How often have you gotten into shoving matches or fistfights at work over the last three years?
That question was asked of Alex Frankel during an interview for a job at Home Depot. Frankel, a writer, went "undercover" to work at some of America's biggest retail companies to find out what it is about these environments that creates such dedicated (if underpaid) employees.
Frankel, who has written about business before, in publications such as Wired, Fast Company, the New York Times Magazine and Outside, put the results of his research — two years worth — in book form this time: Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee (Collins, 208 pages, $24.95).
Here are some more interview questions:
"Other than pens, paper or other supplies, what is the total worth of all the items and money you have taken from employers in the last three years?" (Home Depot)
"Find something in the store and tell us about it." (Container Store)
"How do you organize your pantry?" (Whole Foods)
Frankel did not end up working at those places, but he did land jobs at UPS, Starbucks, The Gap, Enterprise and the Apple Store.
In the end he not only got the information he needed for his book through working hard and interacting with the various company employees, but also he found out some things about himself:
"In an odd way, the various jobs forced me to come to terms with who I am, something that no job-assessment tool could do. I confronted questions I had about conformity by living them out," he writes. "I never felt at ease in the more constrained environments such as Starbucks, Enterprise and Gap, where all of our movements were codified, and where the way time was marshaled imposed a form of social control."
Frankel found the best environment for a nomadic "hunter-gatherer" like himself was UPS.
"At UPS I gained a strong sense that I was a part of a ticking clock, that I was a part of the thumping, beating heart of capitalism. UPS was the only workplace where I felt as if I was actually learning a craft and helping shape the final product, instead of acting the part of a craftsman."