On one hand, I have clients who run solid companies and treat their people and customers well. On the other hand, I have friends of all ages who are working at or trying to get jobs at companies that are . . . well, crazy. Nonsensical. Chaotic. It’s often the largest companies that get this way, and it’s too bad.
Why does this happen? How can you make sure you are going to be working at a company that does things right?
What does “doing things right” even look like? I would be surprised, in the course of your academic studies, that anyone ever talked about this. But it’s really important! After all, you are going to spend a large portion of your day working somewhere, for years to come, and if you’re constantly fighting against chaos, you’re not going to be a happy camper.
I sincerely believe that our working lives should be as satisfying and soul-enriching as they can be; there is nothing better than spending the bulk of your day doing what you love to do, with people who support your efforts whole-heartedly.
What the “bad” companies do
Before I describe the good places to work, I want to describe the places you will definitely want to avoid. This will help you recognize the red flags as they pop up during your job interviews. I’ll even give you some ideas about the questions to ask and how to do your research into the true nature of the company.
Companies that are no fun to work for have several things in common:
- The top management of the company might pay lip service to the “importance of our customers and employees,” but they don’t really care. They’re in it for the prestige or the money.
- The people working there don’t feel that management cares about them, so they are not motivated and the environment will be tainted by a lot of political maneuvering.
- The people who get promoted are good at kissing up to managers and treating those below them with disdain.
- The company’s products or services often leave customers disappointed.
- Every project is like a chaotic fire drill. Things take forever to get done because of all the chaos.
- There are tons of “throwaway work.” Leaders tell workers to do something; everyone scrambles to put it together; and then right after they’re done, leaders will change direction and the workers will be asked to do something else. As one friend says, “It is frustrating, because there is this feeling of never being able to truly contribute. You quickly start thinking, ‘Why bother?’”
- In really large companies, there is often a breakdown in communication between departments or divisions. Halfway through a project one team may discover that another team is working on something similar; now the two teams must back up and try to synchronize their activities. Everything gets even more complicated and bogged down. Projects that would take days or even hours in smaller companies stretch out to weeks or months in the larger companies.
- No one knows how to give good instructions, so workers are always afraid they are doing it wrong. In the craziest companies, people are even moved or promoted to a new position with absolutely no direction.
- Managers don’t pay attention to what would make the worker happy. They provide the usual benefits, and even a few other perks like daycare on site, but they ignore the fact that what makes workers the happiest is they will be able to do what they love to do, and there is growth potential for them in the company.
- When a customer or employee has a problem, they have few options. Policies are designed to always benefit the company but not the customers.
- Sometimes good people end up working there by mistake, but they won’t last long.
- There is managerial bullying going on. Workers are treated rudely. Workers are afraid to report their bosses because of the inevitable backlash.
That pretty much sums it up.
How can you tell if the company you’re talking to has these disappointing characteristics? First of all, you can always go online and look at sites such as Glassdoor, which reveal what employees think about working at a company. If the comments are mostly negative, that’s a red flag. If the comments are mostly positive but there are a few negatives, that might be a few isolated personal situations that don’t reflect the true nature of the company. Sometimes someone who is fired really did deserve to be fired, but doesn’t think so.
You can also type the company name into Google with the word “problem” after it, to see what kinds of problems customers and employees have had with the company. And, during the interview, you can ask if they will let you talk to someone who works there. They may or may not let you, but their response to your question will be part of your test. If they are offended you even asked, this is probably not a great place. You also want to make sure that you will be interviewing with your direct supervisor. You can have a wonderful interview with the HR person and even the founder of the company, and then end up working for a jerk.
The bigger the company is, the more likely it will be dysfunctional. There are exceptions, but they are rare. Your best bet is small companies ($1 – $5 million in revenue, roughly) or midsize companies ($5 to $40 million in revenue).
These companies tend to be headed up by the original founder, who started the company to solve a problem and is still passionate about giving customers what they want and providing a good place for good people to work.
What the best companies do
The good companies will make you happy to go to work every day. You will feel rewarded and satisfied for all you do for the company; you will be fairly compensated; everything you do will make sense. You will respect your bosses and co-workers, and no one will be trying to keep you from doing the right thing. This is as good as it gets. Here are the signs of a good company:
- The top management of the company really does care about customers and employees. Everything they do, every decision they make, is proof of this.
- The people working there know that their managers care about them. They know they can go to their direct manager if there is a problem and it will be dealt with logically, kindly, and efficiently. There isn’t a lot of political maneuvering going on. Everyone is trying to help everyone else.
- The people who get promoted have earned the right to be promoted. They work hard and make good decisions. Everyone is pleased when the promotion occurs.
- Their products or services delight their customers, who are more than happy to keep coming back for more and referring others to the company.
- Every project moves smoothly through the systems, and if there is a problem, it is fixed. Work happens swiftly.
- Leaders are sure about their strategy before they ask workers to work on a project. They are clear about what they’re doing and why. If there are any hiccups along the way, they pause and discuss it—managers and workers together—and decide on the best next steps. Everyone is motivated to do their best work, because they know they will be able to see the results of that work.
- Communication is frequent and clear. The leaders of the company know what everyone is working on, and make sure there is no duplicate work.
- Everyone in the company gives good instructions. They are precise, detailed, and answer all—or certainly most—of the questions you have before setting out to work.
- Managers are truly concerned about each worker. They check in often to make sure each person is doing the kind of work they enjoy the most, and that there is growth potential for them in the company.
- When a customer or employee has a problem, it’s easy for them to get help, and the help is immediate and thorough. Policies are designed to give workers the ability to solve problems for customers.
- Things get done smoothly and logically.
- There are a number of good people working at the company, and they love working there.
- Workers are treated respectfully, in all circumstances. No one bullies anyone, ever.
Questions you can ask during the interview
Here are some questions you can ask during the interview that will help you determine which kind of company this is. Part of your analysis should include the reaction you get to the questions.
Someone nice, who works at a good company, will be impressed that you are asking these questions, and will answer them enthusiastically. They will be happy that you care about the work environment, and they will be proud to be able to share how they make sure that environment is a good place for good people to work (this does take effort on the part of managers; it doesn’t happen all by itself).
Someone who works at a not-so-nice company will start to get irritated that you are asking those types of questions, and will also be reluctant to go into any detail, as they will be walking a fine line between trying to encourage you to come on board, and realizing that their answers may reveal the less-attractive aspects of the company.
You can sprinkle these questions into the rest of your interview where you’re talking about the position, your suitability for that position, and what the company will be able to offer you.
- What do you think is the main goal of the CEO of the company?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, how efficient do you think the company is?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, how political do you think the company is?
- What do you like best about working here?
- What do you think the company’s strengths and weaknesses are?
- Who will I be reporting to? Will I be able to meet with this person? Will I be able to talk to others who work for this person?
Those are enough of these kinds of questions; you don’t want to appear overly paranoid. At some point, though, as the person answers them, red flags will come up and you should take a note of them. Do further research when you get home to see if you can uncover the truth.
Good luck to you, and may you find one of those rare and wonderful companies. Or, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to start and run your own one day.