Society for the Anthropology of Work
Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Workshops for the unemployed address a conundrum in the abstract – how to get a job – that can only be answered in the particular, and thus present challenges for the career counsellors leading these workshops. Different workplaces sort applicants according to their own institutional traditions and political compromises, yet these job advice workshops provide a standardised form of advice that flattens the nuances of specific gatekeeping practices. This is only compounded by how hiring practices involve sorting people in ways that tend not to reveal how workers will actually behave on the job or how they will interact with co-workers. In this sense, hiring rituals tend to be autopoetic, requiring skilled production of documents needed only for hiring. In short, the hiring ritual is two things at once. It is a gatekeeping exercise in which designated representatives of a workplace evaluate who can join that particular community of practice. It is also a documentary ritual in which applicants are presenting an interwoven genre repertoire whose elements are all intended to represent the job candidate as employable, which nowadays means representing the self as a business. In this paper, I discuss how career counsellors, in order to manage the standardized nature of advice that they are structurally forced to produce, largely make visible the documentary ritual aspects of the hiring process and relegate the discussion of the gatekeeping aspect to advice about networking. This in turn shapes the kinds of expertise career counsellors evince in workshops and recommend others display.