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?

Linguist, Know Thyself: Insights from your Academic Path or What You’ve Learned Thus Far

Begin by being reflective about yourself – Linguist, know thyself:
Examine your own path with an eye to identifying patterns in the choices that you make and have made. In the way that you are trained as a sociolinguist to examine presuppositions, identify underlying assumptions and (often largely unsconscious) systematicity and patterning in your own academic and professional life.

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

Study Habits: Ideally this process can begin while you are still in graduate school so that you can pay attention to your work habits including whether you prefer to work alone or in groups. What time of day do you get your best work done? Do you prefer the structure of a deadline or do you like to have time and space to be creative and exploratory with your thinking, research, and writing? Do you find yourself volunteering to do things like editing for your peers? The seeds of your

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

Classes: Looking back on the classes you have had thus far, ask yourself what types of classes are you drawn to? When you are given freedom of type of project to create, do you choose multimedia, web-based, or service-type projects? What types of projects do you excel at?

Jan Blommaert and the career search?

Reading Blommaert today I am struck by the resonances with Doug Richardson’s talk to MLC students in the Proseminar last night. Specifically, he talks about 5 theoretical principles that underlie our research tradition as analysts of language. These also happen to resonate deeply with Doug’s observations about what social “work” takes place in the first 20 seconds of a job interview (which we know can be analyzed just like any instance of contextualized “moment of social action” – to quote our dear friends Scollon and Scollon)

Specifically, Blommaert (2006, pp 14-16) tells us that:
1. In analysing language-in-society, the focus should be on what language use means to its users. in the interview context, this means not just that the language you use matters, it is HOW the language you use matters. We need to gain as much access to the “insider’s view” of the culture that we are seeking to enter.

2. We have to be aware that language operates differently in different environments, and that in order to properly understand how language works, we need to contextualize it properly, to establish the relations between language usage and the particular purposes for which and conditions under which it operates. In other words, we need to know as much as we can able the speech event that is a job interview.

3. Our unit of analysis is not an abstract ‘language’ but the actual and densely contextualized forms in which language occurs in society. This is where our skills and training come in. Our awareness of accents and dialects, styles. Our commitment to exposing the ways that framing impacts the reception of messages and shapes our future actions. Our awareness of intertextuality and dialogicality, that all language carries voices and it is our job to be aware of seemingly innocuous word coinings like “ObamaCare.”

4. In interaction [people] are constrained by the range and structure of their repertoires, and the distribution of elements of the repertoires in any society is unequal. It all comes back to power. Remember Doug’s observation that the FIRST thing interactants are evaluating is status. This information tells us how any interaction will go.

5. We have to conceive of communication events as ultimately influenced by the structure of the world system. I think the way that this emerges most powerfully in the work that we are all doing in the Proseminar in our awareness that communication (what it means, what it can do) is shifting because of social media. As we go out in the world and talk about our competencies, we will be expected to have thoughts about this.

I am also really loving Blommaert’s assessment that “a critical analysis of discourse in contemporary society is an analysis of voice…or “the way in which people manage to make themselves understood or fail to do so. In doing so, they have to draw upon and deploy discursive means which they have at their disposal , and they have to use them in contexts that are specified as to conditions of use.” The reason this is important, our “so what” is that “voice is the issue that defines linguistic inequality (hence, many other forms of inequality) in contemporary society” (pp 4-5).

Agar on culture

When I think about raising awareness of sociolinguistics, one of the biggest contributions I feel compelled to make is in helping people become more aware of their culture and of themselves in intercultural interactions.

As Agar (2007) observes “Culture is something those people ‘have,’ but it’s more than that. It’s also something that happens to you when you encounter them. As long as they’re just out there, a different group of folks, you won’t have to deal with them. When you deal with them, culture turns personal. Culture is no longer just what some group has; it’s what happens to you when you encounter differences, become aware of something in yourself, and work to figure out why the differences appeared. Culture is an awareness, a consciousness, one that reveals the hidden self and opens paths to other ways of being.” (18)

Welcome to my site

Hi, I am Anna Marie Trester.  I am the Assistant Director of the MA in Language and Communication (MLC) at Georgetown University in the Department of Linguistics.  My work here involves raising awareness of the usefulness of Sociolinguistics in today’s workplace.  In my research (on improvisational theater, peace vigils, and tourism in Costa Rica), professional projects (e.g. the companion website for McNeill Lehrer’s documentary Do You Speak American?), and teaching (this Spring I am teaching a professionalization seminar for MLC students), I bring together my academic training with past professional experiences (i.e. as an analyst at Goldman Sachs & Co).  I received my M.A. in Linguistics from NYU in 2002 and Ph.D. from Georgetown in 2008.