"Fast Paced Company" is one of those lovely and ambiguous terms that get used widely enough that I'd expect highly variable meetings. It's vague at best, and you can't assume a specific definition that applies to every case.
If I were applying to a "Fast Paced Company", I'd expect that:
- People strive hard to accomplish ambitious deadlines
- There's a drive and an energy to get the work done
- People don't push deadlines back easily
- ... or at least that's the vision that the person who wrote this description has...
What's not necessarily implied from such a description is:
- exactly how these deadlines get met - "Fast Paced" may not mean "efficient" or "equal distribution of work among all parts of the organization"
- any relative comparison across the industry or region. My "fast" will be entirely based on my experience. Your "fast" may be much slower or faster than my expectation.
- any limiting factors to getting work done - there's always logistical hurdles to be over come to keep work going quickly. "Fast Paced" does not equal "obstacle free" or even "management is engaged in eliminating obstacles".
- what exactly is "fast" - there's all sorts of ways to define efficiency, and when you optimize for one area, you are likely to slow down something else. This varies highly by industry - but one usually hopes that there is some connection between the most fast and efficient work products and the profit generating aspect of the organization.
To be utterly negative, there's also (in any job description) a certain disconnect between how the person who wrote it envisions the company and the job, and how the people doing the job might describe the company and their own work.
From a big picture perspective, I would not be surprised to see similar companies all advertising themselves with similar jargon - if one hot new start-up is "fast paced", I'd bet they become "fast paced" in a few months. Speed is a big deal, and time to market is a competitive advantage - no one wants to advertise "slow and careful" even when that might be a really valuable aspect of the work.
There's always a way to say something positive... companies or businesses that benefit by being less "fast paced" will not likely say "slow paced" as it implies either a lack of profitable business, or a lack of efficiency/energy - either way, it's not a great prospect if you're looking for a job. Instead, I'd expect to see companies advertise other aspects of the work besides the speed, for example:
- High quality craftsmanship
- Diligent and dedicated
- Great reputation, leader in the field, etc.
- Innovative, knowledgeable, creative
In just about any of these cases, you can't assume that a lack of the description means "not fast paced" - there's no solid criteria, and it's hugely subjective.