Verbs Are Your Friends

In one of the learned journals I regularly consult*, I was struck by a quote from one of today’s eminent thinkers* in answer to a question on ambitions. He pointed out how defining yourself with verbs rather than nouns can liberate you.

“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun”

As someone who doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed (filling in forms is a nightmare), I can identify with that. It’s also an interesting way to look at careers. Rather than feeling you need to be boxed in by a specific job role, think about the things you would like to achieve, or want to do day-to-day. How could you construct your life to allow this – and still earn enough to keep you afloat?

You might be in the lucky position of finding your ideal ready-made job which allows you to achieve everything you want, but lots of people try to find  a “best-fit” job, and then mould and shape it to suit their own needs and abilities.

Alternatively, some people find that one job just can’t give them all the satisfaction they need and assemble a range of jobs – part-time, freelance, temporary, paid or unpaid – which allow them to do the things they want without being defined by a specific role. If you want to read more about this, have a look at my post on portfolio careers (OK, I have found that even those who want the freedom to do a range of types of work still like a noun to describe this way of working).

Verbs in interviews
Focusing on verbs rather than nouns is also a strategy I favour when you’re asked that favourite interview question,

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?”

Interviewees often tie themselves up in knots trying to guess the level to which they think they should have been promoted after 5 years. I’d suggest that, rather than pitch yourself at a particular job, talk about the things you would like to be doing in 5 years, and the things you hope to have acheived. As well as avoiding the traps of seeming over- or under-ambitious, it also sells the idea that you’re the kind of person who will focus on “doing” and getting things done – always a plus point for potential employers.

Verbs for applications
And finally, a good verb can really bring a bit of sparkle to a CV. Have a look at our Word Bank (pdf) for our Careers Service mini-thesaurus to enliven your applications.

* If anyone recognises the quote and source, I challenge you to reveal yourself. Otherwise, my choice of reading matter for the train will remain my guilty secret…

Well, I’ve been outed, apparently by the eminent thinker himself (and I’ve no reason to doubt the authenticity of the comment below), so – my name is Elizabeth, and I read the Radio Times.

The quote is from this week’s edition (24-30th July 2010) and is from an interview with Stephen Fry, who is working on a new BBC series on the use of language, which I can’t wait to see. Expect a plug when it’s due to air.

And many thanks to Stephen Fry for providing such a profound answer to a question from a young (14 year old) reporter, Eden Parris. Hope it makes an impression on the interviewer – it’s probably the best careers advice he will get.

Now, go on,  have a look at that comment …


2 comments on “Verbs Are Your Friends

  1. Thank you very much for using my recent quote as shown recently in the Radio Times.
    There is no shame in reading this excellent publication, however as you failed to credit me, I thought it only fit that I visit this site and give myself yet another plug for my new show on the use of language.



    • I’m stunned! If you are, indeed Stephen Fry (and I’ve no reason to doubt that) I’m delighted you picked up on this.

      I swithered about immediately quoting the source (academic integrity etc) but decided to see how long before one of my readers outed me. I’ve already had e-mail responses from other careers people who, like me, found that quote really profound, but they weren’t prepared to go public themselves.

      However I’m now very happy to reveal my sources (Radio Times, 24-30 July 2010, interview with Stephen Fry), and stand by my choice of reading matter for the train. I’ve read some really thought provoking articles in it (one by David Hockney still sticks in my mind) but I’m sure lots of people think of it as just a fusty old TV listings magazine (or maybe I’m just their target demographic – fusty old TV viewer).

      Very pleased to hear that you’re filming a new series on the use of language and I promise I’ll give it a plug when it appears.

      Best regards

Comments are closed.