The Coffee Break Story

By Gerald Walsh ©           

Last week’s blog What’s The Best Career Advice You’ve Ever Received generated a lot of response and I plan to compile some of the answers in a future blog.

If you recall, I spoke about Paul – a person I worked with early in my banking career – who through his own misfortunes taught me about the value of having many career options available.

It got me thinking about another lesson I learned early on.  

Prior to getting into banking, I worked in the construction sector. I had my earned my CPA designation by then and was starting to get anxious to move to another job.

During my search, I came across two good opportunities, both paying roughly the same salary. One was the banking opportunity. The other was a senior finance role with a major telecommunications company.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how my career decisions were influenced.

I can recall being interviewed one morning at the head office of the telecommunications company. The interview was going well. The job looked interesting and I liked the people who were interviewing me. I could sense that they also liked me and were interested in having me join them. All the boxes were checked.        

But something happened that morning that completely turned me off to the opportunity.

At exactly 10:15 am, the entire department of about 30 people got up from their cubicles and, as a group, marched out the door to go on their 15-minute coffee break.

It was just like the fire alarm had rung!

That image still stands in my mind after all these years. What I discovered about myself from observing this mass exodus for coffee is that I wouldn’t do well in a culture that is so rigid and so rule-bound.

I didn’t want to be part of an army. I wanted more autonomy from my work and realized I wouldn’t get it there. So I politely turned down their offer when it came.

I tell that story when I speak to groups of people about job searching. I use it as an example of the importance of observing the culture and working conditions of an organization when you are going through the interview process.

Let’s face it: Interviews are a bit artificial. Everybody is on their best behaviour, trying to make a favourable impression on the other.

As a job candidate, there are few chances to find out what an employer is really like. You can ask them to describe their culture and what it’s like to work there. But you would be better served by asking if you could have a tour of their offices and perhaps talk to a few of the employees you will be working with.

Watching for small clues will reveal a lot about corporate culture and working conditions.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh