Seats, sips, “powder”, and pow-wows

So I’m going to continue my theme from last week and cover more ground about how you should go about interviewing your future boss & company.

There’s nothing that makes us sadder here at TheLadders than an (unnecessary) repeat customer — the folks who discover that their dream job is a bad dream, the kind you need to wake up from right away — so we want you to make sure it’s a good match before accepting.

Last week I shared with you the twenty questions to ask your interviewers to learn more about the job and the opportunity.

Well, there’s more to understanding an opportunity than what people say, of course.

You also need to do a “Visual Interview” of your prospective employer’s office environment. Now, this little bit of recon doesn’t mean you should connect with your inner James Bond and pull a snoop worthy of Skyfall. But it does mean that you should observe and assess the office layout, kitchens, bathrooms and meeting rooms. Or, as I like to call them:

Seats, sips, “powder”, and pow-wows.

The reason this is important is that your physical environment has a great impact on your productivity and happiness. And how much your future employer values, or devalues, these areas, is oftentimes a good predictor of how they feel about their employees in general, and thereby, you.

Seats

What is the office layout? How are desks arranged? How much space, light, and quiet is each employee given?

Importantly: how does that work with your style?

I’m flummoxed at the number of times people overlook this.

For instance, here at TheLadders, we’re an open floor plan — everybody, CEO to college intern, has the same cheap desk from IKEA, an Aeron chair, two, three, or more, monitors, and sits out in the open. We like it that way and it promotes the open, collaborative environment that we think is important for our success.

We had one senior person, who’d come to our office multiple times for multiple interviews, show up on the first day asking “Where’s my office?” And it turned out that open seating was deeply dissatisfying to him and helped shorten his tenure here.

Take notice: how comfortable you are with the seating arrangements, and the environment around your workspace, is important to your future success.

Sips

When they ask if you’d like a coffee or water, say “sure, but I don’t want to make you carry it — I’ll come with you.” And check out the kitchen / pantry / snack room / break room.

Is it messy? Teeny-tiny? Are they scrimping on the Sweet ‘N’ Low and stingy with the stirrers?

Or is it a Google-esque cornucopia of Cheetos, siggi’s, and starfruit?

Napoleon quipped that “an army marches on its stomach.” Does your future employer agree?

“Powder”

I’ve been watching too much 40′s and 50′s period drama on TV recently. (Got into “Foyle’s War” from the UK on my Netflix — brilliant!) So I’ll use that old euphemism “powder room” for the john.

One investor claims that a trip to the bathroom is the best way to figure out how a company feels about its employees.

Investments in fixing the “powder room” are always discretionary. So how discretionary is employee happiness, when nature calls, in the mind of your prospective employer?

Is it dingy, dim-lit, dungeon-like and depressing? Have the walls been painted since… the 50s?

Or is it clean, well-stocked and well-maintained?

Where does this employee priority fit into management’s priorities?

Pow-wows

You’ll likely walk past a number of conference and meeting rooms during your visit to a company’s offices. What do those rooms tell you about working at the company?

Are there schedules on the doors? Are those schedules completely filled back-to-back? Or is most work done by individuals at their desks?

Are the conference rooms packed? Are more people in them or out of them?

Do the meeting rooms seem to be places to get work done? Are they filled with whiteboards and creativity?

Or is there one lonely lightbulb swaying in the emptiness?

How much and how well you’ll be expected to work with others is important for you to know.

——

All of these cues and clues can help give you a fuller picture of life at the new company.

You can read too much into them, and no one place is a nirvana constructed solely for your advantage. But it does behoove you to ensure that your new environment is acceptable to you and will enable you to perform your best.

So on your interviews, in addition to asking, make sure you take some time for looking and doing the visual interview.

I’ll be rooting for you!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Niranjan says:

    I need to have a job in aviation ground handling or fire and safety job any where

  2. Morrice says:

    Bravo. The powder room is tres important. I once worked at a company where they had the employees clean the staff kitchen and empty wastebaskets in the offices even vacuum etc. every Saturday because they were to cheap to hire a cleaning service. Guess who didn’t last there?

  3. Lee Cooper says:

    Thank you for posting this article! It’s so important to “notice” the surroundings with a potential new employer. I made the mistake of overlooking these clues with an employer, and regretted it the first day I showed up for work. They interviewed me in a poorly lit, barely furnished office and explained the meager surroundings by saying they were in the midst of an office reorganization. The entrance foyer to the company was an un-manned desk in a reception area filled with boxes, no company logo or commendations on the walls. I wrongly assumed that “the real office” must be beyond the walls I saw, and that surely they had a more professional office environment further within. On my first day as an Account Manager, I felt a sense of dread as I was lead to one of a few cubicles in a small room that was poorly lit, dusty, musty, and hadn’t been painted in years. I was told that was my “office.” The company’s lack of care for the surroundings and total disorganization was mirrored in everything they did. I’m not a quitter, but I left after only 9 months. The total lack of professionalism and pride was pervasive throughout the company. Never again will I ignore the original and obvious clues!

  4. Lorien Green says:

    I have always been a fan of the open concept office, but I was reading a book about introverts recently, and the opinion was put forth that open concept, while in theory allowing for increased collaboration, also impacts productivity. Especially for people who like to work independently and think in peace. It also promotes germ spread. If a company has an open office layout, they should also provide spaces where employees can go to work if they need quiet focus time.

  5. cube dweller says:

    Nevermind the “equality” issue of having an open floor plan; it’s just not very productive. I work in an area with cubicles that come up just below my shoulder. They are better than nothing, but am not sure why the company couldn’t have given us some privacy. I cannot make a phone call without everyone hearing my business. We also have to listen to the dept at the other end of the room talking loudly to each other all day, because they don’t go over to each others’ desks. I will have to resort to earphones, which I dislike.

  6. Mark,

    I think if I had read this post before taking the position I currently have, I may not have had taken the job two years ago.Thankfully, I did, but your thoughts have my _very_ excited about my next interview and what’s to come. I like the idea of choosing something that suits me instead of trying to “make it work” in a set of circumstances that may cause me to under-perform and lose drive. Thanks for always sharing such helpful information!

  7. PJ says:

    Amen….my previous office job was a small fireplace/patio store…a boutique operation, not a lot of money, but the place was a ‘poster child’ of disarray and demoralization…but, being ‘the fixer’, I did manage to make a difference in my time there. I reorganized all of their catalogs (What? In alphabetical order? Whoulda thunk??), made sense of the storage room (like with like….and a ‘grocery list of what was low in stock? Heavens!) and got the boss to actually replace the burnt-out overhead lights so we didn’t kill ourselves trying to pull heavy cartons of fireplace tools out for customers…and, oh, hey, organized the cartons as well. Boasting, you say? Well, I lost my battle in the upkeep of the bathroom….one little bathroom for both sexes, employees and customers alike….when I started there, it was hideous…filthy, smelly, dank and dimly lit. Being a former telephone repair tech (pole climber, y’all), I had enough knowledge to fix the lights. Being a sane human being, I worked with the cleaning lady to really power-wash the walls, floors and mirrors. It was all shiny at the end of two months…yes, it took that long…I worked on it when my ‘real’ job as clerk, floor manager and delivery person (yes, helped deliver patio furniture too, whatta gal) slowed down….but ya know what made me quit? I couldn’t get the two male employees to clean up after themselves in that dang bathroom! I finally had a screaming match with my immediate supervisor over his…um….lack of aim. At one point he said “Well, sometimes it’s hard to be right on target”….I exploded back with “If you THINK you MISSED, then CHECK, AND CLEAN IT UP!! HOW SIMPLE IS THAT?!?!”

    Yes, I found another job. My blood pressure went back to normal. And I don’t flinch when I see andirons anymore….

  8. Karen G says:

    Atmosphere is so important. I interviewd at a fairly large 4,000 employee company but the Call Center I was going to manage was in a poorly lit, had run down cubicles and there was an odor compared to the other departments. I chose not to go on with interviewing. I could not work there. I really thought the article nailed it on the head. Thanks!

  9. Telsaar says:

    One job, the four person team worked in a room. We are all engineers with the team leader in the back corner with a window. We heard tidbits of each others phone conversations an it helped us keep up with issues. The management decided the team leader had to have his own room and from then on we were routinely left out of the loop on important day to day issues that affected our jobs.
    As an introverted engineer, I needed to focus and keep distractions in control. But, upper management, many levels above me, decides the best environment is open office so they spend tons of money remodeling the office to an open system. In the interim, they move us to open trailers where we are not even grouped together as teams. Several folks, their low tone is like a loud speaker at a football game. The longer I stayed there the less my ability to focus/concentrate became. We never moved back into those offices because upper management decided another group entirely needed the space.
    Most of us had a decent cubicle. Several times, I saw where they would hire a new employee and put them in a place too small to literally turn around in.

  10. marcarch says:

    as a sailor, we say ‘head’

  11. marcarch says:

    as an architect, amazed to read recently about LEED buildings have ‘acoustic’ issues, and LEED beginning to address that. duh! guess i’m gettin’ old, but can’t have music on anymore when i work. actually sometimes tv in background for white noise and to break up the solitude too- weird huh -btw: i’m a one man office. but cross talk, and misc noise in an open office can be very counter productive – i’ve worked in large offices in past. ex: the fad with all hard surfaces in bars and restaurants. drives me crazy. i know it has to do with health code, and maintenance too. but when i walk out of a bar, and my ears are ringing, or as what happened recently at a networking thing, where i ended up talking to a very nice gal, because we both couldn’t understand why everyone was shouting. she was from Poland, so a i diff point of view too. the same thing happens in open office. working in groups is one thing. getting work done as an individual can be another. another example: the ‘open classrooms’ in elem school in 70′s. all gone now…that said, getting advice or sorting out a design issue, and having your neighbor relatively available all day, can shorten some tasks too.

  12. marcarch says:

    btw: ever see the photos of Boeing engineers area from 40′s and 50′s? pretty cool. about 50 engineers standing! at their drafting tables in a big room, with lots of big windows….

  13. Love that you brought this up Marc! All of these factors play a part in making up the company’s culture. I don’t care how talented you are as an individual – if you don’t enjoy the environment or can’t work within the team’s structure, you won’t be successful – or happy – at that place.

  14. Eric Ivanovic says:

    First of all a comment on your post. A few years ago I took a job over the phone and I moved across the country to do it. It never crossed my mind that the working conditions at this top 10 bank could be so terrible, but it was. The pay was great, the people were great, but because of the working environment I lasted all of two weeks. Who knew it could be so important! Now I always ask for (and receive) the the Grand Tour.

    Secondly, I have to say even though I’m happily employed I still read every email you send! I usually find something useful and/or entertaining. Thank you.

  15. mcenedella says:

    Thanks Eric! That is very kind of you!

  16. Shyster says:

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. Two places I have worked at opened my eyes to how much this type of thing can tell you.
    Both of these have to do with the parking lot. Take a look at the cars there. Are they relatively new? The pay keeps up with the cost of living. If cars back into their parking spot, you can bet that the people there cannot bear to spend the few seconds that it takes to back out of the spot and proceed. Morale sucks there. And if the cars are old and they are backed into the parking places, don’t even bother going in.

  17. mcenedella says:

    Those are two great tips!

  18. Priya says:

    Good Monday morning Marc !
    Great Article but the saddest part is sometimes though office enviornment is so called polished after joining there when you realize that “Management mentality” is not upto the mark then it becomes difficult to survive for both employer as well as employee.

  19. Steve says:

    Really nice article. I remember contracting for Cherry Textron and was amazed that the dividers in the executive bathrooms were made of granite or marble (can’t really tell the difference)! The top brass got the best treatment, don’t know about the rest of the crew outside.

  20. Janet says:

    Marc,

    That’s great advise. I left two jobs recently that could have been avoided had I taken the time to give my would-be working conditions a quick “look see,” or at least ask. Environment is very telling about management’s attitude toward employees. It can even reveal big things such as sexism. At my last job, all the female receptionists had to work in front of a main door that was always opening, therefore freezing them out. The men worked far more toward the back and were, most often, in their shirtsleeves.

    As for “Shyster’s” post, applause! That used to be pertinent advice back in the day, but it’s just as important TODAY. Thanks for sharing!

  21. steveg says:

    This one about workspace hits home for me. I’m at a small startup near San Francisco and we are about to move from an open, fairly cool (but not perfect) space in a cool downtown area to a standard office building setup between the freeway and the bay.

    Want lunch now? We walk to it. Lots of choices.

    Want lunch next week? Hop in the car, cross the freeway and hunt for parking.

    Our CEO is all about “How cheap the new space is.” but the space we are leaving wasn’t expensive. The REAL REASON we are moving is simple, the CEO doesn’t like the current space since it’s near the CalTrain track and he has to walk a few blocks after he parks his car.

    So, to boil it down, the person who spends the least amount of time in the office is the person who unilaterally chose to move everyone somewhere else.

    For me, it’s tipped the scales to move to another company. This isn’t the only reason, but it’s one of several and none of them are going away.

    Time to kick off the search!

    Steve

  22. Mike Watt says:

    Marc–to add to your “seats, sips, powder rooms…”‘piece, how about ambient noise: loud phones, PA announcemens, clashing music, overly soothing, too quiet, too calm? Just another sensory clue to what it may be like to work in their environment.

  23. Lalbux says:

    I have always been a fan of the open concept office, but I was reading a book about innovation recently, and the opinion was put forth that open concept, while in theory allowing for increased collaboration, also impacts productivity. Especially for people who like to work independently and think in peace. If a company has an open office layout, they should also provide spaces where employees can go to work if they need quiet focus time.

  24. Huda Naiem Mohamed Osman says:

    I guess you pointed crucial points in IMPRESSIONS AND FANTASIES OF CONTROLLING SUPERVISORS OR PEOPLE IN CHARGE!!! It is similar to typical school days’ opinions that students develop on certain teachers who UNNECESSARILY FUSS OVER MINOR NATURE’S GESTURES OF THEIR STUDENTS!!! THESE KIND OF TEACHERS OVERRATE THE SIMPLE INNOCENT BEHAVIOR OF A CHILD OR A TEENAGER INTO A DRAMA OF BEHAVIORAL ATTITUDE THAT NEEDS DISCIPLINE!!! SINGLE OR FREQUENT TRIPS TO THE BATHROOMS!!! A SIP OR FEW OF WATER FROM THE WATER FOUNTAINS!!! A ZEAL TO HELP THE TEACHER AND CARRY THE STUDENTS NOTEBOOKS FOR HIM OR HER “TO FLEE THE WALLS OF THE CLASS IN BETWEEN CLASSES :) ” AND SO MANY TRIVIAL UNRULY BEHAVIOR THAT FEATURES YOUNG AGE AND IMPULSE!!! YET, THE WEIRD TEACHER MAY SENTENCE SUCH STUDENTS TO DELIBERATE CHAOS, CONTEMPT AND BEHAVIORAL FELON!!! :) THEY DETERMINE THAT THESE STUDENTS HAVE CRIMINAL AND CALCULATING MINDS, SET ON WASTING THE VALUABLE TIME OF CLASS AND MESSING AROUND, FLIRTING WITH THE AIR TO ESCAPE CLASS AND KNOWLEDGE!!! :) STUDENTS ARE SMART ENOUGH TO ANALYZE SUCH AN ADULT DEMEANOR AND MEASURE THE RATIONALE OF THE TEACHER AS SUCH!!! THE QUALITY OF KNOWLEDGE AND MEANS OF EDUCATING URGE THEM TO VALUE THE TEACHER BEING A GOOD TEACHER OR A BAD TEACHER!!! AND THEY REMAIN NONCHALANT ON THOSE QUIRKS OF THE TEACHER BECAUSE THEY ARE UNSPOKEN AND HARD TO PIN!!! :) Truly, I have encountered such ado and untold adversity in many many interviews I’ve been to and naturally I wouldn’t be hired or even granted the opportunity to proceed with my job application and interview processes!!! :) Am I sad or hurt?????!!!! On the contrary!!! :) I’m pleased I never got close enough to such a skeptical, nerd and queer character, being one, or more!!! :) We all need to value our priorities and act as such!!! Thank you Marc for the global train of soliciting on job hunting!!! It truly adds comprehensive views to career world and works as a standard critique to job applicants on their goal and means!!! Best wishes!!!

  25. Anil A says:

    Great article, Marc. You hit the home run with this one. I was compelled to seek and opine on this post – mostly gush in praise!

  26. Teyani says:

    This is truly the first time in a while I have been super excited about interviewing. I am currently in the process of interviewing and have read your articles two and three times in preparation. It has definitely given me a broader view of what to expect as well as what to look for. My first interview is today and I have my questions ready for discussion and will be doing my visual interviews as well. I look forward to letting you know how things turn out!

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