Testing the employers

Background. With the exception of one year, I’ve always worked self-employed. I like it that way because else “Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.” (Bob Black, The Libertarian as Conservative). But I learned a point in the two job interviews that I ever had.

Application story. It starts with me finding out a bit too late about that open position as IT and AV teaching aids technician in the computing center of an European university. It was just too late to send them my application in printed form, as desired - and I told myself, if the computing center does not take my e-mail application, they don’t deserve their name and I won’t want to work there. I also added a quick mindmap of ideas on how I thought to organize my future workplace.

They accepted the deviant application indeed (point for them on my score!), and invited me to a face-to-face interview. There, to my horror, they took out my application in printed out form. I remember the moment of wanting to ask: “You are a computing center, and this was once a digital document, right? So what?” Lateron I got criticized for some impractical ideas on the midmap (me thinking “Hey it’s titled brainstorming, never heard about its difference to plan?”). And finally, somebody complained about the small font size in the attached, now printed, mindmap PDF … (me thinking “Adobe Reader has zoom”). In aspects of worktime and my proposal of combining job and a PhD program they were astonishingly flexible, however. Now I don’t think that job a short interview helps any side very much, and proposed that I’d come one week for free to check out their company culture, and let them see what I can do. They said this could not be organized because of “accident insurance issues” … well, that finally told me enough about their culture actually.

I finally cancelled my application because the internal culture felt too inflexible and rigid after all. And I was confirmed three weeks later when I received a big letter from them, containing, lo and behold: their printouts of my application PDF. The trash bin would’ve been a better way for their relief …

How to test the employers. I did not have much of a hidden agenda with my digital application, attached mindmap, and internship proposal. But it all turned out in a way that taught me: such means are great to test your potential employer. Asking questions about company culture etc. in the interview does not help much - if they’re after your qualification, they’ll advertise their company to you. But challenge their behavior by the very style of your application, dare to deviate, and you will see from small natural reactions and insecurities how their mindset and the company culture is really working. You can test for several aspects, depending on your priorities. In my case, I checked how they deal with unconventional behavior, rule-breaking, and innovation. (Note, this procedure might not work if your only contact is with a human resources manager rather than your future supervisor.)

Good technique!

This is a good technique to test future potential employers. It can be helpful to select those best suited to our personalities and our ideals of collaboration at work.

It’s the first time I hear about the “accident insurance issues”!

We’re supposed to ask questions during interviews, but I feel that these questions must remain in realm of the politically correct, if one wants to have any hope to be hired. We must dance ALL OF THE ballet rules to perfection, to get a job. This even applies to selling donuts’, said a young single mother immigrant I met recently, who was seeking employment, and was discouraged by the overwhelming amount of paperwork, and indeed, the PRINTED PAPER, required to get a job. Like letters of recommendation printed on paper, instead of consulting LinkedIn profiles.

I got pushed out of the door of a research job center that could not endure my dare to deviate spirit, a place whose mission is to help an unemployed individual find a job, based on his/her skills and personality type. Mine was too deviant for their taste!

Glad to know that there may be a club of deviants, scattered here and there…

Most welcome!

Lyne - surely feels good to find more of the deviant folks!

Regarding the excellence in the “ballet rules” to get a job: yes, it works way too often that way. An initial illustration that the employer-employee relationship is mostly a power struggle, with a clear superior. The deviant folks might try long enough and will find the exceptional employer who accepts, even wants, their authentic self. I still believe such great jobs are out there. I’ve especially made good experiences with peer-to-peer collaboration between several self-employed people.

The not-so-good news is, few people can take this freedom to choose. Most are forced by financial needs to quickly accept a job and company culture that is way below what is desirable …

The leopard can’t change its spot

The ‘authentic self’, I love it!

I imagine someone talking about this in an interview!

Euh, I looked for the English translation of the proverb ‘Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop.’ I get ‘The leopard can’t change its spot.

Same thing in love relationships. People do not change. If a girl falls in love with a guy and thinks she can get him to become someone else over some time, it does not work. How is it that employees are not accepted by employers for what they are, as they are? (kidda unconditional love)

It always comes back to dominance.

Freedom should not be only for the few who find the perfect spot for them in the labor market, but for all employees to have sufficient space (not physical space but mind space, creative space) and confidence of their superiors. There, one comes to have to deal with flexibility vs rigidity and control; the top-down approach vs horizontal teams.

On January 16, 2011, at Gov2.0Radio, I listened to the customer service guru, John Tschohl, with his 38 years of experience, talk about ‘happiness’ at work. He repeated a dozen times that empowerment for business employees “generates quick decisions, saves time, reduces costs and boosts administration sales.”

While John Tschohl had no time to go into details in this one hour radio show about how empowerment works, and even more complicated to explain, where does empowerment come from, as it navigates in subtle and complex mechanisms of the mind and of collective consciousness, to make a long story short, he described empowerment as being ‘skills and attitude’. Both a behavior that is adopted, and abilities that are acquired with experience. Therefore, one must change behavior and ensure that it becomes a “lifestyle”, he said.

I love this description of Baird T. Spalding, of empowerment that leads to radiance of the personality: “The body harmonizes itself, the soul radiates, illuminates the mind, ideas become pervasive, brilliant, vibrant, and accurate. The speech becomes positive, real, and constructive. All things fix themselves and take their true aspect.” (true aspect = authentic self)

At work, it would be wonderful if this ideal was understood and that efforts were made ​​to implement this in work environments.


You draw a beautiful picture of the future workplace. When that happens, I might again apply for some job :slight_smile:

But until then, self-employment seems the way to go for me. One real difference is that you don’t just trade time for money, but built infrastructure (product, workshop, …) that greatly helps you earn a living. While as employee, you also build the infrastructure, but it’s not yours: it earns money for the employer only. That’s why I think true empowerment in the workplace has to include co-owning that company, naturally associated with  workers’ self-management.


Well done!

This culture thing is important, and now - as opposed to when I was a young man - there seems to be a culture of workers choosing employers and not only the other way around. I tried to test one of my perspective employers by making a video and sending the link to them:

They appreciated it - but then they did not exactly jump at the opportunity to hire me. I am not sure what goes here, but I suspect that some companies outsmart these tests by paying lip service to the rhetoric of creativity and hacker culture and blah blah, but then they end up hiring silver-haired, solidly corporate types.

However, I disagree with you about being horrorstruck at the idea of anyone printing a document. Me, I don’t do paper: but different people have different taste, and if you want to read Edgeryders from dead tree media I don’t have a problem with it. Our culture can get too rigid too, and we would not want that, right?

Seems like your test worked out

They said they appreciate your video - and then maybe got the impression that you’re too much on the avant-garde side to fit into their organization. If so, then your test worked out great. IMHO, these little “challenges” for the employers are all about presenting ones true self in action, rather than telling them the story they want to hear. So if they cannot cope with ones authentic self and decline employment, that’s the desired outcome as working there would probably always feel constraining.

Regarding the printed paper: ah yes right, I need to exercise more tolerance in that matter :slight_smile: It mostly works. But seeing all of the 6 (or so) interviewers appear with paper, and this happening in a university computing center, was too much for me at the time. Missed the IT spirit of hacking, experimentation, and early adoption, where I expected it to be …

Thanks for the input!

Tests are expensive

I spent quite a bit of time editing that video. Either these guys are delusional - they like to tell themselves they foster creativity etc. but they don’t - or some other candidate was just better. Somehow I think the former is more likely, because in February (10 months after they first got in touch with me) they still had not hired anyone! And that sucks, because it is a very time consuming way to get a negative.