But it’s only an X not an interview…..

X being a meeting for coffee, a quick chat with an important person that a friend has arranged, and recently from a student who was able after 2 years to finally set up a conversation over Christmas Break with a major executive at an organization of interest.!

What is this interaction?
Now, networking can be a rather nebulous thing, and you may indeed find yourself more often than you might like siting down across the table from a person having an interaction that you do not understand with someone who you don’t really know which someone else arranged for you. However, you should treat this as a job interview if for no other reason than for your own sanity, that way at least one person knows what the interactional frame is. The truth is that the person across the table from you may not have any expectations for this interaction either, or maybe they do (and if you get the sense that they do, you should let them guide things), or maybe they don’t YET, but when they hear about you and what you are passionate about, they might be prepared to offer you something. Most people who have jobs have need of assistance, and hiring someone can sometimes be just a question of timing and bureaucracy. Maybe they can easily arrange something for you, but this will only happen if you are ready!!

This actually happened at my very first informational interview, but because I was completely unprepared, I was in no position to recognize let alone accept the opportunity that was presenting itself to me.

So, the story:
When I began my job here at Georgetown working with the MLC program, I was given the task of conducting 50 informational interviews over the course of my first semester. Now, for those of you who have not yet begin informational interviewing, let me tell you: THAT IS A LOT!!I figured I would start with former jobs. The executive producer at McNeil Lehrer Productions had a sudden opening in her schedule for the following day. Knowing how busy she is, I jumped at the chance to meet with her, and made the mistake (since I had previously worked there) of thinking that I did not need to prepare. Or that is to say I was half-prepared: I was ready to talk about myself and my interests, but had not taken any time to look into what she or the studio happened to have been recently working on.

What do you know about X?
They had recently produced a film about generation Y, so when I started talking about language, communication and culture, her mind went immediately to the communication styles of the multigenerational workplace and so naturally, she asked me what I knew about the expectations and cross-cultural communication issues surrounding milennials entering the workplace for the first time!! Well, I had never really thought about it, but because I felt like I needed to be an expert in this moment, having nothing, I just completely shut down.

What I missed in that moment
Now, I had been a researcher in the past on a film that they had produced about linguistics. It is not outside the realm of possibility that she might have offered me the opportunity to consult or do some research on this or another project had I recognized this opportunity for what it was: a chance to demonstrate enthusiasm and curiosity, not necessarily expertise.

The good news is that this associative skill is one that develops with practice, but it can be very hard for an introvert like me, for whom social interaction can already feel overwhelming, and direct questions like these can feel like a challenge of my credibility or motivations.

So what can we do to be ready?
One strategy that I have learned to employ in this moment is simply to turn the question around. “Hmm, no, I have not been exposed to language use in exactly that context. What struck you about it? What do you imagine would be salient to an outsider? Did you encounter any examples?” not only does this buy you a little bit of time, but chances are good that there is some specific observation that is motivating their question. The sooner you can get to the “question behind the question” the better! Since they have been thinking about this already, their thoughts are more accessible, and once they get talking, that can prime your thinking, and it becomes much easier for you to engage.

Learn what strategies work for you. Perhaps you want to ask the person who set up the meeting what they imagine this person to be most interested in and curious about these days. Have your friends and family imagine with you what kinds of questions might come up.

So, what I mean when I say that you should treat it as a job interview is that you should PREPARE for it as if it were. Spend a couple hours on the organization’s website and on LinkedIn, and looking up this organization in the news. Know the organization well enough so that should the person offer assistance at some point you are prepared to tell them what you would need. For example with which members of their organization would you like to network? Do they host events that you would be interested in being involved with? If so what kind? If given the opportunity to volunteer your services, with which division would you most want to work? Why? What would you do for them? Why do they need a linguist? Help them think through how you would be best used.

Likely this person who has agreed to meet with you is very busy: do not waste their time by not having taken the time to do some work to think for a minute how you can “help them help you!”

Worth it!!
I have heard from many students who showed up for what they thought was just a conversation and which ended up by the other interactant offering them a job. Not that you should EXPECT this (by any means), or comport yourself in the interaction in any way to suggest that you feel entitled or owed any kind of favor, but if someone offers one to you, recognize the gift which has been offered you. Be gracious! If luck, as is so often said “is where opportunity meets preparation” hold up your end of the bargain by being prepared to be lucky!

Articulating your professional vision: Show me your city block!!

Over the years I have read hundreds of applications for graduate school. I am to the place now where I can tell you within about thirty seconds whether or not I am excited about an applicant, based on the story they tell in their applications materials. What makes me light up? Well, I am a linguist, so you might not be surprised to hear that it is not about the numbers: GPAs, GREs, or TOEFL scores. I jump immediately to the statement of purpose. I get excited when the first 50 words of this document shows me something about who this person is and how they understand and interact with the world.

So, when I am asked for advice about what to say in a statement of purpose, I say: “show me your city block.” As I will explain in this blog post, this advice is informed by different experiences and sources of knowledge, but it is shaped most strongly by one very compelling statement of purpose that I read from a woman who was applying to graduate programs in urban planning. She took her reader through the experience of driving to school when she was a kid growing up in Atlanta, showing us what she saw through the passenger window as she and her mother left her affluent suburb and passed through poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Her struggles to comprehend the disparities that she saw for those few minutes at the beginning and end of every day so impacted her, that they have fueled her passion for study more than 20 years later.

Part of what made her statement of purpose so very compelling was that it contextualized her graduate studies as the first step to realizing a broader professional vision.  You saw how this step was just the next logical progression in the expression of her goals.  So as you think about how to articulate your professional vision, start by thinking about what you said in your own statements of purpose if you went to grad school. And if you are just thinking about grad school, here is one site and here another which give good advice on composing a compelling letter of rec.

But of course she would pick a block, she is an urban planner!
Think of it as a metaphor, but the truth is that everyone sees something different when they are out there in the world, and a city block is as compelling a place to start as any. The point is to think about what you might notice because of who you are, the experiences that you have had and how these have shaped the way you understand the world.

Show us the world though your eyes
When someone is deciding about whether or not they want to hire you, they want to see the world through your eyes, and what they most want is to have a sense for how you feel about what you see! What makes you empassioned? Why? We talk about this in improv as creating a filter or a lens for your character. There are certain things that only you will notice in the first place because of who you are and what your experiences have been. Once you have noticed them, how do you react to them – what do you make of those things that you notice. What do they mean? WHY?

So let’s think about that city block for a moment:

I grabbed this photo from a site that I found called Living City Block because I realized that I saw things here that were informed by my own recent experiences of looking for a condo. Because of my budget, I have been restricted to looking at small floor-plans, mainly studios, and because I am buying rather than renting, I wanted a space that would suit my priorities in the long term.  I had to articulate my thoughts about HOW I want to use my living space now and going forward. When it came down to it, I realized that I need a quiet place in which I can write. In a studio, depending on the layout of the building, I could have up to five noisy neighbors with whom I will have to share a wall (or ceiling or floor). Consequently, one of the first things that I now notice about buildings now is how far apart the windows are as a quick point of reference for how the building is laid out. Even before I walk into a building, I try to deduce from the window configuration how big the units are and how they are oriented relative to one another. So, when I looked at this city block, the first thing that I saw was how much further apart the windows in the building in the foreground were as compared to the taller one in the background. I bet this wasn’t the first thing that you noticed!

So take a minute and think about what you see here.

Maybe you ride a bike, so you notice the bike lanes. Maybe you are drawn to big cities like New York City or London, so you notice that these buildings are not highrises or that the sidewalks seem relatively empty. Maybe you hate spending time in a city, so you are drawn to anything that reminds you of green things growing: the trees. Maybe you are an architect, or a visual artist, so what jumps out at you when you look at this picture are the qualities of the artistic rendering. Whatever it is, get some of it down on paper to see whether why you see what you see means anything.

Show don’t tell!
A classic exhortation for writers, this is how you do it and why it is important.

For a great example of an MLCer who has done this particularly well, check out Katie McIntyyre’s: The five object that tell my story

Can you give me some theory?
Charles Goodwin explores this his Professional Vision using the example of a patch of dirt. To a farmer and an archaeologist, the same patch of dirt will yield different information because of how the dirt is being scrutinized and why:

An event being seen, a relevant object of knowledge, emerges through the interplay between a domain of scrutiny (a patch of dirt, the images made available by the King videotape, etc.) and a set of discursive practices (dividing the domain of scrutiny by highlighting a figure against a ground, applying specific coding schemes for the constitution and interpretation of relevant events, etc.) being deployed within a specific activity (arguing a legal case, mapping a site, planting crops, etc.).

Our ways of seeing are entirely shaped by who we are, what we value, and what we do with our lives. Use the patch of dirt, the city block, or whatever object or experience you chose to talk about to highlight and articulate your passions, your skills, your values.

And when you have figured out a way to tell your story, tell it to me! 🙂

The culture of an organization from its website

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Prepping for a job interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School is your job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 minutes for your jobsearch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The many worlds in LinkedIn

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

And there is much to talk about!

Screenshot 2015-03-18 00.29.44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jobseeker: Take stock of the people in your life!

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

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

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


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


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


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

Bringing your past into your present

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

A focus on the present:

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

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

Take a minute to pay it forward

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

Moving into the future

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

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

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

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

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

but then declares:

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

His choice of genre

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

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

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

What he taught me about DC

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

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

“it is?”


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

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