Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What the Brady Bunch Can Teach You About Finding the Right Job

Like most people, I was broke when I got out of college. Flat broke.

That meant than instead of getting a cool apartment to go along with my first job, I had to take what I could afford: A place that looked like the Brady Bunch had exploded all over it. Crushed orange velvet sofa. Orange, yellow and green wallpaper with flowers bigger than my head. Olive green appliances.

You can imagine that as soon as I could scrape together more money, I jumped at the chance to rent a better place. When I saw the apartment, I fell in love. It was in an old Victorian home that the owner had converted into three units. High ceilings, a claw-footed bathtub and no olive green appliances. I immediately grabbed it and put down my deposit.

But after moving in, I began to discover some things that I had not observed in my first starry-eyed inspection of the place. There were only small, gas heaters in each room. Hmmm....never used anything like that before. Upon my first bath in the cool old bathtub, I discovered that hot water was in short supply and the water pressure so low it took about two hours to fill.

As time went on, I discovered all the summer heat in the old house went straight to my second story place, making the kitchen floor so hot I couldn't walk across it in bare feet. But then, funny enough, the heat didn't rise in the winter and I was forced to live in one room because I couldn't keep the entire place heated.

I put on a brave face for my friends -- my new apartment was awesome! It was near work, had a nice porch overhanging the front yard (that I couldn't use because the floor was rotted and I was afraid I would plunge through it to my death) and had two built-in bookcases 9that were so crooked my books all leaned to the right like drunken soldiers).

As I huddled under blankets during the winter with that small gas heater spitting out about as much warmth as a lizard's burp, I thought longingly of my Brady Bunch apartment with it's hot water and great water pressure and central heating and cooling. What was a bit of shag carpeting after all?

When it came time to relocate for a new job, I had several friends competing for the right to live in my awesome apartment. I gladly gave them the landlord's name, waved goodbye to the toilet that always leaked and headed for better digs.

I learned a valuable lesson from that apartment debacle. I learned that no matter how good something looks on the surface and no matter how much I may believe I want it, I need to take a deep breath and look a little closer.

I think it's that way for many people who get caught up in interviewing for a job they really, really want. They are so excited about it, they forget to check out whether underneath the sheen of joy there might be a leaky toilet or rotted roof.

We all know that when we interview we're supposed to ask intelligent questions about the job, the company, the industry, etc. But let's look at some other things that you need to examine:

* Eye contact. Do people look one another in the eye when they speak? Does the manager look directly at employees, and vice versa? Do employees look each other in the face when they speak? If you don't see that eye contact, it could indicate that there is a lack of trust or respect among the employees and managers.

* It's too quiet. While you wouldn't want to work in an office that resembled a three-ring circus, a lack of talking -- and laughter -- could indicate an unhappy atmosphere where everyone avoids any contact with one another.

* It's sterile. One of the first things I notice in any office is the personal mementos that everyone displays. You can tell a proud papa by the numerous photos of his children or the avid gardener who has homegrown flowers in a vase. If workers don't seem to have anything personal around, it could indicate the management may have little support for employees having a life outside the office.

* Body language. Look at how employees behave as they work. Are there nervous or unhappy gestures such as slamming down phones, biting fingernails, chewing lips, constant sighing, etc.? Do employees not look well? Deep eye circles, unhealthy skin pallor and disheveled clothes might indicate they are overworked and overwhelmed.

* Interaction. I've already mentioned that a lack of eye contact or talking casually might indicate problems, but do you see employees interacting around the coffee pot or in the lunch room? Or, is everyone eating at their desk or while their nose is stuck in a newspaper? While some people may want to be alone during lunch, you also want to see a bit of camaraderie among workers to indicate a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

* Doors. While management may say there is an open-door policy, is there really? How many doors do you pass that are closed?

* General upkeep. Ask for a tour of the facility and be sure and note whether it seems to be in good shape. Unkept bathrooms, overflowing trashcans, broken furniture, dirty floors and piles of papers may indicate not only a disorganized workplace, but one that might not be financially able to afford a good cleaning service. It can also reflect a general lack of pride by the workers in their company.

I'm not saying you should reject a job offer because of any of these things, but I do think it's a smart idea to look beyond the surface, and make sure you won't wind up feeling uncomfortable in your new job.

What are some other things a job candidate should look for when interviewing?


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Anonymous said...

LOL! I think I lived in the same Bradey Bunch place, but my stuff was harvest gold!
I think these are good suggestion. One other I would add would be to talk to as many of the other employees as possible. Ask them what they do and how they like their jobs. They may not be completely honest, but you'll be able to tell if they hate working there.

Anita said...

One day harvest gold and olive green will be in style again, and we will wish we still lived in such stylish digs!
Your suggestion is a good one, and I think as you progress in the interview process, an employer (with nothing to hide), should be willing to let you chat with other employees. If not, you might take that into consideration.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Great story & post, I especially agree with Sterile, I had work in a place where no-one talk to anyone else out of their seats & it turns out the silos spreaded to their work.

Here are some that I have found through previous interviews & tours

Take a tour & meet with some of people in the department before signing the contract, because they will be your work-siblings & you might be able to see if the job description matches the job.

Look at how people react arround the manager/senior person giving you the tour or the walk to the interview room: It could signal its culture with hierarchy, approachable-ness & openness infront strangers.

Do a offer re-negotiation (at least once), it could tell you how the company operates when it comes down to reimbursing OT, expenses or anything that deals with money.

Great list, I will definite use this next time (whenever that is).

Anita said...

You're've got to keep your eyes and ears open when you interview and look for all kinds of clues that things might not so great behind the scenes.
I'm so glad you found it helpful!
Thanks for adding your suggestions.

Anonymous said...

The first thing I always look for when interviewing for a new job is dress code. I am a casual dresser through and through and if I see a lot of dressed up people and learn that the dress code is restrictive I know it's not the job for me.

Anita said...

Very good point. The dress code is often indicative of a company philosophy, so if you're not comfortable with what you see (either too casual or too strict), you may not be a good fit with the culture.

Anonymous said...

That was a pretty good way of using an analogy. Very cool.

This reminded me of my first apartment - not that it had green wallpaper/paing (ICK!) but it had old fashioned sinks (kitchen and bathroom), a floorboard that creaked everytime you stepped on certain portions of it, etc.

Brings back memories of when I first moved to New York City in the early 80's. Wow, can't believe time has flown so fast!

Anita said...

Amazing what you're willing to live in when you're young and getting your "start" in life. I think that is what has always helped me appreciate everything I've earned...I remember that wallpaper like it was yesterday.
Thanks for adding to the conversation.