Form guide to the rat race

Roger Trapp on a book that lists the 100 best companies to work for. But there is no easy ride ...
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The Independent Online
To judge from the corporate literature published by just about every leading employer, anybody would think that work was an endlessly fascinating and invigorating experience. Take any notice of these glossy hand-outs, and it would be easy to run away with the idea that every day was filled with challenging tasks, stimulating meetings and lots of exotic travel.

The first hint most graduates get of what employment is really like is when they turn up for work - by which time they may be already committed by having signed a training contract, or studied on a company scholarship.

Now, though, a book has been published to guide university students through the hype. Britain's Best Employers - which is also designed to appeal to young professionals contemplating their first or second job move - seeks to provide "a useful and objective counterweight to the glossy, comfy image often portrayed in recruitment brochures".

Subtitled "A guide to the 100 most attractive companies to work for", the book, published by the Corporate Research Foundation through McGraw- Hill, is an attempt to answer the question every graduate really wants to ask: "What makes this company a good one to work for, and what would it be like for me to be part of it?"

Such publications are well established in the US, where lists along the lines of America's Most Admired Companies and America's Best Companies to Work For are read avidly.

The research here began with an initial screening of companies operating in the UK by the information company Dun & Bradstreet, to produce a short list of 750. This was whittled down to the final 100 after further research by the Corporate Research Foundation, an international organisation that aims to provide information about such issues as corporate culture, effective human resources management and successful corporate strategies.

Not surprisingly, among the final entrants are the UK operations of several US companies which have long featured in the "most admired" lists - for example, 3m, Coca-Cola and Hewlett-Packard.

Such organisations - as well as those such as Toyota and Ericsson, which have headquarters in other countries - are described in short profiles which include sections on pluses and minuses.

Consequently, the retail group the John Lewis Partnership has as its biggest plus a co-ownership philosophy, with profits shared among staff; the minus is a "heavily structured organisation" which can stifle initiative. Ernst & Young, on the other hand, one of several professional service firms to be included, "looks like a winning team in a range of growing management disciplines", but "possible future loss of grip in traditional areas could mean job uncertainties".

Ultimately, says the editorial director, Paul Donkersley, the organisation's "culture, values and style are all-important". And the book is realistic enough to point out, in some of the profiles, that a company's culture and style may not appeal to everybody.

For example, Ernst & Young's senior partner, Nick Land, puts the dampers on any thoughts of a quiet life in an accountancy firm by saying: "We look for people who are flexible and adaptable, who have excellent interpersonal skills and who can react quickly and effectively under pressure"

'Britain's Best Employers' (editorial director, Paul Donkersley; McGraw- Hill, pounds 16.95)