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!!

Researching the IRB

Students often ask me questions about the IRB process couched in terms of what they *have* to do or about what I want them/need them to do for a particular project, to which I usually answer “what do YOU think you need to do?” By reframing the question in this way, I am not avoiding the question. Instead, what I am hoping to accomplish is to help them see the IRB in a new way. In a way that shows a sense of responsibility for the work and respect for the process. But the piece that I think I have been missing is the perspective of the research participant. Instead of saying: “what do YOU think you need to do?” I realize that I should instead be saying “what would YOUR PARTICIPANTS want for you to do?” I am starting to think about this in terms of becoming the kind of a researcher that I would to come do participant observation with me.

What kind of a researcher would I want to explore my community?
The research that we do is fundamentally about gaining an appreciation for and understanding of people, but sometimes we forget to think about ourselves in this way. As ethnographers, we are of course aware of feeling anxious and awkward at times, but for every ounce of emotion that we experience, we should remember that many of these are (perceived) reactions to the emotional responses to our very presence as researchers, which in turn engenders new responses, which are then refracted through and experienced by our participants, who also, lest we forgot, have their own emotions, not to mention reactions to being studied. Okay, so this is starting to get kinda complicated….

But really, it is quite simple: If someone announced themselves to me as my ethnographer, what kind of person would I want for them to be?

A good listener
Our training in linguistics cultivates heightened awareness of language and communication. I think we should take every opportunity to showcase this skill. Really hear it when someone offers “the one thing that you need to know about our community is…” To the extent possible, remain silent and wait to understand how your words and actions will be understood before you speak and act. When you perceive that you have crossed a line, seek to understand how rather than getting defensive and retreating. Use this as an opportunity to go more deeply in. Begin to share some of the things that you are observing. If you have gotten it wrong, seek humbly to understand how. When your community understands that you understand them, it fosters respect and the research will go easier.

Someone who is excited about their own work
As a research participant, if I am going to get something out of this experience, it will be a chance to understand myself in a new way – to see my actions through a new lens. This will happen if this person is a careful observer, which they likely are (see above), but how I am going to feel about it will be shaped by how this person orients to their work. If they seem apologetic or defensive, how am I going to feel about this? If they seem to enjoy what they do, I will get more out of the experience of being researched.
There are many moments of frustration over the course of an ethnography – at times it may be necessary to demonstrate enthusiasm even when you are not connected to experiencing that just at that very moment.

Someone who will treat the project and me (and themselves) with compassion
Finally, as a research participant, I need to feel reassured that this person is smart and empassioned (see above), but also that their intentions are good. I have opened myself up to them and allowed them access to my life world, I need to understand that this was not a bad decision.

And here is where it comes back to the IRB. The IRB is essentially an exercise in articulating your values as a researcher. It makes you list all the ways you are smart and prepared for this research, and then you sign something with your participants that says that you will treat them with respect. It is a lot of work, and of course is an imperfect system, but if it can come to be something that just helps us talk about what we do and why we do it, then it is not wasted.

Ethnography, Narrative and the job search

Bring the energy and devotion that you bring to your classes to your job search!

You have been trained to analyze cultures and to learn something about who they are by how they talk. In this same way that you are trained to look at cultures as ethnographers, look at the organization(s) to which you are interested in applying. For the pursposes of this blog post, we will be thinking of narratives, so let’s begin by attempting to identify the “occaisions for remembering” as highlighted by Charlotte Linde in her brilliant 2009 study: Working the Past: Narrative and Institutional Memory

Even as an outsider to the organization, using virtual ethnography, informational interviews, and any opportunities that have enabled you to set foot inside the walls of the organization you will be able to identify key organizations & individuals / professional organizations / conferences / meetings / trade publications / blogs / listservs as part of this field’s community of practice. Also, you will have gained access to myriad narratives that appear on websites, newsletters, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, commericals and any other public-facing documents that this organization designs to communicatw with the public.

Given that “Narration is one very important way that institutions construct their presentation of who they are and what they have done in the past and they use these pasts in the present as an attempt to shape their future” and that “Narrative is also the link between the was an institution represents its past and the ways its members use, alter, or contest that past, in order to understand the institution as a whole as well as their own place within or apart from that institution,” think about things like How does the text position you? Does it resonate with your values? Do you see yourself in this narrative?

As linguists, we can approach the job search by analyzing the organization we want to work for in terms of the stories it tells about itself as part of “occaisions for remembering.” As a linguist, you have a unique perspective into how the company is presenting itself. Think about how this may become a way to carve out a space for yourself in your chosen field. Where are the skills and training that you bring to the table valued in this industry?

Resume – the SPEAKING grid

As analysts of language, we are very aware that any text can serve as a portrait of identity, and there are few documents more critical in the presentation of selves over the course of our lives than our resumes (CVs). But how can we as sociolinguists bring what we know about language and how it can be used strategically to achieve specific goals in specific contexts? How can we bring this knowledge to bear on the resume creation process?

Something that you are told when you are working on your resume is that your employer will not look at your resume the same way that you do. But what does this really mean? One way to organize your thinking around this might be to reflect on Hymes (1972) SPEAKING nmeumonic to illuminate the speech events in which it is likely to be used and reflect on some of the other central elements this Instrumentality

S settings:
P participants:
E ends:
A act sequence:
K key:
I instrumentalities:
N norms:
G genre:

For starters, thinking about Setting and Participants, traditionally, it used to be the case that your resume arrived to the desk of your potential employer as part of a stack of job applications that had been sent responding to a particular job posting. Thus, it was of primary importance to have a very quickly digestible resume in which your main skills, experiences, and accomplishments jumped out. Also, you wanted to find ways to make your resume stand out from the crowd. While these goals are still supremely important, they are so now for different reasons. Because of the fact that increasingly, resumes are given to potential employers in mediated contexts, for example through a member of your network, the strength of your resume may be taken as a reflection of the judgement of the person who shared it.

Thinking about the Ends here, your ultimate goals here are very different from those of your potential employer. You want a job. They want to be sure not make a hiring mistake. Use your resume to reassure them. As Doug Richardson told the Proseminar when he visited last year, present the information on your resume as if it were intended to answer the questions:
Who trusted you before?
What did they trust you with (What were your responsibilities)?
Where did you go to school and is there anything else I should know about you?
Show that you have a breadth of experience, show that you have a depth of experience and PROVE it (give examples).

As we have mentioned, the resume is itself an Instrumentality whose Act Sequence Key , Normsand Genre will be shaped by the particular industries and organizations to which you are applying. Thus, ethnography is crucial.

Settings (the workplace, at conferences or networking events, or virtually) in which you encounter Participants (representatives of the organization) are particularly critical and should productively be mined for information about how to shape your presentation of self so as to be maximally resonant with the intended audience(s) and therefore effective. Get your hands on sample resumes from representatives of the organization. Ask members of the organization for advice on yours if possible. When you are looking at a company’s website (Twitter feed, Facebook page) or networking with an employee (on Linked In or face-to-face), pay attention to how they present their identity, what do they talk about and how (and why)? How can you frame your own experience in ways that resonate? How can you acquire new skills and experiences that are likely to be valued?