April 30, 2016
This discourse analysis examines the job interview as a site of moral accounting for applicants. Twenty job interviews were audio-recorded in an employment agency in a major city in the United States. Using ventriloquism as a theoretical framework, I analyze communication between the applicants and the interviewers and show how moral accounting takes place in this institutional encounter. Applicants in this study used moral accounts to reframe their identity, which was problematic due to the social stigma of unemployment. Moral accounts gave applicants the discursive power to avoid accountability for problems that threatened their moral identity as workers: a history of unemployment, a current state of poverty, and failure to pass a skills test. Despite these problems, applicants constructed a desirable image of self, using moral accounts that staged figures of legitimacy in the talk. Speaking in the name of figures – previous employers, situations, values, and ideology – gave applicants the power to neutralize these problems and frame their identity as morally good. Accounting is therefore an act of ventriloquism, and it is intertwined with moral identity. This study extends Cooren’s (2010) theory of ventriloquism by identifying constraining and empowering figures that decrease or increase one’s discursive power in interaction and contributes to job interview literature by analyzing the moral aspect of this institutional talk.