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.

What a linguist “sees while she is listening” to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs

Last month, Greg Smith wrote a battle-cry of an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled: “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs” In this piece he speaks to a toxic and destructive working environment and culture, painting a picture of factors that contributed to this very public expression of his disenchantment. Using an approach that deeply resonates with our ethnographic approach to career exploration, He portrays instances of listening during which he increasingly did not like what he was hearing.  In his words: “if you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.”  So, what does this linguist “see while she is listening” to Mr. Smith?


The noisy silences

What struck me the most in this piece was Mr. Smith’s awareness of the questions which he does NOT hear being asked: “I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients” for him this noisy not illuminates exactly how “The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”  For him, what is not said tells volumes about the current cultural climate. And how about what is?

Referring expressions

Twice in the piece, he cites shocking examples of clients being referred to as “muppets,” depressing to him for what it demonstrates to be an utter lack of humility and integrity for what ought to be the center of the enterprise.  The client ought to be treated with respect instead of having their “eyeballs torn out.”  To refer to clients as muppets shows just how far the firm has veered from being organized “around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.”


Deictic shifts

I am struck by the rhetorical shifts throughout this essay, reflected in the deictic choices embedded in his use of pronouns.  These serve alternatively to reinforce his dissatisfaction and sense of distance from the organization, at other times to invite you into his recollection of a better time, or finally to share his experience of pain at the changes he has observed in the organization’s culture, as I will now explore.


The piece begins with Smith’s declaration that today is his last day at the company, where throughout this first section, he consistently refers to himself in the singular “I” and refers to “the firm,” Goldman Sachs” and “it.”  These choices take on meaning when he shifts to describing when he first joined the firm.  Speaking of the past, he refers to the organization as “this firm,” “this place” and he uses the inclusive pronoun “our.”  When explaining “how did we get here?” he shifts again to using “the firm” and “it,” and what is for me most telling, when he comes to a description (dripping with irony) of “how to be a leader” currently,  we have his  first use of the pronoun “we” and the referring expression that I was most familiar with when I was an employee of the firm “Goldman.”  Here in this section, this rhetorical shift invites you into his perspective, to share his horror, and own in his pain, a sense of complicity, and an understanding for what is motivating this drastic measure


Talking about culture

In this section, we are invited into a day-by-day through use of insider referring expressions for products and practices ”any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.” He cites examples of Goldman-speak including “axes,” (he stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit) and “hunting elephants” (get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman)


I suggest that this piece provides a compelling illustration of how we should carry our “ways of listening” throughout the navigation of our careers

Job interviews: What do we know?

A humorous YouTube video that I like to use as an example of framing also happens to be a job interview (at least in the mind of one of the participants), and can be illuminating for our discussion of what expectations we bring into an interview as the interviewee.


Guy Goma had shown up to BBC News 24 for a job interview as an accountant and owing to a mix-up in reception, he gets mistaken for Guy Kewney  editor of the technology website news wireless and is interviewed on air about the court battle between apple computers and apple Corps over trademark rights.  For more on the case, you can click here


Here in the interview, you can see the moment of realization on Guy’s face where the coin drops that something is very, very wrong, but you can also see in his performance that he does many things right.  Take a look:


Now, remember, from Guy’s perspective, he has just shown up for a job interview.  His frame or mental model for the interaction will determine how he will behave.  He has already dressed the part, he has presumably showed up on time, and he because he is operating under the assumption that he needs to be cooperative, he sits for stage makeup and gets led onto the soundstage, thinking that at the BBC this must be how they do things, maybe they are so interested in TV that even the accountants need to be prepared to appear on camera in stage makeup at a moment’s notice.


So what does Guy do right?


He demonstrates interest and enthusiasm

Guy Goma is not an expert in technology or trademark rights, but he shows that he is interested in the industry by relating this question to examples drawn from his personal experience, noting the prevalence of cybercafés and people’s need to have downloadable media.  Ideally, you would be being interviewed for something that you were both qualified for and had prepared for in advance, so this would be your moment to demonstrate the effort that you have put in ahead of time by demonstrating your enthusiasm for how your skills and abilities match up with the organizations needs with an example for something that you have done or could do for them.  This also shows that you have shifted your deictic center, that you have put yourself into the mindset of your interviewer and anticipated their question of what you could do / where you would fit into the organiztion.


Be friendly and open, talk

In a job interview, silence can send unintended metamessages of being uncooperative, unhelpful, or difficult.  Talk shows that you are willing to hold up your end of the conversational bargain in this context.  This conversational work serves as a metaphor for your willingness to do the literal work of your job, to be a high performer you will play the game, and lob the ball back.  If you are nervous, you may perhaps want to find a way to just mention it so that signals which you may be sending do not get in the way of sending the metamessage “I am professional” “I do my share of the work.” we can see here, that he talks at least twice as long as the interviewer when she poses him a question:


Interviewer Guy Goma
4 seconds 14 seconds
10 seconds 20 seconds
6 seconds 12 seconds


Interviewer: Hello good morning to you

Guy: Good morning

Interviewer: Were you surprised by this uh verdict today?

Guy: I’m very surprised to see this verdict to come on me because I was not expecting that, when I came they told me something else and I’m coming “you’ve got an interview” that’s very, a big surprise anyway

Interviewer: A big surprise?

Guy: Exactly

Interviewer: Yes yes

With regard to the cost that’s in- in- involved, um do you think now more people will be downloading online?

Guy: Actually, if you go everywhere you’re gonna see lot of people downloading through the internet and the website everything they want.  But I think it is much better for development and to empower  people what they want to get easy way and so fast everything they are looking for

Interviewer: This does really seem to be the way the music industry is progressing now that people want to go onto the website and download music

Guy: Exactly, you can go everywhere on the cybercafé and you can take, you can go easy, it’s going to be easy for everyone to get something through the internet

Interviewer: well, I think we can go now to Rob Pitten…..


But, at the same time, he does not dominate the floor!


Keep your answers short

Even though Guy may have no idea at all what he is talking about, and thus the content of his utterances are a bit off, the structure of his contributions are perfect.  A great practice to adopt in your own interviews might be to check in quickly with your interviewer after you have given your answer. “does that answer your question?”


And another thing that we can learn from Guy is that

you don’t have to be afraid to say “I don’t know!”

you, unlike Guy, are not being interviewed on national television!  Check in with your interviewer if you need further clarification, if you are not sure that you have understood.  Speaking as someone who has sat on the other side of the desk, this does not signal incompetence, to me it shows me a respect for my time, but as ever, this is something to ask for advice about in your informational interviews with industry contacts.


And as ever, I want to hear from you – how did it go?

The “reaching out” e-mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Identity: Learning how to talk the talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking about money

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

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

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

Money as Topic

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

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

What do people in my field make?

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


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

Hoover’s Online Salary Resources

JobStar Central Salary Resources

LegiStorm – Congressional Staff Salaries

The Riley Guide – Salary Resources



What do I make?

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

What am I worth?

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

Talk in terms of range.

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

Use silence strategically

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

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