Walking meetings inspired by LinkedIn

Recently, when I was visiting the Bay Area, I had the very great pleasure of visiting LinkedIn’s campus and one of the very first things that struck me was the path stretching alongside. Coming from the East Coast, the wilderness was so different as to be breathtaking but what really floored me was hearing several employees over the course of my visit say to one another “shall we go walk this idea?” It struck me that this was an entirely different working culture one that including walking meetings, which was recently corroborated when I saw this LinkedIn intern’s recent post about how he got a walking meeting with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner


That post referred back to an earlier post by Jeff Weiner

talking about why he prefers walking meetings. Again, as an East Coaster, I could not help but notice that this was posted in January, when if I were to suggest a walking meeting, I am not sure how many takers I would get. Don’t get me wrong, as a Canadian, I would be out there, just that I might be out there alone.

Which is fine too. I think that as an introvert, I need to remember to talk walks during the day more to regroup and recharge. I know that it certainly shifts my mood if I am having a stressful day.

But back to this idea of walking meetings. Apparently it is becoming something of a movement as evidenced by this TED talk on the subject by Nilofer Merchant

Inspired by LinkedIn, I started putting the idea into practice this semester. I found that it did indeed promote some out of the box – out of the box thinking! I found myself weathering some difficult conversations that I might not have risked having otherwise, but conversations that proved to be tremendously important for development and growth. Somehow without the office frame, the interaction becomes about the task of putting one step in front of the other, and bottom line: fresh air motivates fresh thinking, and I am going to try to do more of them in the new year.


The opposite of jobsearching

In many ways, learning how to tell your story can feel backwards.  You look at the past to think about the future, you read job ads to see if you are a fit for the organization by listening for what they DON’T say (the “noisy nots”), and as you do research within the organization, you are trying to identify where they are lacking to see where you can pitch yourself as being of most use.  In my own searching, one of the most helpful “opposites” in the process, is learning what you want by thinking about what you have learned about what you don’t want.  Every job has its plusses and minuses, and in doing the retrospective job math, I think that we can learn just as much from summing up the cumulative minuses.  This can be helpful at any stage of career development, even if you are in the perfect job, sometimes it is helpful to remember exactly why it is that it suits you so well.  Or, what is more likely, for how your job can be further grown and developed  to become more of what you want it to be, this exercise can help you find some landmarks on the map.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.08.46 AMWe think about this in writing your resume: highlighting the activities that you liked the best and would want to do again.  But I would like to also find a way to hang on to the activities that you did not like to see there as a reminder.  I have had friends tell me that they keep an anti-resume.  This could be jobs that you quit, jobs that you turned down, and she wanted to keep a record so that she could celebrate her continued ability to say  “no” to some things so that she could say “yes” to more and more things that she really wanted.


In my case, one of the biggest “no”s came from my time at Goldman.

I need to work in an organization that asks questions

Many observers have noted this about wall street culture: Karen Ho explores it in her brilliant ethnography Liquidated, noting the built-in lack of time for reflection in the recruiting process, where students are recruited long before they ever have the space to think: what do I want to do with my life?” Greg Smith noted it in his NYTime Op-Ed piece as one of the elements contributing to what he describes as the “toxic” culture of Goldman:


I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. 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.


I love his use of the “alien from Mars” trope!  That strangemaking is what we are all about in this process, and as we all continue making strange that which has been our experience, I hope that we can attend to the NOs just as much as the YESSES!


An august tradition of looking outwards / beyond

I just came across the most fascinating document!

Careers in Linguistics: New Horizons. Proceedings of a Conference Held in Conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (56th, New York, NY, December 1981).
Niebuhr, Mary M., Ed.
Proceedings are presented of a conference on non-academic careers for linguists, which was co-sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America and the CUNY Ph.D. Program in Linguistics. The presentations are under two headings: (1) “What Linguists Can Do,” and (2) “What Linguists Are Doing.” The first section includes contributions by Frederick G. Mish, W. O. Baker, Frank J. Macchiarola, Tracy C. Gray, Lothar Simon and Alan Westaway. Their presentations deal with the contributions linguists may be able to make in the fields of lexicography, computers, education (non-teaching), language planning and government policy, publishing and translation. The second section includes contributions by Norma Rees, Stuart Flexner, Mark Liberman, Robbin Battison, William Labov and Marcia Farr. Their presentations focus on the fields of language disorders, lexicography, computers, business, language policy and social problems, and language research. The volume concludes with a transcript of the question and answer period. (AMH)

It gives our symposium at the upcoming LSA: Taking Linguistics Beyond Linguistics Programs and Departments a whole new context!  🙂





BRIGHTEN your career outlook

My new answer to “what can you do with a degree in linguistics?” is BRIGHTEN!  This works both as a command to gloomy would-be nay sayers, but it is also the “world of work” acronym that I am trotting out these days.  BRIGHTEN stands for: Business, Research, Innovation, Government, Healthcare, Technology, Education, and Non-Profits.  These are the fields in which people in my network with skills and training in linguistics have found professional expression of their love of language and culture.  

In other words: it’s where the (soico)linguists are working!  🙂

And these buckets are loose descriptors at best.  As coding categories, these would not pass muster because they are not mutually exclusive, nor do they capture comparable in terms of level or scope, but they do further my goals here: those of inviting curiosity and starting a conversation around the world of work.

So, beginning with Business. This category is probably the least descriptive, and at the same time, the most in need of elucidation.  In my experience, most people who have not worked in “business” have only the fuzziest of ideas of what the word itself entails, when the truth is really that all of us who work conduct business of one sort or another.  Business can involve hiring, firing, managing and training people, paying attention to workflows and dissemination of resources, or keeping track of finances and accounting, but for our purposes here, I will call attention to work in business that attends primarily to work systems and flows.  So this would include Management Consulting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton (as of right now the #1 employer of alum of the MLC), Gap International (founded by a linguist) or Corporate Executive Board.  Business also includes the worlds of PR, Marketing, Branding and Naming, the latter being a type of agency who are very aware of linguists, and who almost always have at least one on their payroll.  Catchword, for example, was founded by two linguists!   And don’t forget Entrpreneurship, inspiring linguists who have set up their own shops and work as consultants (for just one example, take a peek at Barbara Clark’s You Say Tomato).

Research and Innovation can be treated together for now because the all the linguists in my network who are doing research are innovative, and innovation does not happen without research.  When I think about this exciting world of work, I think about firms like IDEO, Sapient Nitro, or Practica Group and linguists who do work in Usability Research like Nancy Frishburg, who blogs at Fish Bird. Also tremendously inspiring is the work done by research organizations like The FrameWorks Institute, Cultural Logic LLC, Nielson and Pew Research.  Many of the folks who I know employed as researchers work for government (as I will profile in the next section), and there are also research firms which could be classified as “business” for example Fors Marsh Group.

Government The Census Bureau always has a number of linguists working as researchers in the Statistical Research Division, but government also encomapsses military organizations like the Army Research Institute, DARPA and the Naval Research Labaratory.   There are also firms that work primarily with government contracts like the Center for the Advanced Study of Language (CASL), The Department of Veterans Affairs, Veteran’s Health Administration has a division of Research and Development that does important research into issues facing today’s veterans.  Also, the FBI employs many linguists in varied capacities from language assessment to threat assessment and field agent trainers.   Linguists are also happily employed at NSF, the Smithsonian, even NASA.

Healthcare The primary sector employing (socio)linguistics in my network is healthcare communication, and this includes research firms like Verilogue and Ogilvy Common Health, or social media research firms for healthcare clients, firms like Marketeching, or Kaiser Permanente’s forward-thinking Garfield Innovation center, changing the way that medicine is practiced.   Also, firms specializing in healthcare software like ElationEMR hire lateral thinkers.

Technology Google is probably the most famous creation of linguists, but organizations like Microsoft, Nuance Communications, and Mindsnacks also hire linguists.   I have been heartened lately by the hiring done by Social Media platforms like Twitter’s recent posting for a Market Researcher: “You are a master storyteller and believe data is more inspiring when it connects back to the lives of real people. You have a strong, working understanding of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. You know exactly when to engage with teams across Design, Product, Engineering, and Marketing, what questions to ask, where to probe, and how to implement the most effective research strategies.”

Also just about every business nowadays hires social media strategists, to which linguists bring a new perspective, as just one example Rosetta Stone.

Education many of the organizations that I would wish to profile in this section could also be described as research firms or non-profits, the best known of these organizations being CAL (the Center for Applied Linguistics), but also organizations like the Center for Inspired Teaching, or Reading Partners also employe linguists. Also, lest we overlook something that is hiding in plain sight, let’s begin by thinking about some of the perhaps lesser-known work that is done in educational contexts.  My job for example, that of program director of the MLC.  Such positions exist in academic departments, but also as directors of research institutes that exist on campus (for example Institute for the Study of International Migration), or centers for teaching and research application like the Center for Social Justice, student services like UNH’s Center for Academic Resources or faculty support like CNDLS on Georgetown’s campus.  Also, many of the initiatives at an organization like the World Bank are education focused, which might involve education at two levels: first, designing and implementing training and facilitation modules, but second these modules are focused on education reform in developing countries.

Nonprofits merit their own category not because the tasks performed by individuals in this sector are qualitatively different from those done by employees in other sectors (or even in business), and indeed, many of the nonprofts have already been profiled in other sections of this discussion, but because there are great career resources like Idealist.org for people who are drawn to mission and values-driven non-profit organizations.  That being said, I would also encourage people who are driven by social justice to consider that there are ways to find such work in other sectors, even in business.  Just about every company now has an initiative called Corporate Social Responsibility, and this could involve anything from grants to development outreach, cultivating entrepreneurship in developing countries or just figuring out how to be better employers to your employees and better citizens on the planet.  Many non-profits are funded by government grants or business initiatives, so one way to be the change that you wish to see in the world might be to be on the side of the table of the folks looking for funding opportunities.

You will notice that some major sectors are entirely missing here like Language and Law, Translation/Interpretation, Language Teaching and last but certainly not least: academia.  I do not focus on those here only because they are well treated elsewhere, not because they are not doing interesting and important work.

Have a work story to share? Join the conversation!  Are you a linguist doing interesting work utilizing your linguistic skills and training?  I would love to hear about it!


attribution: waferboard’s photostream

We often talk in this blog about the importance of a deictic shift – about what a difference it can make to a listener to hear a “you” pronoun (rather than an “I”), how that can have the effect of pulling one into the conversation.

The contexts that come immediately to mind are beginning to answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in a job interview (your interviewer likely won’t why, but something drew them in), or in a cover letter – the difference between language that is “I” focused (I am looking for an opportunity to practice my French) vs. “you” (my abilities in French will support your organization’s need recent expansion into the Francophone Canada market).

But despite my awareness of the deictic shift and how powerful it can be, I have to confess that I truly felt pulled in this week when I read Twitter’s recent job ad for a market researcher:


You are a master storyteller and believe data is more inspiring when it connects back to the lives of real people. You have a strong, working understanding of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. You know exactly when to engage with teams across Design, Product, Engineering, and Marketing, what questions to ask, where to probe, and how to implement the most effective research strategies. You thrive in a fast-paced environment and enjoy setting and prioritizing research goals, managing load and expectations. You’re passionate about Twitter and believe great experiences are always inspired by a deep understanding of markets and users.

I happen to fancy myself a master storyteller (and many people must do I suspect), but yes, I really DO believe that data is (are) more inspiring when it connects back to the life of real people!  So inspiring to hear Twitter articulate their linguistic awareness in this way.  It makes me feel like they have taken time to think about me and to be aware of the language that they use to connect with me.  More job ads should read like this! I’m looking at you LinkedIn!  🙂


Skills cultivated by studying Linguistics

skillzzApplying for jobs is all about skills.  Creating the job that you want means recognizing the skills that you possess and figuring out ways to use them in contexts that make you happy.  Getting the job that you want is all about communicating this awareness (with enthusiasm) in texts like cover letters.

So what skills do linguists have?

As readers of this blog well know, there are many skills that the study of linguistics cultivates, and the irony is that the longer you have been doing linguistics, the more natural each of these starts to become, and the less visible.  Further, in the educational context, we can take our skills for granted because we are surrounded by people who share them, but the truth is that out there in the work world, a linguist’s way of listening is as rare as it is valuable.

We expect misunderstanding
In courses like Cross-Cultural Communication, we focus in on moments of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and not because we believe communication to be impossible, but instead to celebrate what an interactional achievement smooth communication actually is.  Adopting a stance of expecting misunderstanding informs our way of looking at interaction and our interactional behavior in many important ways.

First, it gives us a bit of critical distance from our language when we understand that miscommunication is not personal, it is not because we are ineffectual or owing to willful lack of effort or cooperation on the part of the other party.  This knowledge makes us value communication.  We know that it takes work to communicate, and we have patience for this work.  Additionally, we know how to talk about communication, so that when miscommunication does occur, not only are we more likely to recognize it, we know how to diagnose it, talk about it, unpack it – to arrive at a deeper understanding of it.  We rush in where others may fear to tread!

Expecting misunderstanding at the outset will lead you to work towards understanding (to invest in it).  We cultivate a certain comfort with misunderstanding which can help us get people through conflict, which is a rare skill indeed!

We are precise in our terminology
I am often accused of “being a linguist” in moments where I insist on clarity and precision in word choice, for example, questioning a characterization of something as “normal” or cuing into language that is particularly “othering” or unnecessarily alienating – in the style of “us” vs. “them”.   Such awareness may prevent miscommunication and it is also quite powerful because it helps me strive for clarity and precision and in turn push others to clarify their thinking and their writing.

We are not afraid of questions
In many workplace settings, questions are unconsciously avoided for many reasons. Questions are often seen as being the enemy to efficiency because they introduce complexity, they introduce ambiguity, but life is complex and ambiguous. Only by asking questions do we arrive at a closer understanding of the truth.

  • And so we ask “What does X mean?”
  • And we ask “Why?”

This exemplification of critical thinking is an application of our training.  We can complexify because we are not overwhelmed by ambiguities and myriad interpretations – because (conveniently enough) we are also trained in synthesis, analysis, & meaning-making!

We think in systems
Training in linguistics is training in making meaning, which enables us in any context to be better at systems thinking and to recognize overarching themes.  We are trained to find patterns in chaos and to make the invisible visible.  Some people describe this as connecting the dots, systems thinking, or making models, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that most people are too busy being in the pattern to actually see the pattern – much less change it.  We can help!

We lead with listening
Because we look at communication with an eye to improving understanding and improving relationships, we listen for what people really care about.  We can take on the perspective of the other person in an interaction and we know how to peel back to get at underlying assumptions.  Additionally, because we are trained for listening to the nuances of the ways that people talk, we can use our listening to help us talk in ways that mirror and resemble those of the people we are talking to, which enables us to better hear and be heard.   This skill builds rapport.

Finally, we pick up on things.   We are sharp observers and this skill is marketable in any context!

In this post, I have discussed just a few skills that I see, and I hope that this has inspired your own thinking about your own skills.  Ping me back about the ones that resonate and add ones that I have not mentioned!

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Networking!

Gallaudet had been studying to be a minister and back in those days when you finished school, you would begin a process of write away to job postings that had been advertised, so he went home to live with his family for a while.  He got caught up on the lives of his younger siblings and their friends and he noticed that all of the neighbor kids were all playing together with the exception of Alice, the daughter of one of his neighbors, who he then learned was deaf.  As he came to understand through conversations with her parents, although there was no language for the Deaf in the United States, sign languages did exist in Europe and he felt called to action.  He began fundraising and ultimately was able to be sent over to a convention for Deaf educators that was being held later that year in London.  He figured that British sign language would be the natural choice, but as he learned when he met the British deaf educators, they were not willing to train him in the language unless he was willing to stay on and teach within their schools for a number of years. His passion was to bring a language to the United States, so he turned down their offer to stay and work with them.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 6.52.03 PM

It seemed like his trip had been in vain until he met Laurent Clerc, an educator from France, who taught him LSF (Langue de Signes Franscaise) and then traveled back with him to America to set up the first school for the deaf here in Hartford Connecituit, near where Gallaudet and his family lived. Alice was one of their first students, and in the process of teaching them LSF, and in their learning English and learning from one another the home signs that each of them had brought with them, a new language was born: ASL.

He recognized a problem that he was willing to devote himself to solving

And his response to the problem of Alice’s inability to communicate was absolutely informed by his training as a minister and the way that it had prepared him to engage with the world.

He applied his skills to this problem

From back in the days of Michelangelo, it has always been about finding the money to support you in doing what you are called to do.  His success was absolutely the result of skills in fundraising, which no doubt were enhanced by his skills in teaching (he taught these people that he raised money from about the importance of a language for the deaf).

He networked

With the conference in the UK, he found an association of individuals, a community that would support him, and he did not take the first offer of support either.  He stayed true to his guiding interest and ultimately found the right contact for him at that time: Laurent Clerc.  Also, because this story takes place nearly 200 years ago, it serves as a reminder that despite all the claims that the world of work is changing, things were ever thus.  Our paths are absolutely changed by the people that we meet along the way.

As a linguist of course, this story is exciting because it involves the creation of a new language, but I also love it as a exemplification of the roundabout ways that we come to find professional expression of our gifts.  They say that luck with where opportunity meets preparation, and Gallaudet was certainly prepared to be lucky in the moment that he learned about the need for an American sign language.

How LinkedIn talks about itself

The fact that LinkedIn’s “about us” section of their website is somewhat hard to find speaks volumes about their orientation as a buisness. Like Facebook, LinkedIn’s website promotes the product and service that they provide – the means of connecting- and so you have to dig to the very bottom to chase an elusive link that says “about” to learn about who they are. Click it before your browser refreshes and this link gets buried under your “LinkedIn today” recent activity on your home page. LinkedIn first and foremost wants you to link.

Even when you get to the “About LinkedIn,” you will find one of the most pared-down, minimal company decsriptions out there. In fact, you are immediately directed to the “Company Page” within the LinkedIn system, which like any company page, starts with an “about” which also disappears down to the bottom of the page, showing you instead the recent activity, announcements, discussions, etc. that this organization has been leading. Well, since it is LinkedIn, they have been leading a few, so again, I found myself chasing the elusive “About,” but I did finally catch it!

This process of fronting the service over the company itself is mirrored in the language used by the organization in talking about itself in the “About Us”Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.32.09 AM






The first thing that I notice here is the “you” pronoun in the first sentence. While this section is supposed to be about who they are, instead, LinkedIn spends this precious real estate talking about what the organization does for the client, further personalized as direct address through use of the pronoun “you.” Compare this to Facebook’s self description: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” The difference here between the referring expressions: personal pronoun “you” and “people” is a world of difference. “You” pulls the reader in, placing them within the word of the story as a way of inviting them to engage on the site, modeled in the second sentence as well, where the organization shows how it itself was built by the same process of networking: “built upon trusted connections and relationships”.

It is not until we get to the third sentence that we are met with language more along the lines of how a traditional business might talk about itself – quantifying its success “Currently, more than 225 million professionals are on LinkedIn” supported by the referring expressions conveying important information about members: that they are drawn from executives at Fortune 500 companies, and are “household names” in major categories of industry.

The last sentence (and I find it remarkable that they are able to do so much with 4 sentences) is for me, a “noisy not.” The answer to a question that they suppose the reader to be asking, namely how do they make their money? Who would be asking this question? I was not asking this question. Which leads me to think that a major audience for this text are investors, corroborated by their being the second link on the top right hand coulumn on the “information for” toolbar, and leading back to my initial observation that this is one big NOISY NOT. The company wants you to think not about them, but about you as you engage on the site.

Next in my LinkedIn series, I will talk about the company practice of walking meetings (coming soon).

The Linguistics of LinkedIn

I have been watching this presentation 20 Tips to Amplify Your Brand on LinkedIn from LinkedIn for Small Business this morning and appreciating how well LinkedIn’s way of thinking about the process of professional self-presentation is aligned with my own WaLK vision for the process of applying linguistics to the job search.

First of all, the metaphor they are using, that of amplification, is in fact the metaphor that I have been using to think about using this tool.   You do the work of presenting yourself professionally, you do the work of building a network and then LinkedIn will amplify it!  I played with the metaphor of a lever, but “leverage” is already so overused, and also amplify feels more linguistic.  It is after all, all about the language!

Story.  Slide 10 talks about “telling your brand story”

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 12.26.27 PM

As an analyst of narrative, I am interested to see what they choose to highlight graphically here, but also that the words that are chosen to describe storytelling here: “showcase” and “highlight” are also very visual.  There is a big push to bring the visual into LinkedIn these days, but I would want to remember the power of language here.  The Summary is indeed our best place to tell a story, as it provides the most structural freedom of the sections on the LinkedIn profile.  Interestingly, many people do create structure there.

In a recent pilot project, my team of researchers and I found that the average number of sections created here was three.  And what do people do with these sections?  It varies!

Some people choose to play with timescales, beginning with a section describing the present, then moving to the recent past, and ending with some thoughts about the future (a great formula for “TMAY”).  Others divide the section more conceptually, talking in the first paragraph about interests, then moving to describe tasks that exemplify these, and ending with a description of concrete skills.  Some people do away with structure entirely, using this section to actually tell a story (about the discovery of one’s calling), a poem, or client recommenations.

Further, as someone who advocates for a “resume as narrative” perspective, I was thrilled to see the first job under the Experience section being included in the story.  Following Goffman, I would say that such information is more of a “given off” story than it is a “given” story, but it reflects a crucial understanding of narrative structure.  When we tell a story, we have to decide what we say first, and what we say first carries meaning because it is heard first.  With the description of your current job, you can narrate the future by describing the aspects of your job in the order of duties that you would most like to do more or do again in the next job.

The presentation goes on to say “let your network speak for you” reflecting another crucial understanding of voicing gleaned from literary theorist Bakhtin.  In choosing to present other voices, metaphorically double – voicing them, we are given rhetorical distance from these words and the social implications of bragging “I’m not bragging, I’m just sharing the words of others who brag about me.”

LinkedIn has put their awareness of Speech Act Theory to good practice with the inclusion of new features like “endorsements” and reccommendations” letting your network do for you things that you would never be able to do for yourself.

Next in this LinkedIn series, I will consider how LinkedIn puts theory to practice in talking about their own organization in their Company Pages.

Interview questions in the wild

Anthrodesign is a great resource for folks thinking about careers in design anthropology.

I am new to the site, but one of the first posts I read convinced me that this is absolutely WaLK territory.  The poster (Steve Portigal) talks about job interview questions that he has recently received:


Talk about an invitation to walk with them!