Recruitment and careers

Recently I applied for a research role and have been interviewing at work which forced me to reflect on standard recruitment practices and the nature of work itself… During the process I managed to both indulge my cynicism and respond with some sincerity to how we might gain some more upside as a ‘recruitee’ and aim to humanise our practices as ‘recruiters’ becoming more antifragile in the process. I also allowed myself some philisophical digressions which felt in the spirit of the piece! 

My problems with recruitment and how we think about work and careers runs deep. My BSc was in Management and Strategy, providing me with an introduction to a variety of disciplines (including economics, statistics, psychology, sociology) and the opportunity to grapple with complex systems. The downside was that the business-focussed context left me trawling through a swamp of careerist rhetoric and provided a limited sense of ethics and aesthetics. I was always wishing for something deeper and more fundamental, which I began to find through literature and philosophy, although of course the search continues… 

With this personal history in mind I begin my flight into cynicism…

There’s something deeply off with the discourse around careers and work that has never sat well with me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. From the dehumanising nature of trying to summarise (or worse completely side-step) the very essence of your being into a one-dimensional median of a CV, cover letter and interview, to the tropes around ‘gaps’ in CV that suggest we should make sure our lives are subservient to what we get paid to do. I have literally heard people talking about throwing away somebody’s CV because they had a gap in it! Are we humans or machines!? What void in the soul lies behind these comments!?

Calming down slightly, the situation to me felt something like this: 

The dehumanising heuristics used in recruitment attempt to commodify or at least drastically simplify human experience. I find myself engaged in a process of neatly summarising my ‘Self’, while life whizzes by in technicolour and the field of experience moves, dances and oscilates to the peculiar rhythms of existence. Life is a complex web of interactions and experiences and our attempts to understand how this feeds through to how someone can help you (by way of work, collaboration or whatever) feel enormously [albeit somewhat inevitably] reductive.

So how to respond… of course I enjoyed my Bukowski-esq scathing reflections on modern life, the principle of ‘Go F*** yourself’ coursing through my veins, but all while sitting at my desk, sipping a matcha late, perfectly aware that my middleclass lifestyle dictates I engage with these problem somewhat seriously.

Thankfully I was able to apply to something I am truly interested in (a subject of future posts) and could respond to in good faith to tackle the problem at hand. My situation: the role is great…the recruitment practice: still dated… 

My response:

(1) Use the process as an opportunity for self-reflection and analysis of my life story to date – thereby creating the upside of ‘at least I know more about myself now’. Perhaps it naive to think that this self-understanding might make me a more tolerable human to spend time around…more likely more neurotic

(2) Put some ‘soul in the game’ – be vulnerable, reveal life, warts and all; a ‘this is me, take me or leave me’ style approach. I’m not interested in facades and playing the corporate game, sucking up to a mission statement, or ill-thought through sets of values. 

What did I learn?

That this very much relates to Neal Taylor ‘s post An antifragile career in particular:

“Increasing upside: Increasing the visibility of your work and the value you bring”

By sharing more, showing more of who you are, you would hope that it’s easier for other like-minded/useful collaborators to find you and for you to remain ‘forever employable’. More radically though, the idea here is not just to increase the visibility of your work, but to increase the visibility of who you are, your experience as a human.

Of course this poses some interesting ethical questions around privacy and the limits of sharing…A philisophical digression (as is the nature of thought and experience, no?!)

It certainly sounds like the theme of a Black Mirror episode where we are able to understand the essence of one another in an instant. There’s bound to be nefarious uses of future technologies that look to solve this problem. On the other hand there’s a certain level of inevitability in ‘ultimate sharing’ and a deep religious and mystical tradition that points towards the idea of ‘unity’ and ‘connection. Is this Facebook’s wet dream? A hyper-interconnected web of individuals who on aggregate become a god-like meta-object, the ultimate generalised AI. Does the problem of work even exist in this eventuality?