Posts Tagged ‘work environment’

Finding the Wrong Job

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

If the job fits, take it. Unfortunately, there isn’t a Brannock Device for jobs. How do you determine if a job is a good fit for you before you accept the position? That’s the topic of Get Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit, from The Washington Post which I found via This Job is Fun? For Whom?

Sometimes you just know. I interviewed at the Kmart HQ in Troy, Mich., approximately 12 years ago. Although the salary offer was a dramatic improvement over what I was making at the time, the massive brick compound reminded me more of Kafka’s Castle than the excitement of a blue-light special, and the windowless basement work area inside, were both clear indications that I should look elsewhere.

Failing an obvious signal, the general consensus is: ask a lot of questions. If you are out of a job right now, you may not feel like you are in a position to ask questions about a job offer, but it is better to hunt for the right job than to bag the wrong one. Plus, asking a lot of well-researched questions at an interview shows interest on your part and is much preferred to the candidate who responds with a blank stare in response to, “Do you have any questions?” Just don’t ask if they have free bagels every morning.

One warning sign mentioned in the former article is lack of participation in great employee programs. I have two examples of this that illustrate both negative and positive cases.

Compare: 20% Time Gone Wrong

One company I worked for offered something akin to Google’s 20% Time (in which engineers spend 20% of their time, or one day a week, working on a pet project). They told new employees that they would have 1 hour out of every 8 to expand their skills through training and study. This was supposed to be more-or-less self-guided. Of course, in practice, managers wanted to see results, and asked anyone who appeared to be sitting around reading a book to get to work. People probably got about an hour of organized training per month, instead of the 15 or so hours promised to new employees. The much-touted career-pathing was also largely ignored, and as a result many talented people, frustrated by a lack of advancement, took to studying on their own time and quickly found better jobs with other employers.

Contrast: Tuition Benefits

The University of Pennsylvania offers tuition benefits to most employees. Who wouldn’t want to add a little Ivy League to their resume? I hesitated, though. Did I really want to give up my free time to sit in class? After 10 years out of school, could I really step back into a classroom? However, the culture at Penn encouraged taking advantage of this benefit. In fact, I would say there was almost peer pressure to take advantage of it. My colleagues took sculpture classes for fun, or entered masters programs¬† in their fields. I knew one woman who earned 2 masters degrees while working at Penn. In addition to Penn classes, we were also encouraged, and often subsidized, to pursue other job-related training and certifications.

The latter article advises us to “Be cautious about any company that makes too big of a deal about how ‘fun’ it is.” This reminds me of an anecdote shared with me by one of my friends who worked at Google, which I call…

Compare: The Lava Lamp Incident

Apparently, every Google employee is given a lava lamp on their first day of work. It’s quirky and fun, just like Google. And you’d better love it: if you have a certain disdain for the 70s and decide to stuff your lava lamp in the bottom drawer of your desk, your manager might forever have you down on the “not-a-team-player” list.

What does your love of lava lamps have to do with your work ethic? It’s an echo of the movie Office Space — if you aren’t wearing more than the minimum number¬† goofy buttons, you aren’t doing your part. The job turned out not to be the right fit for my friend. No word on how Google really felt about it.

I happen to like Google’s fun attitude: I brought a box of Lego bricks to my office, something I heard is commonplace at Google. I don’t play with them often, but it’s a reminder to take a break once in a while, which can help if you are stuck in a rut. But don’t let Lego bricks and lava lamps blind you to the real possibility that fun is just a veneer.

Contrast: The Hoppy Cup

I worked for another company that did not offer Google’s massages, laundry service, or daily gourmet lunches (although sometimes we ordered pizza). However, in a back office that was unused at the time, there was a plastic table hockey game. This room was dubbed Piker Arena. A couple of the guys would wander back to play an enthusiastic game of table hockey now and then, chat about work, and blow off a little steam.¬† At irregular intervals, someone would organize a tournament bracket for the Hoppy Cup (named after the CEO, who participated even if he did not wholly endorse the event) in which every member of the company was scheduled to play. Although I was typically knocked out in the first round of the tournament, any onlooker could have told you that this was a company that knew how to both work and have fun.

In short:

  • Just because a company offers great programs doesn’t mean they will let you participate.
  • Just because a company has toys doesn’t mean they will let you play.

If your prospective employer doesn’t have participation rates handy, at least check to see if the table hockey game–or pertinent equivalent–is well-used.

Get Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit InGet Creative to Find Out Whether You’d Fit In