Linguistic Penalties and the Job Interview
Celia Roberts [+–]
King’s College, London
Celia Roberts is Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at King’s College, London.
Shortlisted for the 2022 BAAL Book Prize
Linguistic Penalties and the Job Interview looks at a relatively untapped area of language and social life: the role of language and interaction in constructing the job interview and how this role produces disadvantage in the linguistically diverse communities of the western world. It relates the specific activity of the job interview to the wider field of institutional discourse and discusses relevant social theories in the light of the data.
The volume considers job interviews as key ‘gatekeeping’ encounters within the workplace from two main perspectives: interviews as extreme examples of social evaluation, showing how inferential processes of moment to moment talk in interaction can lead to the ‘small tragedies’ of everyday life; and interviews as a window into social inequality more generally. It illustrates interactional sociolinguistic and linguistic ethnography methodology through the job interview and workplace data and argues for the importance of practical relevance – applying sociolinguistic analysis to educational interventions.
Table of Contents
List of Figures [+–] vii
List of Figures
Acknowledgements [+–] viii
Transcription Conventions [+–] ix-x
Introduction [+–] 1-24
The main argument is introduced that access to job opportunities depends on how you talk. The interview is an invisible gate which remains closed to so many migrant workers. A critical take on the job interview asks why it remains such a dominant technology when its design and processes produce social inequality. Key theoretical concepts are discussed in this light and research sites and data briefly described.
Performing the Institutional Self [+–] 25-44
The idea of the self as a constantly performing and governable set of entities is discussed and linked to some of the theoretical background given in Chapter 1. The different somewhat conflicting selves are accounted for by the way in which institutions ‘think’ and act. This chapter moves from the entrepreneurial self to performing the institutional self and sets the scene for why the interview is a punitive setting.
Researching Ethnic and Linguistic Penalties [+–] 45-69
This chapter examines the role of linguistic penalties in the selection process. Earlier research on discrimination in employment and the sociolinguistic studies of the job interview are reviewed. This chapter then outlines the methodological approach from linguistic ethnography that is used in this book and which takes sociolinguistic analysis beyond the four walls of the interview room.
This chapter discusses the design and underpinning discourses of the contemporary job interview and how these shape its detailed conduct. After a brief look at the history of the job interview in the UK, the design of current interviews in terms of competencies and soft skills is outlined. Then the role of ‘diversity’ in the workplace in masking some of the contradictions of competency management is considered.
Chapters 5–10 analyse the interview process based on the data from two projects. This is the first of two chapters to focus on the candidate’s contribution. Here the hybrid discourses of the interview are introduced as a key element in the linguistic technologies of the interview. Two of the three central discourses: the institutional and personal are analysed.
Narrating the Self Through Professional Discourse [+–] 108-137
The third mode of discourse, professional discourse, is realized through candidate narratives which are a central mode of engagement and basis for judgement. This chapter examines the relationship between narrative and institutional order, the structure of narrative and stance taken up in it, the grounded experience of story and how reporting talk is managed through narrative.
The Interview as a Joint Production [+–] 138-173
In this chapter we look at the interactional conduct of interviews and how the environment of the interviews and their outcomes are interactionally produced. Each interview is relatively more conversational or institutional and this dynamic is an indicator and producer of success of failure.
This chapter traces the processes by which final decisions are made. It shows how interview judgements are embedded in the social evaluation of all talk and interaction and discusses how these subjective processes are masked by institutionally required objective standards. The slippage from objectivity to a pure subjectivity is traced through changing interviewer criteria and the business of record keeping.
Migrant Candidates and the Linguistic Penalty [+–] 207-230
The linguistic penalty imposed, specifically, on migrant candidates is the focus of chapters nine and ten. Here the common sense ideologies around language are discussed as they serve to produce negative ethnic stereotypes and inequalities. The linguistic capital required of job interviews amplifies the differences between local and migrant candidates, putting unnecessary demands on the interpretive and cohesive resources of the latter. This subjects them to a double weight in the interview as it becomes more institutionalized.
Knowledge and Experience Brought into the Interview [+–] 231-254
This chapter focuses on those aspects of the linguistic penalty which stem from different experiences of work and of selection processes and of presenting the institutional self, before coming to the UK. This somewhat different cultural capital is then compared with the discursive and communicative regimes of the interview.
Linguistic Footprints [+–] 255-282
This final chapter is about practical relevance and making a difference. It stems from trying to affect some kind of institutional change with my own research for quite a long time and from my continuing frustration with the role of the job interview and other face-to-face assessments in producing inequality. After a brief discussion of the current debates about application and ‘impact’, I explore the possibilities of combining independent and critical research with practical outcomes and partnerships with organizations. These ideas are then worked through two case studies: one based on the research analysed in this book and one from a medical setting.
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