WaLK Series

WaLK (What a Linguist Knows) Series

A short blog series that plays with the metaphor of the career as journey, the idea here with WaLK is to take some steps – to navigate forward. The work of the jobseeker is to WaLK – to put one step in front of the other. 

What are WaLK signs?

  • The WHY of the work: The problem that you seek to solve
  • The HOW of the work: Your approach
  • The WHAT of the work: The transferrable skills you bring
  • The WHO: The people with whom you want to work
  • The WHO: The people for whom you want to work
  • The WHERE: The places where you want to work
  • The WHEN: Work-life balance you seek – which ultimately comes down to the value of the work (given that time is money:) salary, benefits, lifestyle implications.
an image of a walk sign for the walk series.

The WHO of Work – for WHOM & with WHOM

The list of interrogatives (who, what, when, where, why, how) always begins with “who” and when it comes to thinking about work, this really works!!!  WHO is a great place to start because it gets right to the heart of the matter when it comes to work – WHO do you want to help do what? Thinking about the WHO helps you to start to meaningfully break down some of the key organizing factors in structuring work.  We can think about the WHO in terms of WORK FOR – your sector or your field, the organization that you work for, or the particular communities that you serve with your work, or you can think about WORK WITH – your division, your organizational team, your colleagues.


Therefore, these two pieces bear further explanation, I am going to treat each (FOR WHOM, and WITH WHOM) in separate entries in this series.  And for now, I am going to take the WHO as an invitation to tackle one of my favorite challenges: describing work.


I have tackled this a couple ways here on Career Linguist, though BRIGHTEN, and through the Career Profiles, but the central challenge here is in thinking about work, does the industry, or sector matter more than the function and tasks that you perform?  The answer is of course that “it depends.” Part of this process is to learn about what motivates you more – what pulls you  – industry, sector, organization, department, team, role/function, tasks, colleagues or clients?


Some ways to start learning about the WHO:

Ask directly about things like workstyle preferences in informational interviews. Pay attention to how people introduce themselves and their work (and include yourself in these observations).  What do they mention first – industry, sector, organization, department, team, function, tasks, colleagues or clients?  Which of these do they exclude?  Do they describe past or future constituent pieces of these?  What do you make of the patterns that you observe? Begin at the beginning – to learn as much as you can about all of these aspects of work, I know of no better place to start than LinkedIn.  Starting with their list of industries, which is the most comprehensive of any that I have seen.


As a thought exercise, compare aspects of your dream job against one another – so for example, if your dream job is to perform the duties of a project manager at a particular organization, in a particular sector, see whether you can identify different people who are project managers at different organizations and sectors, then people at this organization who have different roles (and maybe different sectors?), and then a focus on the sector – what are all of the different worlds of work comprised in their “for WHOM.”  Which pieces of work remain most interesting to you?

The HOW of Work

I have approached the question of the HOW a couple different ways in discussions on this blog, so first let me say a bit more about what I mean by the HOW of work.  Here I am I referring to how you think and the way that you see the world and how this shapes the problems that you see and how you approach the solving of them.  In research, this is your analytical approach.  In your professional life, you may certainly bring something from your analytical approach (as it likely shapes how you see things, frame problems), but how you think is not going to be everything about how you work.  Although certainly, it does begin with what you see, work comprises myriad factors including the people with whom and for whom you work, the contexts in which you do it – and all of the other work interrogatives which come to flavor your HOW, but it does all begin with “what do you notice?”


This way of seeing, or as Goodwin calls it, your Professional Vision, will have been shaped of course by things you have studied, experiences you have had, and it will also be shaped by you. To begin to suss this out, I use the idea of “show me your city block” when you walk down that metaphorical city block, what do you notice? and why?  What problems call your attention?  What means of addressing them suggest themselves to you?


One of the major challenges for those of you who are just beginning your professional lives, is that you might unconsciously still be viewing yourself in the world as (and consequently talking as though you still are) a student – this is why “shifting your deictic center” becomes so very important. Shifting your deictic center involves “perspective-taking,” taking a much more active problem solving stance, asking “what if?” and “if that then what?”  Something along the lines of: “what if this were my job?  What would I be looking for in terms of problems to solve?  How would I solve them?  If that, then what?” To begin enacting this shift in perspective, begin to think and talk about school as a job (if you have not done so already).


Take stock of your academic path and what you have learned about your HOW thus farAnd the job search process adds another layer of challenge by asking you to step outside yourself to describe yourself as others might see and experience you.  Storytelling is a helpful tool in “finding your lens” as I will now explore.


Activities for articulating the HOW 

The best way that I know (and consequently the one that I talk about the most here at Career Linguist) involves putting together and telling “pocket examples” that show a little bit about how you work.  This gives your listener a sense for how you think, what it would be like to work with you, which is really giving them a chance to see a little bit of the HOW of your work.


To get started, make a list and set a timer so that you can just focus on making the list for 10 minutes.  List every job you’ve ever had.  You can include research projects that you have done, volunteer work, just basically problems that you have devoted yourself to solving.  Once you have made your list, sit back and reflect.  To create pocket examples out of these, you will want to craft a story around how you identified the problem and how you solved it. Do you see patterns? Once you have written any of these pocket examples, the key to honing the HOW will be to share them with other people and get feedback. Another way (although this is not a Pomodoro-length task) is to read books like Stand Out which help you identify and articulate your “unique perspective.”


Also important is to learn about your workstyle preferences.  Any of the tests out there that help you take stock of these are valuable and time well-spent.  If you are currently a student, you might be able to get many of them for free.  Find out from your career center whether you have access to the Myer’s Briggs or the Strong Skills Inventory, and crucially whether you have access to a person who has been certified to facilitate the debrief with you. If not, not to worry, there are plenty available online – and you can always think about hiring a career coach.


I take stock of my workstyle preferences any chance I get because they often change, and it always behooves me to take stock: I always learn something new about how I work, and what contexts and factors don’t support my best work. The more I know about the HOW of work, the more I know what I can do to shape in including designing tasks, building the supports and environments, and finding the tasks and challenges that will best suit me.

Finally, now that you are thinking about it, keep a notebook handy to jot down fleeting observations about the HOW that might come up as you are reading a report or an article, or as you are speaking to someone about a challenge they solved, or when you are spending your hour (or more) a week on LinkedIn.  Pay particular attention to things that register as frustration (“I wouldn’t have done it that way!”) or as admiration (“I never even thought of applying that approach to this kind of a problem).  These flashes of insight speak to your  HOW.  They are telling you something about what makes your HOW unique. Capture them.


Bring these thoughts to networking events and informational interviews to ask your professional network to help you reflect on them.  What are their reactions/responses?  Where do they see opportunities for using this HOW to best solve the challenges that you want to solve?

The WHY of Work

Often when I give informational interviews and I ask something like “what would you like to do?” it becomes very clear from their answer very quickly that the person is only thinking about problems and challenges the way that they had been framed in school.  “I like to critically deconstruct political speeches for what they reveal about insider/outsider identity.” An answer like this one is problematic not only because there are few job ads (at least that I have seen) seeing someone to be able to do this task, but more so because I don’t know from this answer what about this work speaks to you.


Is it the rhetorical genre of speechmaking, or is it about genres of persuasion or obfuscation? Do identities of belonging particularly speak to you, and if so – why?  Is there a particular context in which you see its application being particularly insidious/problematic/inspirational? If you tell me that you are interested in investigating discursive othering in political speeches given by the Canadian Prime Minister because you see something here that may be brought to how the issue of migration gets thought about and the solutions and policies that get proposed, then now we are getting somewhere!


So how do you answer the question “what would you like to do?” Can you break it down into its constituent pieces?  Is it about an issue? A context? A speech act? A goal?  Perhaps you are drawn to speech recognition technologies.  Interrogate that.  Why?  What do you want to have happen as the result of your work?  Or perhaps it is teaching.  Why?  What about it?  Do you see the need for different pedagogical approaches?  If so, why?  As you may be seeing, I am an inveterate “why”- asker!


Three ideas for activities to help you get at answers to these questions:


What is your dream job?

In nearly a decade of asking this questions, I never yet had someone tell me that they don’t know.  You know.  If you just let yourself answer the way that you would answer if there were no constraints imposed by time, training, geography, finances. There is something to be mined in the answer that you give that speaks to a problem you wish to solve in the world. WHY is this your dream job?


What research projects do you choose?

Consider research projects that you chose over the course of your schooling.  I remember when I was trying to decide between two topics for my dissertation, and I met with one of my professors – Ron Scollon – for his advice.  He told me to choose the topic that spoke to me as the one most aligned with a sense of change that I wished to see in the world.  At the time I was considering studying either a peace vigil hosted by Quakers on the lawn of the capitol building or an improvisational theater troupe.


WHY did you choose this particular research project?

Which was the problem that I chose to devote several years’ worth of my intellectual energy exploring?  Improv.  Why?  Because the training that improvisers receive is in communication, listening, collaborative problem solving.  Improv teaches people how to say “yes” to things and at the same time, how to embrace failure and mistakes.  I see these as the skills most sorely in need of practicing in our culture today.


This was the project that I dedicated myself to studying because one of the problems that I most wish to solve in the world is how to cultivate a stance of curiosity.  An orientation of “what if?”  (you may have noticed that I bring that to career in this blog – “what if you wanted to pursue a career in X, then what would you do?”)  Improv also speaks to major values of mine about the importance of communication, collaboration, and perspective-taking.


Name three people you emulate 

These can be linguists or non-linguists, but ideally they should be real people (although not necessarily people that you know).  Spend some time writing and reflecting on the problems that they have devoted their time and energy towards solving.  What real world challenges do they work to address?  Does this have anything to do with why you emulate them? WHY do you emulate these people?


So these are three activities to start getting you to reflect on the problems out there in the world that you wish to devote yourself to solving.


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