Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol 2, No 1 (2005)

Fitting stories into boxes: rhetorical and textual constraints on candidates' performances in British job interviews

Celia Roberts, Sarah Campbell
Issued Date: 17 Feb 2007


This paper examines a site where inequality is produced. Street-level bureaucrats make decisions about candidates’ suitability for inclusion in their organisation, and therefore paid employment, on the basis of their ability to produce ‘bureaucratically processable’ talk (Iedema, 1999). This requirement implicitly entails adherence to culturally specific conventions and possession of specific forms of linguistic capital (Bourdieu, 1991) and creates a linguistic penalty for those who do not know the rules of this cultural game.
Drawing on the first ever substantial data set of video-recorded job interviews in the UK, this paper analyses how candidates born abroad are disadvantaged by two interactional procedures that are central to the institutional discourses of the job interview: narrative accounts and the keeping of a written record. In our data, candidates’ responses were constrained by the requirement to produce a ‘standard’ narrative, and to make their talk recordable. When things went wrong, less support was given by interviewers, and institutional requirements were tightened for those candidates who found them most difficult to manage.

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DOI: 10.1558/japl.v2i1.45

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