The geography of networking

Often when I speak with jobseekers, they speak as though they regard it as a disadvantage to have particular requirements (or dream locations) around geography. But I would encourage you to see this as a tremendous advantage, especially when it comes to reaching out to people who you want to have help you with your search. Giving someone a geographical region helps organize and narrow thinking, corralling it on your behalf. Put yourself in their shoes for just a minute and think about how much easier it would be for you to answer the question “do you know any professionally-minded linguists in the Bay Area?” as compared to ”do you know any professionally-minded linguists?”

So, some specific tips for reaching out. If you are thinking about moving to a particular geographical location, consider a networking advance trip to lay some foundation. Remember, never ask for jobs directly, and you should not use this as an opportunity to sell something. Networking is precious, don’t alienate those who might be potential helpers by making them uncomfortable with a sales pitch.

If you are already in your dream location seek out events by reading the blogs of people or organizations in your area.

If you know you are going to be traveling (say you are going to Chicago for a conference) and you want to be doing some networking as part of this trip, consider whether you might host a happy hour while you are there or find a networking happy hour to participate in (I am part of the Canadian Expat community in DC, and we often have visitors stop in while they are in town). Invite all the folks you know in the area. Depending on how many people you know there, it may be a whole heck of a lot easier to organize everyone coming to you than to be traveling to meet a bunch of people individually. At the event, let folks know that you are in networking mode and what kinds of connections it is that you are looking for exactly.

LinkedIn. With LinkedIn, you can search by keyword, like “Oakland” or you can type in a zipcode directly into the “advanced search” feature. Within advanced search, pay attention for network settings. Your “1st degree connections’ are those people who you already know and LinkedIn might be helpful in reminding you who it is that you already know in a particular area, or it might alert you to people in your network who have relocated. However, the 2nd and 3rd degree and group contacts may be even more useful to you in a geographically based search. These are people who you do not yet know but who are connected to people in your network, who you might ask to introduce you.

Listservs. If you are already a member of listservs, post the question to the members of your community. The more specific the better. For example: “does anyone on this list know of people in the area of ‘applied storytelling’ who work in the Bay Area?”. If you are not a member of such groups, consider whether there might be a mentor or a trusted member of your network who is and who might post on your behalf. I recently did this for a student who was moving to Israel. I posted on the listserv “ling-outside” (a group designed for outward-facing linguists) asking whether anyone had contacts who were professionally-minded linguists working in Israel. Ironically, the person who responded said that he was not a good contact for her, but passed on the names of a handful of people and organizations who he thought might be good contacts for her, revealing himself to be a great connection for her after all. He might not be doing the work himself, but he is connected to people who are, and thus he is a great link for her!

Ask directly by posting as an update to Facebook, or Tweeting, e-mailing people who you know and trust or just letting it be known when you are talking that you are looking to make connections in a particular geographical region. If you are currently employed, you may wish to be careful about having it be known too widely lest it be perceived that you are jobsearching, but I think that networking is becoming increasingly known and understood, and just about any boss should recognize that outreach is always mutually beneficial.

And as ever, let me know how it is all going! I love to hear your stories about networking ☺

Pack your resume like a suitcase

I am often asked whether or not a resume needs to be one page long, and while yes, I personally do think that any resume you send to an employer should be no more than one page long, the goal is really that of being as smart as possible with a limited amount of space. There are many conceptual metaphors for resumes, but one that I would like to play with here is that of packing a suitcase.

Think about how satisfying it is when you get your packing just right! You spent the time to be really thoughtful about where you were going and the kinds of things you were going to need while you were there. You found items that could do double – duty (be dressed up / dressed down), you found that great pair of shoes that can be worn for many activities, but also don’t take up much space. You were creative enough to combine variety with practicality so you have something for every occaision, but you are not bored to tears at the sight of all the items in the suitcase by the end of the trip.

It has taken me many years (and many poorly packed suitcases) to learn the importance of not bringing too much with me. Having too much impedes my ability to travel well. The suitcase becomes too heavy and hard to manoever, you cannot find anything when you do try to open it up, you even forget that you have things because they are buried down in the bottom. So too with a resume. Less is more!
And of course, at the same time, there are certainly certain basic things that can’t be done without. So what are these items in a resume?

Active Verbs – all of the resume guides exhort readers to find “kicking” verbs and yes, I am going to have to add my voice to say that verbs like “helped” or “taught” really do not do what you need them to do in a resume. They do not go far enough. Who What When Where Why How did you help? Who What When Where Why How did you teach? (How many students did you have? Who designed the materials? How often did class meet? etc. etc. etc.) Also, do not forget to put your SOQs on – support every claim you make!

Referring Expressions (how the speaker chooses to refer to the other people and things in the story world), can reveal information about the speaker’s attitude toward these referents. So you can choose to go out of your way to explain terms that might be opaque like “intertextuality,” making an effort on behalf of reader, or you may choose to not define the term or use more descriptive language like “the relationships among texts” you may wish to show that you assume your reader to be familiar with this concept and you might do that for strategic identity construction purposes for the both of you.

Lists – once referring expressions are chosen, how and where they get presented on the page in relation to other terms will construct meaning. For example, given three terms like: reading, writing, editing. These may be ordered or reordered to give meanings such as:
the sequence in which these important work processes occur
the ways in which concepts are related
(i.e. none must be neglected in the process of writing any grant proposal)
or to highlight the primacy of one skill over others
(i.e. positioning editing and reading as comprising the writing process).
The reason this becomes so important is that with a list, something has to come first. And the lists within lists on resumes come together to tell a story.

Space is precious on a resume precisely because it is limited and all of the choices made carry meaning. The items that you include, the order in which you present them. Unlike an academic CV where you list each and every talk given, each and every paper published, each and every student mentored, on a resume, deciding to talk about one competency means not describing another. But it is precisely for this reason that the skills of linguistics uniquely prepare us for this task. We know that every linguistic choice carries meaning because to say anything means not saying a variety of things. I return to my linguist’s poem:

A linguist is interested in:
what was said
what wasn’t
what you could have said but didn’t

This applies no less to a resume than to any other contextualized use of language. And I am certainly not saying that I pack perfectly every time, but I do know the goal now: I know what a well packed suitcase looks and feels like. The goal is to have a similarly pared down resume, where it is not a question of what to leave out, but of what to leave IN.

Noisy Not: a fun example!

One of my favorite examples of the “noisy not” comes from a website 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 gets a great deal of fan mail about skateboarding. 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 someone may not notice the difference between Tony Hawke’s and Tony Howkes if one were doing a “google search” for a means to connect with one’s favorite skateboarder.
This confusion explains some strikingly unexpected deictics which greet you immediately upon landing on Tony Hawks (the author’s) official website, including a graphic of a post-it note with an arrow indicating “me” and a Polaroid picture with the label “Hello skate fans”

That Tony Hawks is a comedian becomes apparent when you click on the “skateboarding” link, where he bemoans the confusion between Tony Hawks the “startlingly good looking British male model” (joke), and Tony Hawk an “American whiz kid skateboarding champion,” going on then to present some of the ludicrous fan mail which he receives (apparently intended for Tony Hawk), to which he obligingly responds for the merriment of his fans.

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.

The follow-up email

I have been getting lots of questions lately about following up on job applications via e-mail, and then last night had the very great pleasure of catching up with MLC alumna Kim Shepard, whose story sheds some light, so I thought I would share.

First of all, when you are jobseeking, following up by e-mail is not annoying
Students worry about sending this e-mail in the first place because they worry about being annoying. Now, I don’t think it is the act of sending the e-mail that can be annoying, but that the form the missive often takes that cane get you off on the wrong foot, so you will not be surprised to hear me say that I think that you want to be very careful about how you word this e-mail. This is, after all, what we are all about as linguists, and what I am all about as the “WALK about the Jobsearch” sociolinguist.

What you do NOT want to say: “I am writing to make sure that you received my application materials” This is of course what you want to say, but there are several reasons why this is problematic. First of all, it is likely that the person who you are writing this message to is not actually the person responsible for reviewing the applications, in which case, they cannot really tell you whether it has been received or not. Second, this positioning adopted here is a bit off. There is a way that this feels a bit demanding, and (speech Act Theory can perhaps tell us more about why) but it feels like you are giving orders, which is not the impression that you are going for at this stage in the jobsearch process.

What my advice has typically been
Present yourself as helpful, as someone who understands the realities of the pressures that this person is under, and who wants to make their life easier. This is after all what you will be doing when you get hired, so start showing that you can anticipate needs now. This is why I usually suggest wording along the lines of: “I am writing to make sure that you have all of the information that you need from me, and to let you know how I may be reached should you require any further information”

What Kim’s story taught me:
Kim has been very actively in jobsearch mode since she graduated from the MLC in August 2012. She has been focusing on a few different industries in New York CIty, and one organization in particular: Time Warner, which she came to realize is an ENORMOUS organization. Interview requests that she has received lately have taught her that people who are receiving applications are INNUNDATED, and also that because of the volume of resumes they are receiving, many good resumes are getting weeded out before the person who is actually doing the hiring even sees the stack, (this can often be HR’s function in supporting a jobsearch within an organization to take a first pass at thinning the pile of received resumes).

So, to make sure her resume actually made it to the person who needed to be seeing it, she did a bit of LinkedIn sleuthing and good old fashioned googling, to figure out the names of editors working on the project that she was applying for, in this case, the This Old House Reader Remodel Contest. Then, she sent an e-mail explaining that she had already submitted her resume through the Time Warner system, but also reattaching her resume “for your consideration.”

In keeping with my performance of helpfulness, I might even suggest the wording “convenience” as in “for your convenience,” but Kim was told that sending this e-mail when she did was the reason that she got called in for the interview! They had been trying to have the job advertisement posted for weeks, and it had only just posted the Friday before, but because of time constraints of the staff, they only had Monday available to conduct interviews. Because she sent that mail on Monday morning, and because she was ready to come in whenever, she was able to snag an interview and she started the job the following week.

So, now Kim is very happily employed by This Old House magazine, using her graphic design and web skills to edit and format online content submitted by viewers. She is also remembering to be a linguist and ACTIVELY listening everyday to that which is going on around her, listening to what is being talked about and identifying the NOISY NOTS, creatively brainstorming about what the organization needs and where the skills that she brings to the table might become the most valuable. Congratulations Kim, and please learn from her example to follow up via e-mail!!!

Letters of rec: How you ask for them matters!

I know that when I was a student, I had a great deal of anxiety about asking for letters of rec, and now that I am on the other side of the table, I wanted to share a bit of perspective that I have gained, to help you get the best possible letters of support. First of all, it is important to remember that writing a letter (if the person is writing you a good one) requires a tremendous amount of work, so you want them to understand that you know you are asking for a  favor. And I say that not to dissuade you from asking, but to remind you that you are looking for ways to show your gratitude and appreciation. This begins in the way that you ask for this favor.

Provide all materials without having been asked
Anything that describes why it is that you want this opportunity. Also, a paragraph that explains what skills, interests, experiences, qualifications etc of yours make you a particularly suitable candidate. This is only to your benefit as it will make your recommendation letter stronger.

Clearly communicate when/how the materials are due
And remind them. Your reccommender is probably writing at least 20 such letters, and they cannot possibly keep track of all of your logistics like the address to which yours need to be sent, whether submitted online or mailed, Send reminders about a week ahead of the due date that convey your gratitude and ask if there is any material that is still needed – you would not believe how much time it takes to have to look this up, so this is a wonderful way to show appreciation.

Tell your recommender why it is that you want THEM to write you this letter
And DO NOT ever let this reason be: “because I asked 3 other people ahead of you and they have all said no.” Tell this person something about what you learned from them, why it is that they have particular insight into your qualifications. And this is not just to flatter them. This will help them craft a letter with the best possible insight into your unique gifts, which will make your letter that much stronger.

Give them an out
There may be many reasons why this person does not feel as though they would be the best person to write a letter for you, some of which may have to do with you and some of which may have absolutely nothing to do with you, for example, their employment status at the institution where you happened to have taken the class, or their relationship with the person to whom you have asked them to write the letter. And in fact, it may be a bit awkward for them to go into all of this with you, and it probably would be much better for all parties involved if they do not, but in order to help protect their face in this way, you need to give them an out. Something along the lines of “if for whatever reason you do not feel as though you cannot write me a strong letter…”

Do NOT throw your stress at them!
Believe me, your reccomender understands how stressful this processes of applying for graduate school and applying for jobs are. We have been through it. Most of us many MANY times. Take a breath. Take a minute to step back and think about what you are asking them to do for you. You are asking them to vouch for you that you are prepared to take on increased commitment and responsibility. When you come to them with your angst and stress about the application process itself, this does not bode well. Think very carefully about why it is that you are applying for this now and whether or not you are truly ready.

Which brings me to……
Ask for these at least a month ahead if possible, and especially if this request falls over a holiday, such as Christmas break. Professors have a reputation for having a great deal of free time, but the truth of the matter is that what they have is perhaps only somewhat greater freedom in scheduling their time. Most faculty are booked solid at least 2 weeks out during any given moment of the semester, and so to ask for a letter with less than two weeks’ lead time means that you are asking them to sacrifice something that has already been committed to. This is quite stressful, and is not likely to put them in the best mood to sing your praises as an organized, thoughtful, and considerate individual.

The good news is that if you feel like they are a good person to write your letter, it is probably because you felt a connection to them, to something that they taught you, to something that they are passionate about.  They likely felt this too, so keep accentuating this!  🙂  And here’s to better and better rec letters!  🙂

Some love for networking

Networking: what is it?
First of all, networking is not a dirty word! It should never be about being opportunistic and taking advantage of people, it is about creating and maintaining a group of people who can serve to guide and advise you in your career. You build a network to connect with people who are interested in and excited about the same things that you are. Networking gives you opportunities to practice talking about yourself, and to listen and learn about others. It is going to be through networking that you find out about opportunities (for further networking and for jobs).

My definition of what constitutes networking is very broad. It is informed by my own research practice of ethnographic fieldwork, approaching others with an open mind, with curiosity, participating with them and observing by paying attention to how they think about things and what this teaches you about yourself and your ways of being and doing. I suggest that you are all already networking, that we all are, every day of our lives. Thus, while I cannot teach you how to network, what is can do is make you more aware of your current network, how to activate it, and how to build and maintain it.

So, who is in your network? From your personal life: Your family, your friends, your significant others, your doctors, dentists, etc. Basically anyone that you talk to as you shop, eat, drink, exercise could potentially be part of your network. People that you know through your work life you probably already think of as part of a network, but for those of you who are in school, remember that your classmates and your teachers are and will be central figures in your network. You network every day when you show up to class, when you hand in homework, when you study together and even when you hang out and blow off steam afterwards. For better or for worse, being a part of a community means being accountable to those around you, so when you begin to think about networking, one of the things that you want to do is become more aware of how you come off, and how others see you. Along these lines, and in the spriti of soliciting honest feedback, you may be interested to read my story about the non-reversing mirror.

Of course, there will be people who abuse their networks, and you will want to avoid them, or manage them carefully, and be mindful that you never become that person. Perhaps now is a good time to review the golden rules of networking:

Three golden rules of networking

• Networking is not about asking for a job, it is about learning about someone’s professional path, getting feedback about your own. The exchange should arise out of a genuine curiosity and interest.
• Be respectful of this person’s time. For example, by researching the company before you come to meet with them (even if you know that you would not want to work there). DO NOT waste time in an informational interview by asking what their organization does.
• Be paying attention for ways that you might be able to help this person, resources that you could share, connections that you could make, ways that you could give back.

I have read in the Economist that for every job any successful person has at least 16 other people, key individuals in their network who are out there thinking about you. With the exception of jobs that I have had in restaurants, just about every single job that I have ever gotten, with a handful of exceptions, I got through my network.

Perhaps because of its tremendous value, networking is difficult!! And the anxiety about networking continues even after you have made the contact. Maintaining contact is work and it can be nerve-wracking. But one of the key objectives of maintaining your network is just to keep prompting their memories to think about you and thinking about people for you to meet and activities for you to be aware of. There is probably no better way to do this than just being physically in someone’s office. You may happen to come in on a day when they have had a meeting about needing to reach out to interns. To stay in their minds, you may offer to do a bit of research or a volunteer project for them. Think about them the way that you would want them to think about you: send them articles that you come across which you think are likely to interest them. Let them know about events likely to be of interest to them! Be the informational interviewee that you wish to see in the world! 🙂

The non-reversing mirror

When I was a young graduate student at NYU, taking my first course in field methods, my professor Renee Blake took our class on a little fild trip to learn about how others see us. She took us to a shop in New York City that had non-reversing mirrors called True Mirror.

For many, looking in a mirror that does not reverse your image can be like looking at yourself for the first time. This certainly was true for me, I saw assymetries that I had not been aware of, and it was a fundamentally different experience seeing myself move in a mirror when it was not the opposite hand, moving in the opposite direction.

From their website:
When you communicate with every other individual in the world, your eyes always meet left-eye-to-right-eye and right-eye-to-left eye. This normal biological pattern conveys information “just so”. With traditional mirrors, where the right eye picks up the right-eye reflection, and the left picks up the left’s, you are experiencing a highly unnatural way of gathering information about yourself. You don’t communicate with anyone else in the world in that pattern. The result is that we always feel we are somehow different than everyone else, often in a negative way. It is very common for people to feel “I won’t join a club that will have me” or “I know there’s something wrong with me, no one else seems to see it, but I sure do.” Other people report that flat mirrors create uncomfortable or pointless feelings that really don’t have any good explanation.

I would characterize my experience with the non-reversing mirror as quite unsettling. but it did help me to see myself in a new way and think about what kind of impression I give off. This is so important when we are jobsearching. Finding ways to understand how we are being seen.

The closest parallel that I can think of is in cultivating a network that will give you the good, the bad and the ugly. You desperately need honest feedback, keeping asking for it from those you trust!!! Tell them that you appreciate honesty when they trust you enough to give it! It may feel distorted when you first hear it, because you may be used to only having one version of yourself reflected back to you, but the sooner you can become aware of and comfortable with the full picture, the better!

LinkedIn: New media, social media, or computer-mediated communication (CMC)?

When we are researching LinkedIn, are we researching new media, social media, computer-mediated communication? Researchers are actively deciding which term to use to because the term that you use says something about how you understand these interactions and what makes them worthy of study.

So to begin, while there are important ways that these conversations feel new, but to call this “new media” would suggest that it is by definition NEW, which obviously is not the case when you look at LinkedIn for five minutes and realize how it borrows from genres like resumes. Thus, newness cannot entirely be the case.

To call this computer-mediated-communication calls attention to the communication and the ways that it is mediated by the instrumentalities (which we all know to not be limited to computers nowadays) and seems to give undue weight to them and not the people who use this language to DO things in the real world. For me, what is interesting about LinkedIn is how people USE it to DO things like meet people, make meaningful connections, develop ideas, get jobs, discover their passions. I am a linguist, so I am in a position to comment on the role that language plays in accomplishing these ends, but as I am a SOCIO linguist, I am particularly interested in the social implications of doing things on the site like “inviting,” “welcoming,” “linking,” “recommending,” “endorsing” and joining groups, posting questions, and participating in discussions.

Thus, we are left with the term “social media” which feels right when you come to understand how what is expected on LinkedIn seems to be like that which has come to be expected on Facecebook (West and Trester 2013), the norm for being a good user on LinkedIn is that of “joining the conversation.”

Perhaps it is precisely the convergences, the ways that all of these ways of interacting come together, that make LinkedIn what it is, and that equipped with this knowledge, you can use LinkedIn strategically, to its fullest potential, or in other words, like a linguist!

Make some time for your job search over break

As the holidays are fast approaching, and you prepare to put away the books for a while to go home to be with family and friends, make some time for the job search by asking those who know and love you well to reflect with you about where you have been. Take them out for a coffee, and bring a journal!

The questions guiding below are for your own personal reflection, but they can all be addressed to friends and family as well. Ask those who are close to you how it is that you talk about work and school? Which tasks do you describe most positively? What do you seem to like most about them? Which tasks / project do you complain about? What do you express as being your reasons for disliking them? Ask them to reflect with you on your Academic and Professional life thus far and where it is that they see you going.

When searching for a job that will best suit you, you want to closely examine your path with an eye to identifying patterns in the choices that you make and have made thus far. What can you learn from them? In the way that you are trained as a sociolinguist to examine presuppositions, you can identify underlying assumptions and (often largely unsconscious) systematicity and patterning in your own academic and professional life. Unfortunately, we often have a very hard time seeing ourselves objectively, but your friends and family can help because they have been along with you on this ride. They probably have seen and undersrtood more about you than you have realized, but have never thought to ask. So ask. What do they see as your strengths, your values?

Your Academic Life
Research: When you are given the choice, what kinds of research topics, communities, and methods of analysis are you drawn to? Do you prefer field research or reading? Why? Maggie Debelius in SWAYGTDWT? talks about this as a question about whether you tend to prefer to get your information from people or from books. This point is a significant one. These tendencies may point to different choices of industry or maybe functions within those industries, or maybe even just ways that you can structure any job to carve out more of the work that you enjoy. You will probably be better at jobs you enjoy simply because you enjoy them.

Study Habits: Ask your friends and family what they have observed about your work habits including whether you prefer to work alone or in groups. What time of day do you get your best work done? Do you seem to prefer the structure of a deadline or do you like to have time and space to be creative and exploratory with your thinking, research, and writing? Do you find yourself volunteering to do things like editing for your peers? The seeds of your future path may well be in the things that people in your life come to you for.

Professors: Think about the feedback you have gotten from your professors about what projects you have done the best on. Go back to these who you trust to ask some more about where they see your strengths. What type of instruction do you prefer (this can tell you something about how you function in a team or what type of supervision you want to look for / ask for). Thinking about professors who you found challenging to work with, what can you identify as being the source of your frustration? Sometimes we forget that we can really ask for the work environment that we want. When we know as much as possible about how we function, the better position we are in to make that dream job!

Classes: Looking back on the classes you have had thus far, what types of classes do you seem to be drawn to? Which do you excel at, even offering to help classmates / peers? When you are given freedom of type of project to create, do you choose multimedia, web-based, or service-type projects? What types of projects do you excel at?

Your Professional Life:
What jobs have you had? Why were you drawn to each?
Which aspects did you most enjoy? Why?
Which did you least enjoy? Why?
What aspects of the workplace were most conducive to your success? What barriers to success did you encounter?

Activity: Many career search books (SWAYGDWT?, What Color is your Parachute?) have your reflect back on your top professional accomplishments in terms of what skills you utilized to accomplish them. This is a very useful exercise in beginning to deconstruct things that you may have done well but without thinking about what you were doing when you were doing them. This will help you break down familiar activities into their constituent pieces. Ideally, you want to find ways to use skills that you already possess and that you know that you love using, I want you to ask those around you to help you identify and understand your acomplishments. Ask them to describe a time that they have seen you really excel at something. What skills, interests, and gifts were most active in those moments? Where do they see you finding expression of those gifts professionally?

Finally, start looking at these people in your life as people who themselves have had professional journeys that you can learn from. Reflect with them about their own Academic and Professional lives by thinking through some of the above questions in their worlds. For example, you may know that your mom worked as a school principal, but you may not know what aspects of her job she most enjoyed or why she was drawn to that path?