Miss Manners is a Gorilla

Photo by _Faraz @ Flickr

“Awesome, that’s great news. Send me the details as soon as you get them.” I put down the phone and leaned back in me chair. I sat for a minute collecting my thoughts. Then with a smile splitting my face I let out a long sigh of relief.

 

That was close, way to close. If Gus hadn’t come through at the last minute, the entire release would have gone into the toilet, along with my career. Raising my coffee cup in salute, I said “You dodged another one old boy.” Bringing the mug to my lips I took a healthy swig of the lukewarm coffee.

 

And nearly spit it out all over Hogarth.

 

Swallowing hard, I set the cup down and glared at my gorilla, now sitting across my desk from me. “Go away, Hogarth, I’m not letting you ruin this.” I held up my hand and started ticking off my points. “I used my relationship power when we needed something in a rush.” One finger. “I had that relationship power because I get out from behind desk and walk around.” Two fingers. “We had this on our plan because we thought about risks because we reviewed our previous projects.” Three fingers. “And we played it by the book, even though it would have been so much easier to cut corners and go around the system.” I leaned back in my chair and gave him a smug, self satisfied look. “So take your dour face and pester someone else, you got nothing on me.”

 

Hogarth stared at me for long seconds, his dark eyes pinning me to my chair and making me squirm. This wasn’t fair, I’d done it all. I’d been professional, I’d been effective, I’d headed of the risks at the pass, I’d helped the team through difficult waters without taking charge. What on earth could he find fault with?

 

He didn’t speak, which made it all the more unnerving. He just reached one of his massive furred hands out and laid it on the desk. As his hand drew back it revealed something laying on my desk. It was a square bit of paper, no more like a large business card. Leaning forward I could see it was really a card that opened. I turned my lamp so I could read the front of it better.

 

Thank you

 

 

A thank you card? What on earth was he thanking me for? I mean if anyone should be thanking anyone, not that I would ever admit it to him, of course, I should be thanking Hogarth.

 

Wait… Gus… Oh, heck…

 

 

THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR 18TH CENTURY MANNERS IN A 21ST CENTURY WORLD

 

I was recently reminded how much people take good manners and politeness for granted. I was in a conversation with some non-work colleagues. One of them was in the middle of a job interview process. I’d asked him if he’d sent his thank you cards yet. One of the other people in the group said “I don’t send thank you cards, there just so old fashioned…”

 

A bottle of Dom Pérignon has been made in much the same way for the last hundred years. That doesn’t make it old fashioned, that makes it good.

 

A standard longbow made today is made in much the same way a longbow was made a thousand years ago. It works, don’t break it.

 

The wheel has the same basic shape it had four thousand years ago. Why reinvent the wheel?

 

Today we have iPhones, netbooks, email, voicemail, fax, video chat, high speed data connections and more. The technology we have today would seem like witchcraft 200 years ago and pure science fiction for most of us even fifty years ago. Like the Bionic Man technology has made us better, stronger and faster than before. And that still doesn’t change who we are. Good manners have been around for a heck of a lot longer than email. Email doesn’t suddenly mean all the politeness of the world can be bottled up in a couple of sideways colons and closed parenthesis (ASCII smiley faces). 

 

I’m simply amazed how often even the most basic politeness is forgotten in the work place.

 

  • When you pass someone in the hall, smile and nod. Heck, even say hello. Don’t stare at the ground and pretend they are not there.
  • Say “Thank you” whenever someone does something even close to nice. Even “Thanks” is an improvement over a guttural grunt. This includes the cashier at lunch.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking. (I know, the DISC model talks about High Ds and High Is being okay with this. They are not the whole world. Even if they are okay with it, the High S listening in will be horrified).
  • Chew with your mouth closed. Now I may be showing my US based culture here. I honestly don’t know if this is culturally okay in other parts of the world. In the US, it’s not.

 

Beyond the basics there are a couple of key manner tools that are must haves in your manager tool bag.

 

  • Thank You Cards: Honest to goodness handwritten thank you cards. When you interview*, send them to everyone who interviewed with you. If you have someone in a mentor like role, send them a Thank You card with a gift card inside from time to time. If someone at work bails your butt out of a major jam, send them a Thank You card (again, a gift card can’t hurt). And before one of you says it, yes, you should send them when you interview. A Thank You card is a thank you it doesn’t ask for anything in return. It is not something to get you a job, its something that is the right thing to do. Send a card no matter what, it will pay off in the long run.

 

  • Recommendations/Praise: Corporate culture operates very much on perception. Perception only works if people are aware. If Susan in accounting saved your bacon and you are in her debt, the thank you card with a Starbucks gift card is nice. Sending an email to her boss to tell them how awesome Susan is, is one step better. When it comes time for reviews, Susan has those notes in her brag file and can roll them out to remind her boss how good she is.

 

Miss Manners isn’t an antique. She’s the wisdom of the ages.

 

Thank you,
Joel and Hogarth

 

The Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla


[This blog is dedicated to Skip La Fetra, facilitator of the Silicon valley PMI job search breakfast. He led a great meeting that tackled this gorilla in a wonderful way and inspired this blog.]

The jingle of bells battered my skull like a thousand tiny anvils being dropped from orbit. Grabbing my skull I turned from my desk to take in a sight I immediately wished I could erase from my memory.

“Hogarth! What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”

My gorilla looked down at the red velveteen jacket he wore, shaking his head as he did so. With the jingling of his bell bestrewed hat nearly overpowering his words, he said “Well I admit old St. Nick shares the red theme with Bealzabub, but isn’t it taking things a bit far to accuse him of being devil and not elf?”

I rolled my eyes, trying not to let Hogarth’s verbal judo distract me from exactly why he was dressed up like a Christmas in the jungle reject. “Why the heck are dressed like that?”

“For the holiday party” he replied, his tone so bubbly it could make Champagne feel impotent.

“Party?” I sighed. “Hogarth, I’m not going to any party.”

“You’re not?” he replied crestfallen. “So back to pinging your network contacts and checking job boards?”


I threw up my hands, “What’s the point? It’s the middle of December, I’m not going to get a job now. I just want to wash my hands of all this, try and enjoy Christmas and I’ll get back to looking in January.”

Now imaginary gorillas should be fairly benign, after all you’ve thought them up, right? So when he walked over and smacked me upside the head I was understandably surprised. “Ow! What was that for?”

“To snap you out of your Dickensian moroseness ” he said. “Cause I’m the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I’m not leaving until you deal with your attitude.”

And there I was, having literally been hit over the head by the “Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla”

I have had the experience of being unemployed over the US holiday season (Oct 31st to Jan 1st), twice in my professional career. The two experiences were stark opposites of each other and show a clear example of why the holidays is the time to Speed Up, not Slow Down your job hunt.

In my first experience , I all but hid from my unemployment, trying to deny it was there and giving all sorts of justifications to not make even a token effort to look for work. I also completely ignored every bit of advice I give in my own career insurance blog. Not only did I end up hiding from my lack of a job through Christmas, when the new year came along I had lost all my momentum, all my drive. I eventually landed a new job, but it was more luck than my own actions. I was out of work for the better part of a year that time, an experience I never wanted to repeat again in my life.

In my second experience I was laid off from my company on Sept 30th. I started my new job on Feb 2nd, nearly four months exactly. More importantly, between Dec 20th and Jan 1st I was speaking with three different companies and even interviewed in the week between Christmas and New Years. I not only followed my own advice (learned almost word for word from manager-tools.com) but I sped up my efforts over the holidays. I took advantage of the hidden benefits of the season to accelerate myself into a great job.

No, I think the holidays can be argued as being the best time to search for a job, or to at the least close in on that next job prospect. There is a natural spirit of giving and kindness in the season, that is not limited to department store Santas and It’s a Wonderful Life reruns.

During a Silicon Valley PMI Job Search Breakfast the attendees came up with the following, excellent, list of things to do in the holiday season.

- Don’t slow down. This is not the time to slow your pace, but to increase it.
- Most companies operate their Fiscal Calendar from Jan to Dec, so their year is ending. This means their new budget year starts in January. They already know their budget and likely have started their job reqs.
- Holiday parties are not a time to bemoan, but a time to network with friends and colleagues. Make sure your business cards are up to date and plentiful.
- It is the season of giving, take advantage of people’s natural tendency to be more open and giving to approach them.
- Be prepared for rapid response “can you come in tomorrow?” This is very common in the holidays.
- Do NOT underestimate the power of the thank you note! If you were good about sending “Thank You” notes during your first interviews then you can follow up with a Christmas cards to reopen your communication with the hiring firm.
- The holidays give you a readymade excuse to reach out to an old colleague who you fell out of touch with. Haven’t talked to Bob in a year? Send him a holiday card and reconnect, then stay connected.
- If you get a job sent to you and it is not for you, think of who you know that might fit. Keep up your spirit of giving and helping and it will come back to you.

In the end, it boils down to a very simple mantra “Don’t Slow Down, Do Speed Up and remember all your job hunt and networking basics.”

Wishing you all the happiest and most successful of holiday seasons!

Joel BC
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

There is no such thing as Career Insurance


“Hogarth, what are you doing?!”


Hogarth looks up from where he’s causally perched on the corner of my desk. Holding up a piece of paper he asks, “Did you know your resume is three years out of date?”


“Not now, Hogarth, I have a report to write, then I have a beta planning meeting and tonight I’ve got to fix the garage door.” I shoulder past him, to drop into my chair. “Besides,” I say, “this job is nice and stable and I don’t have any plans to go anywhere else.


My gorilla blinks at me, “I’m sure the Titanic didn’t have any plans to run into an iceberg either.”


I pointedly ignore Hogarth and started typing up my meeting minutes.


Hogarth lets out a deep sigh. Sliding off his desk he gives a shrug, “Yeah sure don’t mind me, I’m just the 800 pound gorilla in the room.” Shuffling off to the far side of the office, he mutters “man my cousin has such an easy gig.”


Unable to quell my curiosity I look over, “Cousin?”


Hogarth thumps down in the corner, “Oh yeah, he’s got a great gig with AXA Equitable. Getting paid the big bucks to be the ‘are you ready for retirement gorilla.’ TV Commercials, print, web, you name it. You can watch his videos on the web.”




“I’m already saving for retirement, Hogarth. Besides, I’m not getting paid to update my resume or network, I’m getting paid to manage this project. I just don’t have time to worry about my resume.”


Holding up his watermelon sized hands he says “Oh I’m not gonna talk to you about retirement, I’ll send my cousin over to do that, but let me ask you something, do you have life insurance and pay money for it?”


I sigh, “Yes, but…”


“Do you have car insurance and pay money for it?”


“Yes, but…”


“Isn’t it true that time is money?”


I let out a deep, resigned sigh, “Yes.”

*****************************************

Yes folks, welcome to the ‘career management plan’ gorilla. It has got to be one of the most prevalent and avoided gorillas of all times. I know I’ve done it, I’ve watched friends do it, and enough people are making scads of money to help people with it, that there is no denying that this is one big gorilla.

Now folks, let me just start with saying, I’m not saying anything new. The very nature of gorillas, is that they are not new or ground breaking concepts. They are those things we don’t want to face, and are often old and well known.

Michael Auzenne and Mark Horstman have made a business of advising executives and managers on the art of career management. Their Manager Tools podcasts are a must listen for any aspiring executive and a should listen for the rest of us. The November 2009 edition of PMI Network quoted John Challenger, of Challenger, Gray & Christmas when he said, “You should spend 5 percent to 10 percent of your time engaged with organizations and meeting people in your field or industry outside of work.” There isn’t a job board out there that doesn’t advise you to keep your resume current. And if you talk to any successful executives, maintaining their network will be one of the top priorities they list.

Yet, especially in the high tech industry, we task focused professionals all too often bury ourselves in our work, wrapping it around us like a thick blanket of denial. It takes a market upset, a lay off you just escaped or that all frightening appearance of the HR person outside your office who says, “Can I speak with you?”, for most of us to even think about anything but our job, the next release, the next project. Time was, at least so I’m told, that your company and your manager were as focused on your success as they were on the success of the company. Now I don’t want to cast a blanket aspersion on managers, or even companies, but the hard truth is most companies worry about the company as a whole, or the bottom line and managers are often taking care of their own career insurance.

So as I had Tweeted - “Gorilla Talker Tip #2- There is no life insurance for careers, if you don’t manage your career, no one else will.”

So here are some tips I’ve personally found useful, vital and effective. (Again, nothing new, almost everything is something I learned from somewhere else, I’m just the guy talking to the gorilla.)

Listen to the Manager Tools podcasts: I discovered these not long ago and the light that went on, when I started listening, was incredible. I highly recommend “Your resume stinks!”, “Building a Network”, “How to handle headhunters”, and “Contacting Recruiters”, but I am personally in the process of listening to everything in their catalog.

  • Maintain your network: 500 people in LinkedIn is not a network, it’s just a tool. You need to keep in regular contact with your direct network. Set yourself a reminder to contact them at least once a quarter (Horstman calls it the “CTL-SHIFT-K rule”, for the keyboard command to create a task in Outlook). On the LinkedIn front, if someone sends you a INMail or request for an introduction, respond! See the next rule.
  • Give more than you take: Part of keeping up that network is being ready to give of yourself. Whether it’s acting as a reference, sending a job lead someone’s way or even more, don’t keep score and you’ll find it will come back to you.
  • Own your own computer!: I’ve known friends who showed up for work and found the building locked, never to re-open again. I’ve seen people ushered from their cubes, only to return after IT has removed every piece of technology from the cube. You need your own computer and not just to find that next job. You need a secure place for your contacts, your personal career documents, your private email.
  • Maintain a private email address: Don’t just have it lying around for a rainy day. Keep it active, check it often, make it a way for people to get in touch with you. It should be professional! No “I_rock@izzy.com”, get yourself a nice professional address at a mainstream provider or with your own private, but professional domain. For example jbancroftconnors@yahoo.com or Tom@Masterson.com.
  • Point your LinkedIn to an email address you use: How many times have you heard “Oh sorry, I didn’t see your invite, I don’t check this email very often?” Point your LinkedIn to an active email account. Oh, and while we are on LinkedIn, treat this like a resume. Keep it up to date, keep it active and for heavens sake, keep it in sync with your actual resume (more on resumes below).
  • Save your contacts: I’ve committed, this sin, keeping all my contact data in my work Outlook and then losing it all. In today’s internet society, we have no excuse. Once a quarter sync your contacts with your Yahoo, GMAIL, Plaxo, whatever. But to add to that, print it out! Technology is great, but tech fails. Woe betide if you don’t follow the ‘own your own computer’ and you can’t even call people. Oh and cell phones don’t count, not only do a lot of us use company phones, but they are one of the least reliable places for long term information storage. Sure I have an iPhone, but the contacts are from my Outlook and I’ve had to reset my phone more than once.
  • Keep your resume up to date: Better yet create a “Career management document” (CMD). Depending on who you talk to a resume should be no more than one or two pages. A strong career will have a lot more than two pages of information. You could have half a dozen accomplishment that don’t apply to your current work, but if you don’t capture them somewhere, you might lose them. Used to be a crack shot at budgets? Guess what, budget skills are in style again. Still remember your accomplishments from 1998? I personally use a Mind Map. Each box is a job I’ve held and I then have bullets for all the accomplishments I have for that job. When I need a resume, I can pick and pull from each job, to tailor my resume to the position. The other part of this is to maintain it. Once a quarter, 30 minutes a quarter, go through your resume. Not just updating your last job, but the whole thing. Maybe you were working on an integration project and you remembered how you were given a commendation for integration work, ten years ago. Add that to your CMD for that old job. You never know when it will come in handy.

In the end remember the most important rule- Your current job could end at any time, a new once in a lifetime opportunity could come out of the blue, your spouse has to move to Australia, the list goes on. Only one thing is certain…

Change happens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to talk to a gorilla about a horse.

I’m Joel BC, Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk about your gorilla? Send me an email

*-Special thanks to Mark Nottage, my excellent proofreader and all around skilled tech geek.