think for a moment how you connect to them in the present.   Events that you attend (reunions, professional conferences, weddings, etc.), trips that you take.  Try to think about more ways of bringing this past into your present job search.  Are there alumni groups or  listservs that you could join, could you use LinkedIn? (more on LinkedIn in the next activity).

A focus on the present:

In the Cross Cultural Communication course that I teach, we do an activity which has students think about the identities that they currently have by thinking about the groups that they currently belong to.  Google+ has capitalized on this imagery, so you can maybe recruit that to help stimulate your thinking.  Choose seven groups that you are currently a part of.   When we do this in class, we draw the circles, and you can draw from your training in semantics to go a step further if you like to draw them in ways that capture how they intersect and overlap.

Looking at your circles, and thinking about where you would like to be headed professionally, brainstorm about who you are currently connected to who might be able to help you make the next step.  Where do these connections lead?

Take a minute to pay it forward

As ever, we want you to be considering ways to pay it forward.  Are there people in your network who could really benefit from a connection that you might be able to make for them?  If so, take a minute to make this happen!  The right conversation at the right time could make all the difference to one of your fellow jobseekers!

Moving into the future

Reflecting back on the “Know Thyself” exercises that you have been doing, and looking at these groups, ask yourself whether the groups you are currently engaged with speak to your interests and values.  If so, how can you continue to deepen your engagement with these communities?  If there is something missing, what activities could you look for to fill these gaps?  Jobsearching aside, you will be a happier person if your days are spent doing things that you love to do!

Po Bronson’s What Should I Do with My Life?

Despite the fact that he has been a bestselling author for more than a decade, I only recently came across the work of author Po Bronson for this research on narrative explorations of Career.   Insightful as his work is, I am actually really glad to have only stumbled across his work now, as having recently begun to do storytelling myself, I found that I was in a better position to truly appreciate his choices as a storyteller in his book What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question.  He calls this a piece of “social documentary” because its genre is not easily described: part autobiography, part social-commentary, part self-help book, it is most compellingly a collection of stories that illuminate the shared wisdom in our collective struggles to figure out “what it is all about?” After interviewing nine hundred people, he chose seventy to interview in depth, of which, he presents fifty in this work, weaving in as well pieces of his own stories, one of the many ways that he steps into his own narrative here.

Choice to interact with his own book / layer in his own story

He admits to “committing the cardinal sin of journalism” by stepping into lives he is supposed to only be observing.  Although he tries not to, he feels called to offer advice, and in one case, offers a job to someone whose searching was the subject of the book.  He admits: “I felt funny about it.  It’s okay if our writing changes people’s minds, but not if our actions do.  It’s like tampering with a crime scene before the police photographers show up”

but then declares:

“But I’d rather help than watch.  I’d rather have a heart than a mind. I’d rather expose too much than too little.  I’d rather say hello to strangers that be afraid of them.  I would rather know all of this about myself than have more money than I need.  I’d rather have something to love than a way to impress you”

His choice of genre

It may not surprise you to learn that he had the idea for this work because he was at a bit of a crossroads professionally and personally, but what spoke to me here was his honestly in admitting that as a writer, he realized he had used the support of his ex wife as a writing crutch.  Also that previous success in a very different genre had won him an audience that was likely perceive this work as too “touch-y feel-y,” but that now he had found a very different voice and  needed only to find the courage to listen, to trust it!

“Finding your calling is not ‘the answer’ says Po.  Callings are vehicles that help us let our real selves out; callings speed up the process.  You can find your calling, or you can find your people, or you can find an evironment that nurtures you – they all lead to the same place.  Many people get there without ever finding their calling.  Head in that direction.  Seek, adjust.  Seek, learn.  We grow into our true selves, our whole selves, overcoming our fears and the limits that once trapped us” (433).

Throughout, I found myself humbled by his vulnerability and empathy for himself, including and especially this willingness to share his own process as a storyteller.  I was also struck by what he was able to illuminate for me and help me to recognize about some of the influences of my own environment which I had stopped seeing long ago, despite calling myself an analyst of culture.   J

What he taught me about DC

When Po talks with Bart Hanford, a former Clinton White House staffer, about his professional struggles, Bart confesses:  “I’ve got to get over my inferiority complex”

To which Po responds: “Or use common sense to tune it out.  You worked for the White House, for god’s sake.  That’s pretty impressive.”

“it is?”

“yeah”

“The honor of it is easy to forget in a town like this.  From the moment I came to Washington, I have been surrounded by the smartest people from the best schools and they seem to know something I don’t know, like they’ve all been taught a secret language.  And they have – the language of applications.  They’ve all been through it before. “

I hadn’t really thought before how so many of the people who are here, are here because they applied to be here (for work, for school, for a grant), they talked their way into being here, and if they did not have it before they came, they get it while they are here.  I chuckled in spite of myself when Bronson observed at another point in the book “the culture of DC turns everyone into expert spinmeisters.”  What I had stopped recognizing were the ways this city and this country has taught me to be always wanting more – a job with more responsibility, more prestige, more challenge – without thinking why.  Sometimes the courage to trust your voice and uncover your true calling is as simple as finding the courage to own that you do enough, have enough and are enough.   I am inspired by him and by these stories that he so expertly renders to strive for simplicity.

What a linguist “sees while she is listening” to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs

Last month, Greg Smith wrote a battle-cry of an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled: “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs” In this piece he speaks to a toxic and destructive working environment and culture, painting a picture of factors that contributed to this very public expression of his disenchantment. Using an approach that deeply resonates with our ethnographic approach to career exploration, He portrays instances of listening during which he increasingly did not like what he was hearing.  In his words: “if you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.”  So, what does this linguist “see while she is listening” to Mr. Smith?

 

The noisy silences

What struck me the most in this piece was Mr. Smith’s awareness of the questions which he does NOT hear being asked: “I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients” for him this noisy not illuminates exactly how “The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”  For him, what is not said tells volumes about the current cultural climate. And how about what is?

Referring expressions

Twice in the piece, he cites shocking examples of clients being referred to as “muppets,” depressing to him for what it demonstrates to be an utter lack of humility and integrity for what ought to be the center of the enterprise.  The client ought to be treated with respect instead of having their “eyeballs torn out.”  To refer to clients as muppets shows just how far the firm has veered from being organized “around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.”

 

Deictic shifts

I am struck by the rhetorical shifts throughout this essay, reflected in the deictic choices embedded in his use of pronouns.  These serve alternatively to reinforce his dissatisfaction and sense of distance from the organization, at other times to invite you into his recollection of a better time, or finally to share his experience of pain at the changes he has observed in the organization’s culture, as I will now explore.

 

The piece begins with Smith’s declaration that today is his last day at the company, where throughout this first section, he consistently refers to himself in the singular “I” and refers to “the firm,” Goldman Sachs” and “it.”  These choices take on meaning when he shifts to describing when he first joined the firm.  Speaking of the past, he refers to the organization as “this firm,” “this place” and he uses the inclusive pronoun “our.”  When explaining “how did we get here?” he shifts again to using “the firm” and “it,” and what is for me most telling, when he comes to a description (dripping with irony) of “how to be a leader” currently,  we have his  first use of the pronoun “we” and the referring expression that I was most familiar with when I was an employee of the firm “Goldman.”  Here in this section, this rhetorical shift invites you into his perspective, to share his horror, and own in his pain, a sense of complicity, and an understanding for what is motivating this drastic measure

 

Talking about culture

In this section, we are invited into a day-by-day through use of insider referring expressions for products and practices ”any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.” He cites examples of Goldman-speak including “axes,” (he stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit) and “hunting elephants” (get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman)

 

I suggest that this piece provides a compelling illustration of how we should carry our “ways of listening” throughout the navigation of our careers

Job interviews: What do we know?

A humorous YouTube video that I like to use as an example of framing also happens to be a job interview (at least in the mind of one of the participants), and can be illuminating for our discussion of what expectations we bring into an interview as the interviewee.

 

Guy Goma had shown up to BBC News 24 for a job interview as an accountant and owing to a mix-up in reception, he gets mistaken for Guy Kewney  editor of the technology website news wireless and is interviewed on air about the court battle between apple computers and apple Corps over trademark rights.  For more on the case, you can click here

 

Here in the interview, you can see the moment of realization on Guy’s face where the coin drops that something is very, very wrong, but you can also see in his performance that he does many things right.  Take a look:

 

Now, remember, from Guy’s perspective, he has just shown up for a job interview.  His frame or mental model for the interaction will determine how he will behave.  He has already dressed the part, he has presumably showed up on time, and he because he is operating under the assumption that he needs to be cooperative, he sits for stage makeup and gets led onto the soundstage, thinking that at the BBC this must be how they do things, maybe they are so interested in TV that even the accountants need to be prepared to appear on camera in stage makeup at a moment’s notice.

 

So what does Guy do right?

 

He demonstrates interest and enthusiasm

Guy Goma is not an expert in technology or trademark rights, but he shows that he is interested in the industry by relating this question to examples drawn from his personal experience, noting the prevalence of cybercafés and people’s need to have downloadable media.  Ideally, you would be being interviewed for something that you were both qualified for and had prepared for in advance, so this would be your moment to demonstrate the effort that you have put in ahead of time by demonstrating your enthusiasm for how your skills and abilities match up with the organizations needs with an example for something that you have done or could do for them.  This also shows that you have shifted your deictic center, that you have put yourself into the mindset of your interviewer and anticipated their question of what you could do / where you would fit into the organiztion.

 

Be friendly and open, talk

In a job interview, silence can send unintended metamessages of being uncooperative, unhelpful, or difficult.  Talk shows that you are willing to hold up your end of the conversational bargain in this context.  This conversational work serves as a metaphor for your willingness to do the literal work of your job, to be a high performer you will play the game, and lob the ball back.  If you are nervous, you may perhaps want to find a way to just mention it so that signals which you may be sending do not get in the way of sending the metamessage “I am professional” “I do my share of the work.” we can see here, that he talks at least twice as long as the interviewer when she poses him a question:

 

Interviewer Guy Goma
4 seconds 14 seconds
10 seconds 20 seconds
6 seconds 12 seconds
   

 

Interviewer: Hello good morning to you

Guy: Good morning

Interviewer: Were you surprised by this uh verdict today?

Guy: I’m very surprised to see this verdict to come on me because I was not expecting that, when I came they told me something else and I’m coming “you’ve got an interview” that’s very, a big surprise anyway

Interviewer: A big surprise?

Guy: Exactly

Interviewer: Yes yes

With regard to the cost that’s in- in- involved, um do you think now more people will be downloading online?

Guy: Actually, if you go everywhere you’re gonna see lot of people downloading through the internet and the website everything they want.  But I think it is much better for development and to empower  people what they want to get easy way and so fast everything they are looking for

Interviewer: This does really seem to be the way the music industry is progressing now that people want to go onto the website and download music

Guy: Exactly, you can go everywhere on the cybercafé and you can take, you can go easy, it’s going to be easy for everyone to get something through the internet

Interviewer: well, I think we can go now to Rob Pitten…..

 

But, at the same time, he does not dominate the floor!

 

Keep your answers short

Even though Guy may have no idea at all what he is talking about, and thus the content of his utterances are a bit off, the structure of his contributions are perfect.  A great practice to adopt in your own interviews might be to check in quickly with your interviewer after you have given your answer. “does that answer your question?”

 

And another thing that we can learn from Guy is that

you don’t have to be afraid to say “I don’t know!”

you, unlike Guy, are not being interviewed on national television!  Check in with your interviewer if you need further clarification, if you are not sure that you have understood.  Speaking as someone who has sat on the other side of the desk, this does not signal incompetence, to me it shows me a respect for my time, but as ever, this is something to ask for advice about in your informational interviews with industry contacts.

 

And as ever, I want to hear from you – how did it go?