I left the Bruderhof and succeeded!

This week was my Leaversary! 40 years ago at the age of 18 I decided I needed to leave the Bruderhof and struck off on my own with one month’s rent and $50. I had started tech school in Pittsburgh and had arranged for financial aid so that was covered. That first weekend I walked to the nearest intersection and got a job at Penguini’s Pizzeria washing pots. I was cut off from my parents, childhood friends and the life I had known where I thought I would live out my days. It was exciting, scary and very lonely. I had to create a completely new life with different values and culture – music, movies, TV. I was suddenly exposed to all of the 60s and 70s rock and roll in a single day! Wow!! I watched a lot of bad sitcom reruns and learned some of the wrong things. It took me three years to kiss a girl and immediately confessed that I loved her! It was our first date and she never went out with me again. I have to laugh at that now. It took a few more years and plenty of mistakes but eventually I met the right girl, went back to school, became a doctor, had children, paid my debts and now am able to reach back and help others navigate the same path. Cheers to everyone willing to risk it all and strike out on your own. I and many others are here to help if you just ask.

How to frame your work experience


  1. I generally framed hof experience as something I learned growing up (family farm/garden/business) or something I learned through a friend of the family. For example, when I was applying to work at a stable, I stated that I grew up around horses and listed specific skills on my resume. I found that even of you can’t give them a specific place of employment for certain skills, you can still list what skills you are confident in (ex. With horses – grooming, tacking, feeding, stabling, exercising).
  2. I frame it as volunteer work: Volunteering at a stable, volunteering at a local organic community garden (lol, forced labor if there ever was any!), volunteering at a summer camp. More serious work I frame as apprenticeships: at a daycare or in a sign design company or building furniture. Framing it as volunteer work sometimes makes them less likely to request references, which is a snag I ran into at first, and then you don’t have to launch into the explanation of not getting paid and why. For teen stuff, I said it was volunteer work in exchange for room and board.
  3. You can give references of people on the hof who you have worked with (might stick with work distributer or other person in a position of authority) or you could use someone on the outside if they have worked with you previously on the hof. Someone who currently works in a child care field or comparable who can vouch for the baby house experience of a new leaver, or someone in construction or the like who can lend credence to the work experience of being in the shop. It doesn’t replace legitimate references, but it might help bolster someone’s experience translation.
  4. First, I gave them my educational background. I mentioned my art skills. I even went so far to say that Walt Disney corporation took an interest in my cartoons, which were published in a local newspaper. Then I added that, since 8th grade, I’d worked in a furniture-making shop part time and full time, and that I was on both home maintenance and a building crews. My primary skills were drywall hanging and taping. The employer did not ask for the name of the companies I’d worked for, and I did not offer names. I mentioned that I was trained to work hard and long hours did not faze me. Now comes the tricky part.

Employer: Have you ever installed aluminum siding before?

Me: Ah…never…but….I can do it! Just hire me and I’ll show you! And if I make a mistake, I’m going to correct it at my expense.

Employer: You have a job! 🙂

  1. I have just been honest: I grew up in a commune where we learned a lot of skills as a child. Which of the many jobs I worked over the course of my childhood I put on the resume depends on which job I am applying for. However, being honest about growing up on the hof may only be effective in Vermont where communes are common and widely admired.
  2. Honesty does not mean one has to name the place one comes from. I find it far easier to say that I come from and Amish-like environment. Most Americans can relate to that. I might add that formative years were spent in an ultra-conservative religious environment. Usually that is enough to give the casual inquirer an idea of where I come from. Sometimes I add: That was then and this is now.

Employee rights

Know Your Rights:

This may be a new concept to you – employees have rights!!!  When I was 20 a company had me travelling all over the country putting in 70-90 hours a week on salary.  When I calculated out my hourly rate based on what they were paying me it was below minimum wage.  The company was not pleased to have me bring this up but that’s a whole different problem.

It is a huge topic but here is a brief overview and a link to more info.

Employee Rights Law encompasses the various rights that have arisen over time which employees are legally entitled to in the workplace, such as: limits on drug testing; freedom from discrimination when an employee is part of a protected class; rights related to wage and hour law; the rights of workers to return to their former jobs after serving in the military; taking unpaid leave for births or adoptions, or serious health conditions the employee or his/her immediate family member is dealing with; the right to unionize; freedom from disciplinary action or termination for serving on a jury; right of advance notice of plant closings or mass layoffs; health and safety rights in the workplace; rights of disabled workers; privacy in the workplace; workers’ compensation; unemployment benefits; and much more. This very broad legal area falls primarily under the large practice area of employment law.

These employee rights have been addressed on the federal and state levels and by various regulatory bodies, as well as via employee handbooks/manuals and collective bargaining agreements. Not all employees have the same rights. For example, private employees don’t have all the same constitutional rights that public employees, who work for the government, do. There are many regulatory bodies that administer and oversee employee rights laws.

Human resources law deals with many employee rights which are inherent in the hiring, firing, disciplining and training process for company personnel.

For more information on specific laws visit: https://www.hg.org/employee-rights-law.html

Workplace conduct

Good “Workplace conduct” is acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values. Ethical behavior tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.

Good ethical conduct in the workplace indicates that employees take pride in their company’s ethical standards and have respect for other employees, customers, suppliers and partners. Typically, a model for professional conduct consists of a set of rules that prescribe a baseline of legal ethics and professional responsibilities. At a minimum, companies usually expect employees to comply with applicable local laws and government regulations.

Model employees adhere to the company’s code of conduct, which reflects the company’s values. For example, employees do not discriminate against other people based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or national origin. Harassment of any kind is not tolerated, and violations can lead to termination. Employees reject business gifts that may create the appearance of impropriety or unfair influence and conflict of interest.

Employees who respect their organization and coworkers tend to avoid padding expense accounts, taking office supplies home, using excessive sick time, using office machines for personal use or leaving personal belongings in work areas or common spaces. Lost time, supplies, equipment and productivity result in lower company profits. Employees who exemplify a model ethical code of conduct in the workplace treat other people and company property with respect to ensure the reputation of their company remains intact. People who act with integrity create an atmosphere of fairness and equality where job satisfaction is high, employee turnover is low and absenteeism is negligible.

Companies that do not tolerate questionable business practices typically have higher employee retention rates. Successful leaders demand that employees maintain high standards of ethical conduct in the workplace and do not blame others for missed deadlines, poor decisions or bad results. Managers resist the temptation to pad budgets in anticipation of cutbacks. Employees avoid compromising too much to win a customer’s sale, gain support for a controversial project or avoid a conflict on a volatile issues. Risks need to be discussed and handled responsibly to benefit all employees.

An effective leader ensures her subordinates get the training they need to exemplify model ethical conduct in the workplace. By running workshops and seminars, companies provide opportunities for their staff to examine case studies and common moral dilemmas. For example, employees are asked to treat company money as their own money. They reflect on if their decisions could result in controversy before choosing an option or alternative in problem solving. They are also asked how they would feel if news of their actions were to be published in the local newspaper. Anytime an action might result in anxiety, employees need to seek guidance before making such a decision.

Selling yourself

Your résumé and recommendations may be enough to land you an interview — but they won’t get you the job, it’s up to you to really sell yourself to the employer. To successfully sell yourself in a job interview, you’ll need to do these five things:

First you really need to “know your brand”. Think of Coca Cola, Dove, or Chipotle. The most successful brands know themselves: their purpose, mission and values. Likewise, employers are looking for people who know and live their ‘brand purpose,’ because with clarity comes passion.

Just as it is for brands, storytelling is crucial in an interview. Think of an interview as an opportunity to tell your personal brand story. Job seekers should present their attributes articulately, in a way that makes the most powerful statement. Be animated. Be enthusiastic. Above all, be authentic.

Know the company, the industry, and the person who’s interviewing you. Know their style and their culture. Know their most recent news, figure out their brand and how you fit into it. How you help them?

Use examples to illustrate the story you’re sharing. For example, it’s important to have a collaborative work style. But if you just say you’re collaborative, it sounds empty, like you’re dropping a buzzword to cover your bases. But if you say you were captain of your basketball team, or you were integral to the completion of a huge project, it says much more than the words ‘I’m collaborative’ on their own.

Knowing your personal brand is important when evaluating a position or company. Ask yourself: Does the job align with who I am on both an emotional and rational level? Do the role and the company sync with my strengths and beliefs? In a perfect world this is where you might keep looking if those values don’t match up. But if you need a job, you need a job. Take the offers you get and do the best you can, the luxury of finding a dream job and a perfect fit is not afforded to everyone.

This advice can be a challenge to follow for someone who grew up in the Community.  Being humble was so strongly valued that it may be difficult to even recognize your strengths.  It may take some deep digging to come up with examples of collaboration and leadership as a Bruderhof high schooler and then telling them in a way that others can understand without understanding the hof.  Turns out you can state facts humbly!!  While being a constant organizer and leader may not have happened a lot, being a good collaborator and team player is all we did!!  If you have examples of how you spun your story please share them below.

Job Interviews

Job interviews are a chance for a potential employer to get to know you and your work history better, to inform you of the details of the job and answer any questions you may have. For this it is important to put your best foot forward and come ready with answers to any questions they may ask you. You should also know exactly what you are getting into.

Do some research on the company before you get there and if you know the name of who you will be meeting with, google them so you know what you are getting into. You should understand the employer, the requirements of the job, and the background of the person (or people) interviewing you. The more research you conduct, the more you’ll understand the employer, and the better you’ll be able to answer interview questions (as well as ask insightful questions). Scour the organization’s website and other published materials, search engines, research tools, and ask questions about the company in your network of contacts.

Another key to interview success is preparing responses to expected interview questions. First, ask the hiring manager as to the type of interview to expect. Will it be one-on-one or in a group? Your goal is to try to determine what you’ll be asked and to compose detailed yet concise responses that focus on specific examples and accomplishments. A good tool for remembering your responses is to put them into a story form that you can tell in the interview. No need to memorize responses (in fact, it’s best not to), but do develop talking points.

Plan out a wardrobe that fits the organization and its culture, striving for the most professional appearance you can accomplish. Remember that it’s always better to be overdressed than under and wear clothing that fits and is clean and pressed. Keep accessories and jewelry to a minimum. Try not to smoke or eat right before the interview” and if possible, brush your teeth or use mouthwash.

There is no excuse ever for arriving late to an interview. Short of a disaster, strive to arrive about 15 minutes before your scheduled interview to complete additional paperwork and allow yourself time to get settled. Arriving a bit early is also a chance to observe the dynamics of the workplace. The day before the interview, pack up extra copies of your resume. If you have a portfolio or samples of your work, bring those along, too. Finally, remember to pack several pens and a pad of paper to jot notes.

As you get to the offices, shut off your cell phone. (And if you are chewing gum, get rid of it.) A cardinal rule of interviewing is to be polite and offer warm greetings to everyone you meet from the parking attendant to the receptionist to the hiring manager. Employers often are curious how job applicants treat staff members and your job offer could easily be derailed if you’re rude or arrogant to any of the staff.

When it’s time for the interview, keep in mind that first impressions, the impression interviewers get in the first few seconds of meeting you, can make or break an interview. Make a strong first impression by dressing well, arriving early, and when greeting your interviewer, stand, smile, make eye contact. Offer a firm but not bone-crushing handshake. Remember that having a positive attitude and expressing enthusiasm for the job and employer are vital in the initial stages of the interview; studies show that hiring managers make critical decisions about job applicants in the first 20 minutes of the interview.

Once the interview starts, the key to success is the quality and delivery of your responses. Your goal should always be authenticity, responding truthfully to interview questions. At the same time, your goal is to get to the next step, so you’ll want to provide focused responses that showcase your skills, experience, and fit with the job and the employer.

Provide solid examples of solutions and accomplishments but keep your responses short and to the point. By preparing responses to common interview questions, you’ll ideally avoid long, rambling responses that bore interviewers. Finally, no matter how much an interviewer might bait you, never badmouth a previous employer, boss, or co-worker. The interview is about you and making your case that you are the ideal candidate for the job.

While the content of your interview responses is paramount, poor body language can be a distraction at best or a reason not to hire you at worst. Effective forms of body language include smiling, eye contact, solid posture, leaning forward active listening, and nodding. Detrimental forms of body language include slouching, looking off in the distance, playing with a pen, fidgeting in a chair, brushing back your hair, touching your face, chewing gum, or mumbling.

Studies continually show that employers make a judgment about an applicant’s interest in the job by whether or not the interviewee asks questions. Thus, even if the hiring manager was thorough in his or her discussions about the job opening and what is expected, you must ask a few questions. This shows that you have done your research and that you are curious. The smart jobseeker prepares questions to ask days before the interview, adding any additional queries that might arise from the interview.

The most qualified applicant is not always the one who is hired; the winning candidate is often the jobseeker who does the best job responding to interview questions and showcasing his or her fit with the job, department, and organization. Some liken the job interview to a sales call. You are the salesperson and the product you are selling to the employer is your ability to fill the organization’s needs, solve its problems, propel its success.

Finally, as the interview winds down, ask about the next steps in the process and the timetable in which the employer expects to use to make a decision about the position.

Common courtesy and politeness go far in interviewing; thus, the importance of thanking each person who interviews you should come as no surprise. Start the process while at the interview, thanking each person who interviewed you before you leave. Writing thank-you emails and notes shortly after the interview will not get you the job offer, but doing so will certainly give you an edge over any of the other finalists who didn’t bother to send thank-you notes.

Work Attire

There is an expression, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Even if you’re happy in your job it’s still important to look your best. This doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit, but it does mean looking neat, clean and well-groomed (daily showers!!!) at all times. A Company’s objective in establishing a formal work dress code is to enable the employees to project the professional image that is in keeping with the needs of the clients and customers to trust them.

In a formal business environment, the standard of dressing for men and women is a suit, a jacket, and pants or a skirt, or a dress paired with appropriate accessories. Clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, your chest, your feet, your stomach or your underwear is not appropriate for a place of business. Clothing should be pressed and never wrinkled. Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable. All seams must be finished. Any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive to other employees is unacceptable. If you experience uncertainty about acceptable, professional formal business attire for work, please ask your supervisor or your Human Resources staff.

Slacks that are cotton or synthetic material pants, wool pants, flannel pants, pants that match a suit jacket, and nice looking dress synthetic pants are acceptable. Inappropriate slacks or pants include any that are too informal, this includes jeans, sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts (all shorts!), bib overalls, leggings, and any spandex or other form-fitting pants such as people wear for exercise or biking. Dresses, skirts, skirts with jackets, dressy two-piece knit suits or sets, and skirts that are split at or below the knee are acceptable. Shirts, dress shirts, sweaters, tops, and turtlenecks are acceptable attire for work if they contribute to the appearance of formal, professional dress. Most suit jackets or sports coats are also desirable attire for the office.

Conservative walking shoes, dress shoes, oxfords, loafers, boots, flats, dress heels, and backless shoes are acceptable for work. Not wearing stockings or socks is inappropriate. Athletic shoes, tennis shoes, thongs, flip-flops, slippers, and any casual shoe with an open toe are not acceptable in the office.

A professional appearance is encouraged and excessive makeup is unprofessional. Remember that some employees are allergic to the chemicals in perfumes and makeup, so wear these substances with restraint. Hats are not appropriate in the office. Head Covers that are required for religious purposes or to honor cultural tradition are allowed (don’t forget your koptuff!).

Certain days can be declared dress down days, generally Fridays. On these days, business casual clothing, although never clothing potentially offensive to others, is allowed. Clothing that has the company logo is encouraged. Sports team, university, and fashion brand names on clothing are generally acceptable. You might want to keep a jacket in your office for the days when a client unexpectedly appears on a dress down day, especially if the client is wearing a suit.

These dress code policies are generally what you might see in an office, it is always best to consult your offices rules first. For some more tips read the attached article. http://www.executivestyle.com.au/20-tips-to-dress-appropriately-for-work-2xvcy

Work Conduct

Workplace success relies on much more than simply fulfilling the requirements of your job description. “Professionalism,” is a valuable trait, and its basic tenets can be applied to any job in any field. Arriving on time to work and for meetings demonstrates commitment to your job. Chronic lateness, meanwhile, is a blatant show of disrespect for your coworkers, superiors and entire organization. Keep an eye on the clock both at the start of the day and during your lunch break to make sure you arrive and return on time.

Everyone has bad days, but bringing your bad attitude into work not only reflects poorly on you but also accomplishes nothing. Resist the urge to take out your bad feelings on others and instead commit to check your attitude at the door. Focus your energy on the positives: what can you do to make a bad situation better?

When coworkers are exasperating and deadlines are intense, work can be a stressful place. Keep your temper in check during challenging situations. If you can’t control your emotions, walk away until you’re in a calmer state of mind. The stereotypical “dog eat dog” office environment has been replaced by cultures which value collaboration beyond all else. If your coworker needs help with a project, offer to pitch in. Remember that the accomplishments of your colleagues also reflect well on you and your entire organization. Just as you should be willing to share your knowledge and talents with your coworkers, you should be equally receptive to the contributions of others. The expression “many hands make light work,” holds true in the workplace for those willing to accept the assistance of others.

No one expects you to like all of your coworkers, but sharing your negative opinions and personal gossip interferes with productivity. This doesn’t just pertain to talking about others, but also to talking about yourself. Being friendly with your coworkers is one thing but chronically airing your dirty laundry over the water cooler is unprofessional.

In life, no one is immune from mistakes. It’s inevitable that workplace mistakes will occur, but acknowledging your errors, making your best effort to correct them, and learning along the way can help you recover and avoid future falters.

You also need to be aware of office etiquette. Do you text during meetings? Leave dirty dishes in the communal kitchen? These office no-nos are disrespectful and can interfere with how you’re perceived by others. Pay careful attention to office etiquette and make sure your behavior is in line with expectations.

Procrastination is a fact of life, but in the workplace it can lead to frustration between colleagues. Follow through on your responsibilities and your coworkers will view you as reliable. Conversely, show appreciation to coworkers who do the same. Independent of level or title, every person in your workplace deserves to be treated with respect. The more respected team members feel, the better you’ll be able to communicate and collaborate for optimal results.

“Never criticize, condemn or complain” is mantra you should turn into a habit. Instead, smile a lot, thank people for what they do and praise them.  Yes, praise them. It will stick in your craw your entire life but you should practice until it flows out with ease.  “Did you have your haircut?  It looks great!”  “I read your report and it is really impressive.”  “I can’t believe you came to work feeling so poorly, that shows real commitment.” Look for things to praise and do a few every single day. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

Learn to take a compliment!  Practice saying “Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say!” over and over until it also does not stick in your craw!!!  

Good luck!!!

Choosing a Career

Choosing a career is a huge step and should not be rushed into.  Consider that most people don’t really know what they want to do with their lives until around 24 years of age, and that even then many people change careers several times throughout their lives.  Also consider that if you have just left the community, it will take some time for you to develop your own sense of self and for your values to adjust to being out of the hof.

Leaving the hof is a big deal and the impact on your life is not fully understood until you have walked this road for many years.  You need to be patient with yourself and not rush into anything.  The most important thing is not later regretting actions that you have taken or not taken.

A very good first step is to enroll in college if you are strongly motivated, know what you want to do and are certain that you can get excellent grades.  Going to college and getting mediocre or poor grades will harm future choices that you may not even know are options yet so you should not go to college until you are truly ready to knock it out of the park.  On the other hand, the best time to get college paid for is now before you have much of an income.  More on this in other areas.

If you are not going to go to college right away and are going to work, take this time to explore many different options, learn about yourself and develop the new skills you will need to flourish on the outside. Remember that you are not restricted to any line of work or place to live.  While the hof may have set you up in a location you are making your own decisions now and need to do what you feel is best for you.

There are many online sources for help with career.  You should explore these and take some of the online test to better understand what you are best suited for.  Perform a Google search and check out several different sites related to careers.  Here is one that appears to be unbiased and comprehensive:  www.careerkey.org

Remember that you will be going through a lot of change from the person who you were raised to be, a community member, to someone who must make their own decisions and find their own way.  Because of this, the results of some personality and career tests may change somewhat over the years (shop worker to astronaut?).  One good approach is to speak with many different people who have gone through this and ended up in different careers.  As discussed elsewhere, the easiest way to find others who have left is through Facebook and you will find teachers, artists, nurses, doctors, lawyers, cooks, construction workers, etc. all willing to offer advice and emotional support. No one knows more about the path you are on than others who have traveled it before you.  Good luck and enjoy the journey!

Just to give you an example of one journey:

I arranged to attend Penn Tech after high school while I was still living at NMR. I was interested in electronics but largely was hoping to not have to chamfer little pieces of wood the rest of my life. I got a two-year degree but really wasn’t ready to work hard and get excellent grades so I didn’t have access to the best employers at graduation. I worked in electronics for a few years, migrated to sales for a few years and traveled all over the country. I got fired from my sales job because they were cutting back on staff and I just wasn’t very effective. I found work in chain restaurant management trying to find a career that would pay a decent wage without going to college. In the meantime, I ran up some debt and got into credit trouble. I finally decided to go to proper college and it took a few years to get out of debt. I was 25 when I started college. I was finally ready to really work hard and I got very good grades. In thinking on what I wanted to do with my life I realized that being a doctor was always something I held in high regard but did not think I had the ability. When I realized that I could get very good grades, now that I had grown up a little, I decided to try to get into medical school and was successful. After many very challenging and mostly enjoyable years in school and residency I became a family physician in my mid-30s. After a few more years, I transitioned to emergency medicine (even that late in life I still had made the wrong choice of residency – I should have chosen ER from the start). I have been working in the ER for 16 years, have been a department director and even got a master’s degree at the ripe age of 50. I am happy to have in depth discussions with anyone about college, career, medicine, etc. Find me on FB.

Paul Newton