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?

The “reaching out” e-mail

What do we know as linguists that can help us to craft this reaching out e-mail?

Position yourself as a student
Now, we have been working on cultivating a professional voice, a future voice that is not mired in the deictic pov of a student, but in this instance alone, I do think it is useful to take up a student position when you are reaching out to someone who truly does not know you.  Not that people should be put off by someone with professional polish, but I guess they are just more likely to help someone who sounds like a student who needs their help.  I would try to find a way to take up the position of student, you can do this by stating simply that you are a “student” and also not explicitly mentioning professional experience, or at least not featuring that prominently at the very beginning.  Students have the freedom to ask questions that colleagues are not able to, so positioning yourself as a student puts your interlocultor into a position of teacher, which puts you in a better position to learn!

Proofread – give the e-mail to someone else for feedback
I am famous for not doing this as well, so I know of what I speak that if you have typos, you are asking someone who doesn’t know you to make a decision about what kind of person you are and whether you are going to waste their time.  If you don’t take the time to proofread, perhaps you are not going to take the time to prepare for the informational interview and show up asking “so what does this company do?” You don’t need to send that message.  You are interesting and amazing and anyone who speaks to you will be so glad that they did, so don’t give anyone who might be worried that they are too busy to find the time any kind of excuse to say “no.”  Believe that they want to get to know you.   Communicate this belief in your e-mail.

Be brief
There is so much that you could say or would say or feel that you should say, but if this e-mail starts to feel like it is going on too long (sort of like this blog post), find a way to end it.  The point of the mail is really just to say enough about yourself to make the other person interested in hearing more.  Also, you have the opportunity to send the message that you are aware of the multiple demands on this person’s time simply by not making the task of reading your e-mail another thing on this person’s to-do list.

Finally, this is not just about now!
Now is when you need the job, and so I do all too well understand that you feel constrained by time, but remember that networking is a life skill that we are trying to cultivate.  This is a  practice that I hope you will continue, worthwhile precisely because it is challenging.  But as I hope you will come to agree, is tremendously valuable.

Reaching out to total strangers can be a very daunting prospect, and the first and very best piece of advice that I can offer you is simply to encourage you to just keep on trying!!!  Sometimes people are impossible to reach, sometimes they say no, and sometimes even more frustratingly, they will say that they would meet you, but are not appropriate for an informational interview because their path and their choices were very unique and their experience was theirs alone.   EVERYONE’S ARE!!

Of course we know that everyone has something to share, and from anyone who is willing to share their story, there is always something to learn, so when I hear this response, I just try to tell myself that this person just has not come to appreciate the power of narrative in the way that we have.   Yet another reason why it is important for you to keep trying, maybe you can teach them why their story is illuminating!

However, when someone really does not want to sit down, give yourself the gift of accepting that and just let that go.  Don’t take it as judgement on you, or as a statement that you are not interesting enough or worthy to talk to.  You will be always be much happier talking to people who really want to talk to you  – so tell yourself that it is worth this struggle now to get to the place where you are having a genuine conversation with someone who genuinely shares your interests and wants to speak with you.

If it helps you to know that many people have been exactly where you are now, know that many are and that many have been, and many will be in future.  Remember what it feels like now so that when someone reaches out to you in future, you will do what you can to pay it forward.  Over the years, I have worked with many students working through this exact struggle and I have also been through some years of it now myself.  Also, as I know from improv, sometimes it is the choice that happens in this desperate moment that is the clincher for you!

…okay, but enough improv analogies.
Get out there, and let me know how it goes!

Professional Identity: Learning how to talk the talk

One of the goals of the MLC program is to provide students with a set of analytical tools.  We provide the training in linguistic analysis that will be needed to be to be able to do a job upon graduation, but another primary aim is to help students cultivate a “voice” that helps them enact the transition from student to professional.  Learning how to talk the talk, is sometimes described as “sounding confident” “persuasive” or “professional,” but whatever its label, as sociolinguists, we know that what it means to “sound professional” will always be contextually situated.  It will always involve a constellation of linguistic practices and features, whose importance have been negotiated by the community.  Some features of your way of talking may mean one thing in one context and something entirely different in another, for example teasing.   In this way, we might think about the research that we will do to prepare for approaching a new organization as an exercise in cross-cultural communication.

An example from my own research experience is the role of narrative within a community.  Drawing from ethnographies that I have done with an improv troupe, a Quaker vigil for peace and from a business school classroom, we can see variation not just in terms of what the stories are about, but how they are constructed, and what they accomplish interactionally.   In the improv troupe, stories are often (perhaps unsurprisingly) about the work of other performers, but they are performed with multiple deictic shifts and character voices that a linguist can analyze and appreciate though exploration of use of constructed dialogue, and even more specifically by looking at how the discourse marker “oh” worked with constructed dialogue to take stances towards these voices within the world of the story, finding that often to construct an argument, these speakers would begin by showing an example of what NOT to do (think, say).  Another aspect of their storytelling that I only came to appreciate when I approached the Quaker community is that the volume of stories that are told can be significant.  Quakers do tell stories but rarely, while Improvisers (and business students) tell them ALL THE TIME.  But to what effect?

Of course the observations that I have about this community of improvisers are only really true of this community of improvisers, but I observed this group to often tell stories that portrayed vulnerability and struggle.  They tell these stories precisely because these are human qualities that they value as artists.  However, many of the stories (at least the ones that I observed being told in the business school classroom), portrayed moments of almost omniscient wisdom on the part of the narrator.  In the business school classroom, what often gets shared are narratives of personal experience, and of course, having been a person in the business world (in any world) means that you have many stories to share which might include just as many struggles as successes.  However, when it comes to identity construction, to be taken as a competent member of this community, you will often chose to present stories that reflect applicable knowledge, take-aways.  This reflects a value (perhaps cultivated through the case-study method) placed on information that can be shared, and applied, best-practices.   And when you chose to share instances in which things did not go so well, it still may be very important that you present yourself as narrator as someone who suspected that it might not work out in the end.  In this way, you establish credibility in your voice as narrator.  You tell your listeners that they can trust your perspective and voice.   Thus in the business school classroom, you will often here contributions from students following some point that the lecturer has made that start with “that’s a good point because in my organization,,,,”

Of course, it goes without saying that your skills and abilities will be the reason that you are hired, and that they will continue to be essential in the actual doing of your job, but to actually get the job, you need to convey your skills, interests, and abilities in a way that communicates passion while simultaneously enabling the employer to hear how it is that you are the correct match for the organization’s needs and goals.  The interviewer needs to hear a professional identity that makes sense within their organization’s evaluative framework for what constitutes “sounding professional”

So, what are you learning from the research you are doing into the organizations that you are targeting about what it means to “sound professional” in that context?

What do you hear from listening to each other that is illuminating?  You are looking at different organizations, but you also have different conversational styles.  What can you learn about your own conversational style by listening to your classmates?

Talking about money

Yesterday, my Language and Society class watched John Gumperz’ Cross Talk I and II, which, because I am also now teaching the Proseminar made for an entirely different viewing experience.  I saw these interactions through a professional development lens, with an eye to what I can teach my students about what aspects of their own culture are likely to become salient in interactions as part of their job search.

In Cross Talk I, we see individuals interacting in various settings (at a bank, at a social services interview, at a job interview), and I saw many of the themes that we have been discussing in class, and which I have been blogging about here relating to the unwritten assumptions with which we operate in the job search, including the fatal flaw of not shifting your deictic center to put yourself into the pov of your interviewer, showing them that you are approaching the interview by thinking about the organization’s needs and how you fit in.  But in Cross Talk II, which portrays some of the various negotiations which take place in the work context (performance appraisals, salary negotiations) I saw an instantiation of “talking about money” which led me to a bit of a revelation of my own.  In the role-play featuring a Vietnamese employee’s salary negotiation with her boss, when the boss asked her point blank “how much of a raise are you expecting this year?” the employee had a very difficult time answering.  The narrator observed that members of Korean culture may operate with the assumption that “people in power are supposed to understand what you want and need,” and I recognized myself in that observation.  I have long known that it is very hard for me to talk about money, and that of course, it is likely a product of my cultural background and upbringing, but this was the first time that I also thought about framing it as a linguistic problem, on which we can bring our skills and training to bear, as I will now consider:

There are many reasons why it may be difficult to talk about money.  The first may well be that for students, much of our socialization involves an implicit assumption that people in power understand what you want and need.  The “boss knows best” seems particularly salient as a characterization of the relationship between students and administration in the Humanities model, and when you have been a student for years into adulthood, and have been very grateful to have been accepted in the first place, and then to be given good grades, and if you are especially lucky, fellowships, and research opportunities, you may operate within this mode of thinking for years and have been given little opportunity to examine this assumption, much less practice having such difficult conversations which may challenge it.

Money as Topic

One of the first things that jumped out at me during my first days of observing at the Business school was that money was so openly discussed.  Deborah Tannen’s classic work Conversational Style teaches us that the choice of topics to be discussed can be just as much as aspect of style as can one’s use of overlap, and I recognized that talk about money was taboo in many if not all of the cultures in which I currently operate.  Certainly in my own family, talking about money was indicative of thinking about money, which carried the meaning of in our house, admittedly an extreme one, of irreligiousity, you only need to hear “consider the lilies of the field” but so many times as a child to get the message that if you are thinking about money, you had best not talk about it.  And there are many other reasons why we avoid talking about money in everyday life.  Granted, mine is an extreme example, but when we were younger, when none of us had any, we could talk and joke about money, but as we grow up, the personal risks of such conversations may become too great.  Certainly, professionally most of us have learned to operate within a modus operandi of “don’t ask don’t tell.”  It only takes one bitter situation in which such information known cannot be unknown to learn to just avoid the topic entirely.

But we do have to be prepared to talk about money in the job interview context.  What you want, and more importantly, what you need.  If you don’t ask at the beginning, you will continue to be behind, because every subsequent increase will only be based on where you started, so to prepare yourself for that negotiation….and you will likely not be surprised to hear me say what I am about to say here….. you need to do your research!!

What do people in my field make?

Figure out what the expected salaries are for your industry.  This can be a topic in your informational interviews, it is something to ask of alum, of friends, family, your dentist, back to the golden rules of networking, but remember to always ask in terms of range (see below).  You may also wish to avoid asking what they make and instead ask “what should I expect to see in terms of salary?”  There are also a number of websites where you can research salary:


GuideStar – National Database of Nonprofit Organizations (see tax returns)

Hoover’s Online Salary Resources

JobStar Central Salary Resources

LegiStorm – Congressional Staff Salaries

The Riley Guide – Salary Resources



What do I make?

Figure out what you have been making (if you need to, multiply out the hourly rate that you are being paid times 40 hours a week x 52 weeks a year).  Figure out what you need to be making (based on your loans, your debts, the cost of living).

What am I worth?

Figure out what your skills and training are worth, not just to you but also to the organization.  Thinking about where your skills and training fit in will have been part of your process all along, but here is where you can map it out in nuts and bolts.  If they hire you, what are the measurable outcomes? Are there ways that having you on board will increase the bottom line?  Where is your value add?  What is their opportunity cost of they do not hire you?  Adopt their terminology, to the extent that you have learned it over the course of your jobsearch.

Talk in terms of range.

I have often read that in a salary negotiation, you should never be the first person to mention a number, but I have found this to be very difficult in practice.  As discussed above, I have very little experience, and much baggage when it comes to talking about money, so the advice is always to talk in terms of RANGES.  What range can they offer you?  What range can you accept?  What is your floor?

Use silence strategically

As linguists, we know how to be aware of silence and not be afraid of it.  Be silent about salary (if possible) until after an offer has been made to you, that is when you have the most leverage.  Be silent after you have stated your range and supported it with evidence for why you are worth that.  If there is silence, some people may rush in to fill it.  I have even heard anecdotally, that in cross-cultural negotiations, bosses may in fact be so uncomfortable with silence that they may rush in to supply larger numbers to fill the void.   Either way, increase your awareness of and comfort with this kind of silence, and break the kind that can impede you from getting what you deserve!!!

……and be sure to let me know how it all works out !!!!

Because we are researchers, we write better resumes

What you know that you don’t know that you know: Our training as researchers makes us better writers of resumes.

Don’t forget the things that you know about people and about language, which may have become so natural over the course of study that you may have forgotten that you know them!

So what makes us particularly good at writing resumes? 

We are aware of audience design. If we spend the time listening to our audience, we can learn how they communicate and model our speech accordingly.  Probably the very best way to do this initially is to go through a job description reading like a discourse analyst.  What can we learn about what they value by WHAT they talk about, HOW and WHY? What presuppositions do they make?  What positionings do they take up?  What do they NOT talk about?  With more time, if you have it, conduct a more through “communications audit” as it is called in the business world or participant observation as we might call it in ethnography.   Read anything and everything that you can get your hands on that has to do with this company.  Talk to anyone and everyone you can who has knowledge of or contact with the organization.  Let all of your friends and family know that you are interested in this organization, you never know who might know someone who knows someone who knows….but I get ahead of myself.  We are not talking about networking right now, we are talking about writing a cover letter to accompany your resume. We are talking about reading and listening.

We are aware of the power of narrative. Use your cover letter to tell the story of your resume (the goal is not to encapsulate your life story, but tell your reader how to read this one representation of it).  We know that in storytelling, we cannot say anything and everything.  We must choose.  And such choices carry meaning.  Just as Schiffrin (1996) tells us “Our transformation of experience into stories, and the way we carry it out, is thus a way to show our interlocutors the salience of particular aspects of our identities “ (199).  We can only chose some aspects of our professional identities to showcase in a resume and cover letter.  The task is to choose the best ones for the job, and showcase them well.  One piece of advice that I heard from a career expert which I thought was very useful was to think about your resume as a wish list.  Of course you perform many duties as part of your current job, and you have performed many at your past jobs as well.  Given that you cannot tell the stories about them all, select the ones that you would most like to do again (careful of course not to misrepresent your duties).    When you talk about things that you enjoyed doing, you are more likely to strike the right tone and communicate enthusiasm as well, which brings me to my last point:

We are aware of voice, which is notoriously difficult to quantify, but luckily we are also qualitative researchers.  So, how can we tackle this?  First, I would try to step back and ask yourself “what assumptions am I making here?”  something that I see a great deal is a clear articulation of exactly how this opportunity will benefit you.  The person to whom you are applying will assume that, and for you to state it showcases to your peril that you are not putting yourself into the mindset of your audience.   Try to put yourself into the mindset communicated by their job description: what do they need?   From your communications audit / participant observation: what are their organizational goals? Communicate your understanding of these as embedded assumptions in your materials.

Series: What a linguist knows about the job search

Reading a Resume: The meaning of TYPOS

Inspired by my student John Spangler’s “what you know that you didn’t know that you knew” definition of linguistics, I would like to spend some time today reflecting on resumes, considering what it is that we know about these cultural texts that we didn’t know we knew about them, and more importantly, what we know about resumes that may help us be the one who lands the job.

We have all heard the advice that you need to proofread your resume, but what do we know about WHY this is so particularly important.  Putting ourselves into the minds of our readers, let’s think about facework, using Erving Goffman’s (1955) definition “the pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which [the speaker] expresses his view of the situation and…his evaluation of the participants, especially himself” (213). A single typo can be the excuse that gives this reviewer permission to not take you seriously.  With this typo you have demonstrated that you do not take the resume as job-search tool seriously.

Speaking for a moment as someone who has been in the position of reviewing applications, this very generous and kind and supportive person (positive facework anyone?), doesn’t want to dismiss anyone, but HAS to.  There are always too many applicants for every job, and a typo lets this reader preserve their positive face needs – don’t let them!   A typo is usually the result of rushing, and/or not having enough eyes on your resume.  Leave lots of time, get lots of feedback, and get that job!!

Facework and Deixis in Performance reviews

As job seekers, we have a tendency to focus on the interviews which lead up to the job offer (informational interviews, job interviews), but think little about what comes beyond.  One of the themes of this blog is to consider shifting our perspective such that we are putting ourselves into the day-to-day work mindset which enables us to see that landing the job is only the beginning.  Once we are in the job, we begin new processes:  growing into the job and growing the job.  Performance appraisal meetings can be best understood as a key mechanism in both processes.   This meeting is a chance to set goals, to get important feedback, and to elicit coaching from your manager.  So, just as you would prepare for a job interview, your performance review becomes something that you can prepare for.

Speaking from personal experience, I can confess that this is NOT how I have tended to approach performance reviews.  Not at all.  Typically, I come into the meeting prepared to only hear positive feedback, and then get defensive and have a hard time hearing criticism, which is of course a complete waste of time on many counts: for one, if I do not use this as an opportunity to learn about areas for growth, how am I supposed to grow?  If it truly is the case that I do not see anything that I can learn from my supervisor, then I have a much bigger problem to think about that this particular performance appraisal.  Finally, if I do not honestly show up in that moment to really talk about my areas for growth, I miss the opportunity to ask for guidance and support.  Of course, some managers are much more gifted than others, and not everyone will be in a position to be able to rise to the challenge (in which case, perhaps this can be an opportunity for them as well), but if your manager is gifted, not taking the opportunity to engage with them on this deeper level is an opportunity lost.

But what from our study of linguistics can help us to understand why it is that these meetings can be so fraught?

As is always the case in social interaction, both participants’ positive and negative faces are activated and vulnerable.  The employee wants to be desired and liked and, even though this is a job, wants to be given the freedom from constraint of future action.  Both of these positive and negative face wants are true of the boss as well, but the pressure is heightened and the threat of FTAs are upped given the stakes of the encounter.

Additionally, there are inherent conflicts sewn into the fabric of this interaction, owing to the differing goals of each individual.  An individual employee necessarily has a different perspective and a different deictic center.  That of the manager, will be of the “we” the team, the department, the organization. At moments of disalignment, try to  project yourself into the deictic center of your manager

Other strategies for success:
Do role-plays.  In the same way that you might practice for a job interview, have a friend or colleague prepare with you, especially if you know there is going to be a difficult conversation.

Proactively seek support and guidance from your manager in articulating and achieving your goals.   Check back in with yourself when you were starting the job.  Where did you think you were going to be headed? Revisit the goals that you set for yourself the year before, and if you have not done so before, use this meeting as an opportunity to do so.

The conversation will always go better when you are anchoring on behaviors and tasks rather than personality or character traits.

Come to the meeting with questions to ask, and examples to discuss, just as you would do for a job interview.

Let me know how it goes!

Timsecales of your thinking

One important aspect to pay attention to in achieving the working mindset are the timescales of your thinking.

Student life is lived in future tense on several timescales. There is the immediate future (what assignments and readings are due this week?) and then there is a slightly larger scale (what classes will I take next semester? Will I get a summer job?), and thoughts about work (if students are thinking about work) are often cast into an even more distant future. Also, up to graduate school, there was always a somewhat clear understanding of what the next step would be, which to a large extent shaped the experiencing of the present: in high school, you are thinking about college; after college, will you work, go on to grad school. To a large extent the present that you were experiencing was shaped by a knowledge of how that fit into a future trajectory: “work isn’t great, but I don’t have to deal with it because I am getting ready to leave for grad school.”

However, moving from graduate school into working full time, involves an accompanying shift into thinking focused more on the present, and how this will create a future. Jobs are about the day-to-day and are largely experienced in the form of tasks and meetings. Also, because there is not such a clear sense of what might come next, those who commit to a working life tend to develop a new way of thinking about the future (and its relationship to the present). One example of this can be around taking ownership of our work.

Grad school forces us to focus on the expectations of our teachers: what is my professor looking for on this assignment? When does she expect me to be doing what?

In our working lives, when we are working as part of a good team, we can have a great deal more agency in shaping our work and how this will open future paths, but many of us forget to take that agency (or get caught up in routines and business of day-to-day). But, this for many of us is still in the future….

Sp, what can you do now as a student searching for a job? I have a few concrete suggestions:

Pay attention to the timescales of your thinking. Try to focus on the present by paying attention to the day-to-day tasks that you do as a student. These are informative and contain helpful information about what tasks you are best suited to and which cause you stress (also how you cope with that stress for better or for worse).

Where does work fit in when you think about work? One way to shift thoughts about work from future to present is to think about school as a job. Think about ways to treat your classmates more as your as colleagues, and find appropriate ways to strike more collegial relationships with your professors. How does it shape your thinking about papers and assignments if you think of them more in terms of what you want to get out of them than what your professor expects you to put into them?

Finally, in thinking about future job possibilities, when you read a job description, try to cast yourself into that present by focusing on the day-to-day tasks and working environment. Read the company’s website for evidence of the lived day-to-day experience of employees. Use your informational and job interviews, to experience the environment and ask about the day-to-day tasks.

Here’s to happier futures, by living for the present!

Intertextuality and Informational Interviewing: The what, how, and why

Q: What does Becker’s (1994) observation that “social groups seem to be bound primarily by a shared repertoire of prior texts” have to do with the job search (165)? A: A new way to approach Informational Interviewing.

We know that when we sit down for an informational interview, it is important to ask our interviewee about what books and publications they recommend, what organizations you should be aware of, and events that you should be participating in. In fact, most guidelines for informational interviews say that you should not leave without the recommendation for three other people that you should talk to. But why do we do this? As we know from Becker (above), being part of any community means knowing about the texts that they orient to, but if the informational interview can do anything for you, it can be to help you learn HOW community members orient to these texts and WHY.

For example, say that you learn from your interviewee that they read the Economist, you might ask a follow-up question asking your interviewee for a recent example when something they had read in the Economist came into a work situation and helped them do their job better.

A major part of how any group spends their time together and does “being a community” will include referencing interactional-external knowledge, local community practices, and the work of other key members of the community. But crucially, it is through negotiation of a shared orientation to these texts that group members discuss and develop their own beliefs, sensibilities, and styles. Training in linguistics gives you key insight into these processes – use this to your advantage!!