They say unemployment’s up, then they say it’s down. Then they say it depends. But if you ask me, at least in the tech and web design field, the job market is getting better. When times are rough it’s tempting to take a job, any job. The employers are in the driver’s seat. (“What’s that you say, I have to have eight years’ experience with Ruby on Rails and C#, be an expert in Drupal, Photoshop, SEO and a certified Microsoft Systems Engineer? And the pay is $4 an hour, with no benefits? Sign me up!”) But now that the balance of power is being restored — ever so slowly, it’s a good idea to remember that the employee also gets to evaluate the employer. Are they right for you? Will you be happy there? Is the place full of deranged lunatics and/or mindless drones? It’s hard to determine these things in a one hour interview.
But I have a little-known technique that may give you some insight into your future with a potential employer. I call it the Coffee Creamer Workplace Rating System and it works as follows:
Zero Coffee Creamers
The only circumstance in which “no coffee creamers” could be awarded is if the workplace has no coffee. It seems unimaginable that a modern workplace would not offer at least a watery, caffeine-laced, productivity-enhancing beverage to the staff, but I am here to testify that such workplaces do exist. Because I worked in one. Summer job: engineering firm-slash-sweatshop. I was a temporary secretary. The owner was the cheapest person I have ever worked for. If you wanted coffee, you could bring your own — which was allowed. At 5:00 on the dot, every single engineer in the joint dropped his drafting pencil on his (shared) drafting table and ran silently screaming to his car.
Mitigating Factor — Straight shooter. You knew what you were getting with this guy. Nothing.
One Coffee Creamer
This is the case of a workplace that has a couple of glass-and-plastic coffee pots on a warming plate. Maybe a crusty “Mr Coffee” with several foil bags of “Gold Mountain Blend” scattered about. It may not be the best coffee ever, but it’s free and plentiful. In terms of creamer, you get the white powder in the cardboard canister, and –if you’re lucky– some of those red and white plastic sticks with which you can attempt to break up the creamer clumps. Interestingly, the Fortune 100 company for which I once worked only earned a one-coffee-creamer rating.
Mitigating Factor: there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
Two Coffee Creamers
See above, except the coffee creamer is of a slightly higher caliber. Now we’re talking about those little plastic cups containing a spoonful or so of milky liquid. You might know them as “Mini Moo’s”. The label may say ‘half-and-half’, but that is questionable since these things never seem to go bad.
Mitigating factor: even though many two-creamer-rated offices store the little cups in the office frig (vegetable crisper usually), refrigeration is completely unnecessary.
Three Coffee Creamers
At this level, the office has a coffee machine that makes a decent brew. “Decent” could mean providing grounds from branded manufacturers that shall remain unmentioned here (ahem! — doughnuts). Or it could mean providing pre-made coffee paks, the ones that drop into the machine without any scooping, tearing, pouring or measuring. And, it goes without saying, decent coffee includes anything made in an espresso or latte machine. As far as creamer goes, we are talking freshly purchased cartons of milk or half-and-half. Seriously, if you find yourself in a work/coffee situation like this, you have struck gold.
Mitigating factor: Management may make workers feel guilty about the expense and effort it takes to earn a three-creamer-rating.
Four Coffee Creamers
Research reveals that the four-creamer rating can only be found at the highest level of executive privilege, as it involves coffee that is made just for you, by someone else. Not poured for you by an administrative assistant (does that even happen anymore?) out of the communal swill, but actually made fresh for you, by the cup, to your individual liking. If this is your life, you are probably the owner of a multinational corporation or a small country. Congratulations. You have reached workplace coffee nirvana! Never leave.
Mitigating factor: you are working in a place where no one in charge ever feels guilty.
So the next time you’re out on an interview, think of it as a reconnaissance mission, and check out the coffee room before you make up your mind.