Getting distance on yourself


Seeing yourself as others see you is so very challenging to do, yet so crucial in searching for a job.  Through the series of texts and interactions that you are run through as jobseeker, you really have no choice but to look at yourself as others see you, and it is probably one of the most frustrating, challenging and painful aspects of the entire process!


And I know of what I speak!  This is the time of year when I have to write my self-evaluation at work, and I have spent most of the morning writing this blog post about why it is so very hard to talk about yourself as a way to actively avoid talking about myself!  But this is exactly why we linguists are lucky.  We know lots of linguists as friends who can help us practice talking about ourselves and focus on aspects of our professional self-presentation that might be getting in the way of our effectiveness.


We focus on language – and after all, job searching is really just a string of highly textualized moments of interaction.   From the inquiry e-mail to the resume, to the job interview, through the negotiation, having the ability to step back and achieve distance on your language is invaluable!


Which is why I love to use storytelling as a way of thinking about the process of professional self-presentation.  In storytelling, we cultivate a practice of looking at our stories with distance.   We tell true stories but we know that we are packaging them for consumption by an audience and that we have to do work to help them understand it.   When you think about a resume as a story, you start to think about the agency that you have in telling it.  …and maybe, just maybe…. the fun that you can have doing so as well!


You get to choose what aspects of identity that you want to highlight / others that you may not. The choice to say one thing is a choice to NOT say something else.  The choice to say it one way is a choice to NOT say it another.  Even silence carries meaning, as we all well know.   We make these choices every time that we talk, but the need for clarity of focus is especially true in high stakes interactions.


Whether we believe it or not in the moment, we have to talk like we know we are the thing that this organization is looking for.  Whether we feel it or not, we have to speak in ways that communicate enthusiasm, and finally whether we actually feel that way or not, I think we have to talk like we believe we are going to get the job.   If at all possible, and it doesn’t come off as obnoxious, like we already have the job.  “When I work here” not “if”


One apparent contradiction here is another truth of job searching which is that no one seems so irresistible to an employer as someone who acts like they don’t want the job.  I know in my gut that it is an effective strategy to talk in ways that help the employer picture you working in the organization (and encourage the use of storytelling to plant visual images of yourself working in your application materials), but I also know from experience that when I actively do not want a job is usually when I get an offer!


I want to suggest that this is the same conundrum that we encounter in storytelling about rehearsing.  When you rehearse only a bit, the story sounds stilted and rough and it also loses its spontaneity.  If you were to advise someone at this stage, your advice would be “don’t rehearse,” better to sound a bit unpolished than to sound stilted and stiff.


But in storytelling, what I have learned is that when you push through this awkward phase to rehearse more, you break through to the other side where the story has been rehearsed to the point of KNOWING/OWNING, and it starts to sound fresh again.  So maybe when we show up for a job that we DON’T want, it is the distance that the employer can hear.  There is also the happy bonus of not sounding nervous.  With more practice, maybe we can talk in ways that achieve the same distance for jobs that we really do want.

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