WTF does is mean to “liaise with your upstream stakeholders?”

Don't let the corporate jargon scare you away. Plus, a dispatch from the front lines of a job hunter

Hey there informational interviewers,

Today we’re talking about corporate jargon. Before we get to that, though, I’d like to try something new. This week I’m going to share a little update from a reader.

Sam (not his real name, but he’s definitely a real person) has been looking for a new job for about 7 months. In the tradition of Refinery 29’s Money Diaries, Sam is going to share what he did each day this week as part of his job searching/informational interviewing journey.

You’ll find Sam’s update at the bottom of this newsletter. 

On a separate note, if you have any friends who would benefit from this newsletter, I would be very pleased and grateful if you could share it with them.

Stay Savvy,


Thank you for reading The Art of the Informational Interview. Please do share this post with your friends, family and colleagues.

WTF does is mean to “liaise with your upstream stakeholders?”

I’ll never forget the job description for my first job at Microsoft. It was littered with jargon and corporate acronyms.

A lot of it was very Microsoft-specific—what was a GMO or an SMSC?—but some of it was generic corporate jargon: easy to interpret if you know the language, incomprehensible if you don’t.

Take, for example, this sentence from my job description: “You will liaise with your upstream stakeholders.” For someone who has never worked in a corporate environment it might unclear what that means. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds. It basically means check-in via emails with your colleagues who are counting on you.

If you want to get a little more nuanced in your translation, it means that there are people within the organization who are passing work to you or through you. In this context, these “upstream stakeholders” were passing requests for the localization (a fancy word for translation) of marketing copy (i.e. words that would appear on the Microsoft website) downstream to the people who would perform the localization (the translators). As a project manager, the liaising part of my job basically entailed checking-in (via e-mail) to:

  1. Confirm that I understood the localization needs of the “upstream stakeholders”

  2. Set expectations about when the localization work would be completed

  3. Keep them posted about the progress of the localization work

Sounds simple when you put it like that. And it was simple. But it didn’t seem simple the way it was phrased in the job description. I felt like I’d need a Ph.D. just to understand what the role entailed. Fortunately I had a mentor who translated it for me. We went through the job description line by line and she explained what each word and phrase meant.

As it turned out, the job wasn’t that complicated. Like many jobs it simply involved formatting, evaluating and distributing information. But if the job was so simple, why did Microsoft need to make it seem so complicated?

In an article on “The Origins of Office Speak” for the Atlantic, Emma Green traces corporate jargon back to the rise of organizational sciences as a field of study. After World War II American companies got the idea that they needed to make workers “feel differently about their jobs.” This was different from previous and more mechanistic beliefs about the relationship between companies and employees. To achieve this goal, the academy studied the topic making up a bunch of jargony new words in the process.

I recommend reading the whole piece by Green because it’s fascinating. But to summarize the rest of the story briefly: the academics and management scientists started the process of making up business jargon, management consultants did their part, and Wall Street took it across the finish line (see what I did there? ;). More recently, Silicon Valley, the creative class, and the DE&I industry have all made their contribution.

However we got here, though, this kind of business jargon is unquestionably here to stay. As Green concludes,“This seems to be the irony of office speak: Everyone makes fun of it, but managers love it, companies depend on it, and regular people willingly absorb it.”

For job seekers, specifically, jargon serves an important purpose: it’s a way to get your foot in the door. As Green writes, “A well-placed buzzword is a great way to claim membership in a certain tribe.”

The Harvard Business Review makes this same point in an article by Zachariah C. Brown, Eric M. Anicich, and Adam D. Galinsky. They write that jargon is “a linguistic tool that people can use—consciously or unconsciously—to signal their membership in a professional community.”

So yes, business-jargon is obnoxious. And yes, it makes simple things seem unnecessarily complicated. But it also serves a purpose. And for a job seeker, learning the lingo of the industry/professional community you want to be a part of will, literally, pay off.

The best way to learn the language, of course, is to talk to the locals. Which is where it all comes back to informational interviewing. As you learn the lingo you will also be able to see jobs for what they really are. You’ll come to see that behind the intimidating jargon is often a very simple and straightforward job.

So, yeah, as always, informational interviewing is the answer. So, ya know… get on it.

Sam’s Week of Job Searching and Informational Interviewing

Meet Sam. This week Sam is going to tell us about his informational interviewing and job searching activities. But before we get to that, some basic information about Sam:

  • Age: 30

  • Occupation: Sam is currently unemployed—he was laid off 7 months ago—but has a strong track record of professional success as a project manager

  • Location: Denver

  • Goal: to land a project management job at a climate, sustainability or conservation organization

  • Number of informational interviews so far: 45

Okay, now without further ado, let’s hear from Sam:


“Monday was a big day! I messaged 11 people on LinkedIn. I emailed 3 people I encountered on a climate webinar. And, I sent another 5 emails to people I had previously reached out to who hadn’t responded yet.

I also followed up with a recruiter for a job I’m really interested in. It’s at a blue chip company and would be a huge step for me. I’m qualified for the role, but I’m sure it’ll be competitive. I spent about 20 hours on a take home assignment for the role last week. Sadly, so far nothing but crickets. The recruiter said the hiring manager is out of town, though, so I’m still crossing my fingers.

I also made the decision to widen my search beyond project management. I’m now going to be looking at marketing roles as well. I have some marketing experience in my background, and I think I need to widen my search to a role that more directly impacts companies’ bottom-lines.

Overall I felt very productive on Monday. Feeling confident and optimistic.”


“Tuesday was a slower day. I applied to one job just so that I can keep filing for unemployment, I don’t actually care about the role and the website looks scammy. I also identified 4 jobs that I am interested in so that I can apply to them later this week.”


“I interviewed for an entry level project management job. I was a little stressed during the call, though, because I got confused about the time, and almost missed it! Yikes! The recruiter I spoke with was super great, though, and the call was fun. That said, that salary is about half of what I’d like to be making, I’m pretty over-qualified for the role, and I don’t have the niche experience they care about so it’s a toss-up on whether I’ll get advanced.

I also:

  • Scheduled a check-in call with a mentor.

  • Followed up with that recruiter for that blue chip opportunity I’m getting ghosted on.

  • Scheduled an informational interview with a CEO of another company I’m interested in.

  • Applied to part-time/contract job, and e-mailed the CEO for that company.

Finally, I got an email from a recruiter late Wednesday night to schedule an interview with the CEO of a climate startup. It’s always encouraging to get to that point where you have interviews lined up!”

Thursday (today)

“Today, I’ll apply to one of the jobs I sourced on Tuesday.

I also plan to connect an acquaintance with a friend of mine, who share mutual interests. This wasn’t job search related, but nonetheless, a professional activity.

Overall today will be slow, though. I have a number of life chores to take care of.”


“On Friday I’m going to focus on just applying to more jobs and emailing hiring managers for those roles! I always try to get a lot done on Friday so I can go into the weekend feeling confident.

Overall, I feel solid about my process and the effort I’ve been putting in. I know I’m qualified for a lot of great roles.

I can’t lie though. The job market this year has been brutal and it does get stressful. I’m really hoping I land a job before Thanksgiving. If it doesn’t happen by then, I think it probably won’t happen until after New Years, and that would be tough. Wish me luck!”


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