Tag Archives: professionalism

The New Cheese: Hip Lingo

I’ve come to a very difficult conclusion in my life… I’m old.

At least, that is the best and most feasible explanation for what I might term as an involuntary revulsion and full body shudder when watching current events, attending meetings, listening to conference calls, or reading emails and allegedly professional publications. I’ve seriously tried to find any other explanation than my downward slide into the deterioration of advanced years, but I was finally forced to face my fears and dreads. I’m old. I’ve reached that stage of maturity that twitches at the extreme levels of informality and familiarity that speaks only given names and coins terminology that Webster never intended. I’m not the cool, hip career woman I wanted to be…

Did I really want to be? And… that is a topic for a whole other post. My point here is a peeve of mine (pet? not really): The overuse of “hip” jargon, slang, and familiarity in allegedly professional contexts. Honestly, I do understand the desire to appeal to the young and innovative generations, but seriously? Do we have to give over all dignity? And to be frank, what does some of that crap mean?!?

Just for example, let me run through some of the more glaring vocabulary issues.

Side hustle. This is also known to most people as a second job. Yeah, so apparently that doesn’t sound nearly cool enough. Therefore making it sound like something you could possibly be arrested for on the street corner while catching a communicable disease sounds oh so much better.

Buy-in. This one isn’t nearly so twitch-inducing to me, but it is possibly due to over-saturation levels of hearing it when I worked briefly in the advertising segment of a business publication (yes, that happened… I don’t like to talk about it). Anyhow, the problem is minor, but here it is. This terminology is fine if you are talking about investing… or possibly poker. However, it has come to be used in business situations as accepting an idea. It has the power of making someone who doesn’t actually go along with the proposal feel that they are missing out on a deal, right? “ACT NOW… While supplies last…WE HAVE OPERATORS STANDING BY…

Move the needle. Unless you are a seismic event, or possibly a lie detector? What people generally mean by this is to point out that a change will or won’t actually have a measurable effect. See what I did there? I used actual vocabulary that explains that any change of process should be impactful. It should have a measurable outcome. In other words, we don’t just do something to say “look what we are doing.” It should have a result. That said, this little phrase probably sounded truly profound… the first time. After saying it for every bloody process change, it rather loses that shiny new profundity. When it is applied to process changes that have no appreciable effect? It loses all meaning.

Corporate values. Only one thing to say about this one. Corporations don’t have values. People have values. Corporations have policies. Boil it down, people. The leadership of a company values certain human characteristics and believes that those characteristics will support the identified mission of the company? Awesome. Then, say that.

Take the temperature. Because someone might have a fever or be incubating a virus? Because you want to see what to wear today? What the actual…? Apparently, this little phrase has taken the place of hoary ol’ chestnuts like “testing the water.” I suppose it is meant to say that you are evaluating whether someone is amenable to an idea? Like, “I think they are warming up to me,” or perhaps, “She seems quite cool in her demeanor.” However, it seems just a little invasive, to be honest. I always seem to picture a rectal thermometer… ok, so no one else does that? My bad…

Game-changer. This one makes my list because, honestly, overuse. Everything is a “game-changer” it seems. Truth be told, the results never quite answer to the hype there. Additionally… it’s not all a game. If everything seems like a game to you, might I interest you in an MMPI for psychopathy?

Empower. Great word. Improperly used most of the time. I believe entirely in empowering people. That is to say that I think individuals should be given the tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves. I think they should be given opportunity to grow. However, I see this used more often by managers, directors, and various forms of business leadership as a way to spin their disengagement from advocating for their own employees. Instead of abandoning them to sink or swim, “I’m empowering them to act on their own behalf.” Um… really? I don’t think that is what that is supposed to mean.

Open the kimono. So, I’ll just disclose here that I’ve never truly heard this one used myself, but I read it in an article and snarfled my coffee. There are so many things wrong with this phrase, I do not have sufficient time or space to innumerate. It is meant to be a clever euphemism for “reveal the information.” The levels of cultural and gender insult… well, let me just say that I hope that I never actually encounter this phrase in real life. Lewd. Inappropriate. Slightly perverted.

Think outside the box. Again, overuse, and if we truly examine the number of years that everyone has been encouraged to think outside of this imaginary box, it begs the question: Is anyone thinking inside it anymore? Does the box even exist? Maybe the new innovative thinker thinks inside the box.

Drill down/Deep dive. I put these phrases together because they generally mean the same thing. It is someone’s attempt to illustrate getting into the most minute of details regarding a project or report. Often the reason for this is a negative outcome or errors. It is technically not that offensive, but it is unnecessarily “cool” terminology. It makes it sound like an adventure instead of what it truly is: A lot of time examining huge amounts of information looking for what amounts to a specific needle in a pile of other remarkably similar needles.

And now to the section that I like to call “grammatically challenged” or “what part of speech are you?”

Solutioning. This is not a word. Most spellcheckers will actually scream at you for even trying to type it. So, stop it! Solution is a noun. It is NOT a verb of transitive, action, or passive form. You cannot add -ed or -ing to it. The word you are looking for is solve. When we are trying to make the meaning of this word an action, we say SOLVE! or solving or solves or solved. We can resolve. However solution is the result of solving… unless we are talking about chemistry and that is the combination of two or more elements… or is that a compound. Anyhow, the moral of the story… stop trying to solution things.

Leverage (as a verb). Again, see above. A lot of folks like to use this to mean influence or put on pressure to change a situation or opinion in their own favor. This would be applying leverage.

Ask (as a noun). I’m not precisely sure where this came from originally. A friend actually told me that this is a prison culture form of speaking. In that context, “the ask” is a favor for which the person doing the asking is promising a future claim to the person granting the request. Oh, and yes, that is actually the correct form: The request. Ask is a verb.

Synergize/Synergistic. Blame Stephen Covey for this language/grammar mutilation. When he wrote about those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was mind-blowing, ground-breaking, and a few other hyperbolic terms to describe common sense concepts collected and marketed in palatable form. He made the noun synergy into a verb to imply cooperation of two or more individuals with unique talents for the purpose of unified positive outcome. It’s been nearly 30 years now, it’s totally ok to use proper words again to describe collaboration.

Learning, or learnings (as a noun). This is another of those things that people say, going for clever… and missing. We do not get “learnings” from educational seminars or training programs. We can learn new facts and ideas. We can develop new skills. When I read or hear people talking about their “learnings,” I generally think they skipped class.

Socialize it. Apparently this is the new way we disseminate information. We no longer announce or provide. I blame social media for this one. Since Twitter and Facebook have a broader outreach capacity than your general office memo, the concept of broadcasting information that needs to reach masses of individuals can no longer be merely “told” or “shared.” I suppose socializing also makes it sound more fun. I suppose I can also blame certain psychological concepts. We talk about socializing children to help them learn to interact with others. However, might I call your attention to the fact that information shared doesn’t interact and doesn’t need to learn not to bite the other children in daycare.

Actionable. If you are not an attorney discussing legal aspects of a contract or case, please do not use this. Just no. Thank you.

Hack. “What’s wrong with hack?” I hear you say. We can hack through underbrush and hack fallen trees to create combustible fuel for warmth. The term has been adopted now by the computer age to mean taking apart code and sneaking through security. Sadly, now, it is now used as a noun… and verb… applied to life? I really do not need to hack up my life. It is quite unnecessary to damage it further. To call something a “life hack” sounds catchy and modern, clever… slightly illegal… and ridiculous. They aren’t hacks. Hack is a verb. It is a strategy or an idea or a helpful piece of advice that might make something challenging more reasonable or simple. That’s not hacking. That’s helping.

There are others. Of course, there are; like everyone calling each other by first names and acting like everyone is old college chums in every board meeting. Overly familiar behavior, lack of formality, and general misuse of language. Every day someone, somewhere misuses a word that becomes popular slang because of the situation or the popularity of said person. Seemingly without end, I continue to hear these newly coined terms and assassinated parts of speech thrown about like rice at a wedding. Oh, wait, we don’t throw rice at weddings anymore. There’s that age thing again. It would just be nice to say what we mean without trying so hard to sound hip or cool. It’s become rather passé, which is the opposite of hip and cool, right? What I think, personally, would be fabulous would be for professional people in professional situations to actually conduct themselves and sound like they have intelligence and a sense of decorum and respect for their colleagues. That, in my so humble opinion, would be the hippest. And then again… maybe I’m just old.




It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.

This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Wrong. And here’s why…

First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.

Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.

Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).

To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.

  1. Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
  2. Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
  3. Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
  4. Consider writing your own @#$% email.

For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.

In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.

Forward to 10 friends.
Forward to 10 friends.

Can you pass The Resume Test?

You all have been listening to me spew advice, thoughts, peeves, rants and other information for a long time now.  For that, I must say thank you.  I have a lot of experience and lot of knowledge, but it’s all self-taught and learned through many years of keen observation and asking enough questions to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  The point is: I know what I’m talking about and I don’t make stuff up because it sounds good.

One thing I know – for absolutely certain – is what employers (recruiters, specifically) are looking for when they review resumes and assess applications.  Bottom line?  They’re looking for formatting faux-pas, spelling snafus, and informational inconsistencies as much as they’re looking for employment experience and skill set.  Yes, the alliteration is fun, but what those alliterative allusions allude to (sorry, couldn’t help myself) could be detrimental to your job search.  You can be certain they’re testing you.

Have you ever asked yourself this question: “I’ve put out tons of resumes, I know my stuff and I’m an great candidate, so why am I not getting any call backs?”

First of all, the very best piece of advice I can give you is, “SLOW DOWN!”  You may be in a hurry to get a job, and therefore in a hurry to update your resume and start submitting applications, but don’t.  Hurry, that is.  Take your time.  Be thoughtful.  Be deliberate.  And BE HONEST.

Secondly, when you put together your resume, have a trusted friend look it over.  Heck, have two friends look it over.  Ask your friend to not only look for glaring errors, but ask them to think like a recruiter: what would they want to see?  If possible, show your friend a copy of one of the job ads you’ve responded to and ask them to impartially consider the match.  Also, have them take resume format into account.  Not just the way your resume is laid out on paper, but to look for spacing problems or things that just seem…off.  Then, no matter what they say, listen.

Third, SPELL CHECK!  This cannot be stressed enough.  You could be the best match for the job, but spelling errors could get you fired before you’ve even gotten the job.  Most employers aren’t going to think, “Well, she looks great on paper, and those spelling errors are probably just accidents, so let’s get her in here for an interview.”  They’re not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  They are looking for the best, so be the best.  Further, most spelling errors aren’t accidents.  Yes, typos happen, but the worst thing you can do is show a potential employer you don’t know how to spell.  The second worst is showing them you didn’t bother to spell check your work.  Spell Check is there for a reason, so use it.

And lastly, be very careful about inconsistencies with your time-line.  In any type of resume, if you list start and end dates of a previous job and then have months or years in between listing your next job, consider saying something of what you were doing during that time.  For example: From July 2012 through January 2013 assisted a family member recovering from major surgery.  Whatever the case may be, say something so a potential employer knows you were not simply sitting around on the couch, eating yellow cheesy sludge out of a bucket with your fingers, and hollering at the television while collecting an unemployment check.  For that matter, if you were collecting unemployment, you may want to say something like: From July 2012 through January 2013 was actively seeking permanent employment.

One other thing.  It is in your best interest to keep your resume to one page, or two pages printed on one sheet if you’re using hard copy.  It is definitely a challenge to get all of your important information on one back-to-back page, but if a recruiter has to read War and Peace, they’re going to get bored awfully quickly.  Would you want to risk it?

The above tidbits don’t just apply to resumes, but also to online applications and any forms a potential employer may send you to fill out.  Also, understand this: Your resume is not the right place for elaborating.  The interview itself is the right place and time for further explanations and storytelling.  A recruiter worth his or her salt will only pre-screen potential employees who pass the resume test.  If you’re job hunting, go back and really look at your resume.  Do you think YOU would pass the resume test?

PS: Tananda says. “For the love of all that is holy… do not use some sort of decorative font or put artwork/graphics/selfies all over it.” For what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree. Once you’ve got the words on the paper, let them speak for themselves.

SERIES: Email Diseases: How they affect your life and how you can avoid them (Issue 2: SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS)

Do you like to be yelled at?  Does anyone?






Argument A

Picture, if you will, an email exchange between two individuals engaged in an electronic argument.  (I shall not make something up here because my ability to argue successfully extends really only to myself – I tend argue with myself a lot – and to very few others.  Needless to say, debate class in high school was not my very favorite thing.  Though some would say I live to argue, this is simply not the case.)  These two individuals have allowed their virtual disagreement to escalate to a point where one user (let’s call him USER 1) has finally lost his ability to reason effectively and has resorted TO SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in order to make his point.  The other user (let’s call him USER 2), upon receiving the SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS, sits back in his chair feeling defeated and thinks: “Well!  You don’t have to yell at me!” Followed by some choice words (fiercely unspoken) directed at USER 1.

Argument B

Imagine, now, this same exchange – however long it may have been – in person.  Two people, standing nose to nose, both red-faced and obviously ticked off, each about a stones-throw away from coming to blows.  To the outsider, it is apparent one individual of this duo is the instigator and the other is simply doing his best to hold his ground and not allow himself to be bullied.  Both are furious with one another.   Both believe they are right and the other is wrong.  The shouting is disruptive to others around them both in a way that disallows these others to be productive employees and in a way that makes these others truly uncomfortable.  It could be that a few of these others are interested in this heated exchange in the same way a passer-by might be interested in a train wreck, but for the most part, people have scattered to other parts of the building to attend to suddenly urgent duties.  This argument culminates in one person finally blowing his top and shouting, “YOU’RE WRONG!  YOU’RE JUST WRONG!  YOU’RE STUPID, YOU DON’T KNOW THE PRODUCT OR THE CUSTOMER BASE AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!!”  Whereupon hearing this, the other individual deflates, says something quietly to the shouter which witnesses can’t really make out, and slinks off to lick his wounds.

Does the “winner” of either argument actually win?  Or is that person simply better able to argue some point or another and, possibly, better at wearing down his opponent?  Does it make the “loser” less right, or his argument less sound?  Granted, it will depend a lot on the actual argument and since I did not see fit to imagine one for you we’ll really never know.

But…what does all this have to do with SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS?

In my most humble of opinions, using SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS in an electronic exchange is, quite simply, unacceptable.  I tend to use capital letters if I am trying to place emphasis on a word or phrase that underlining or italicizing will not draw adequate attention to.  But in those cases, it is usually very obvious that I am NOT shouting.

I read a story once (well, actually, if I’m being honest I’ve read this particular story multiple times) about a group of Solomon Islanders who had an ancient practice of felling trees by yelling at them.  (All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum – http://www.robertfulghum.com/)  The theory behind this practice was that yelling killed the spirit of the tree and so it died and fell over.

I believe that being yelled at does, indeed, kill one’s spirit.  Especially if one is yelled at often and for an extended period of time.  To make one cower before you by the very act of yelling – out of anger, frustration, intent or intensity of feeling – is a lowly act and one that only makes you a bully.  Yes, there are absolutely reasons why yelling, on occasion, is warranted; but only on occasion.  If you go around yelling at people all the time, will you have any friends?  Will anyone truly love you and will you be able to truly love?  Will anyone respect you?  Listen to you?  Act on your words or simply ignore you?

Ending an argument by so thoroughly defeating your opponent is akin to abuse and yes, in some cases, even murder.  Do you really wish to kill someone’s spirit by yelling at them?  I believe there are much better ways to win an argument and that, my friends, requires finesse, an adequate understanding of and ability to use the English language, and a genuine desire to make your point without completely steamrolling your opponent.

Just some food for thought.

Professional Leave-Taking: Crossing that bridge without burning it

So… Tangent and I were doing what we do… and one day, we were talking about the whole subject of departures. We’ve talked about getting jobs, about keeping jobs, about professional behavior while on the jobs. The thing is that even the end of a job has its own nuances of professionalism that should be attended to and observed. So, we decided to interview each other and get two well-informed and professional perspectives on how one leaves… a job.

What is appropriate notice?

Tananda: It totally depends on your position within the company, your level of education, and specificity of your duties. Notice is so that there is time to find a replacement, and get them up to speed on what it is that you do for the company. For example: If you are talking about an Executive Director position, it may require (depending on the size of the company) finding just the right person; and it might even require travel time. You’ve got to calculate that into the notice that is given. Rule of thumb for most professional jobs is two weeks. That is generally the bare minimum of a professional notice.

Tangent: When I gave my notice at my last employer, I really had no choice in the matter because my new job needed me when they needed me. If I was going to get the job, I had two weeks to take it. At the time, my employer was not even sure they were going to backfill my position after I left… So, that really dictated what I needed to do with my time. However, I have had other positions where I had to give 30 days, and even so, I had to come back and train the new person. I depends more on what you do within the company. Regardless of your notice given, if you are a professional, you are going to make sure that everything is covered and that “your people” are taken care of before you leave.

Tananda: Now back to the actual time frames, your rule of thumb. For example, the higher education you are might lengthen the amount of notice that you need to give. If you’re talking about someone with a professional license, (Masters, Doctoral) 30 days is minimum because you have to take the time to find the person with the minimum degree and credentials, but you don’t want to take the first one that shows up. Not necessarily, anyway.

For other types of positions, like academic professors, or even teachers at other levels, a semester or maybe an even academic year, is an appropriate notice. Just to let them be prepared to find the right person.

It’s what you do. It’s all about what your role is and who you are responsible for. More than the duties that you enact in your job, but who you take care of and the number of people you take care of.

Is there ever a time where it’s acceptable to just walk out?

Tananda: There are jobs, where, because of the sensitivity of the material (security issues, what have you) they’re going to simply escort you out when you’ve given notice, or on your last day. It really is one of those situations that, as bad as it sounds, the less professional and skilled position (think specificity of skills again) a lengthy notice is not needed because there are – truth be told – people literally lined up for that job. And not that people are completely replaceable or not unique, but for some jobs a warm body is all that is really needed. In a professional setting, it’s truly never okay unless you’re on the verge of Going Postal. Good example: Where you feel that there are unethical practices it would be acceptable to walk away and say, “I’m not going to get into this.”

Tangent: I have a story about that…

When I first moved to my current locale, I was working as a receptionist in one company. Due to the financial obligations upon us, I elected to take on a second job in a retail location. The manager hired and trained me, but the manager would not allow me to ever ring up a sale (in other words I never got credit for them). During the holiday rush, the manager brought on her boyfriend for extra help. A customer had a question, and I had to go find the manager and went to the back of the store where … (pause for effect) I saw boyfriend and manager doing an illicit substance in the back of the store during business hours. Now, I know that I did not handle this in precisely the best way; I freaked out and walked out never to return.

Tananda: You know what? The bottom line is: Using any substance, doesn’t matter if it’s sipping eggnog in the back room or taking a prescribed medication, if said substance inhibits judgment, it’s unacceptable and unethical behavior during business hours. Catch something like this going on in the back room and you have good reason to be leery. In your situation, Tangent, you caught them with an illegal substance, and, on top of that, there were probably some questionable business practices beforehand. I would say yes, that was an appropriate reason to just walk out.

How do you give notice?

Tananda: To say it’s all about the relationship with your direct supervisor is sort of a cop-out. I truly believe that official notice should always be given in writing, whether that is on actual dead-tree pulp or the electronic version thereof. I believe it is just professional to have a written version.

Do you want to give a heads-up to your boss who has been good to you? YES! If you’ve got a boss you’ve got a really good relationship with then you talk to them like a friend and tell them about your new opportunity or change of circumstance. “My husband is the new Dread Pirate Roberts and we’re taking off on the next available ship.” The bottom line being that I’ve done it both ways. I have literally walked into to tell the person I reported to that I had been offered a substantial raise with a change of location which was opening up opportunities for my husband (who is apparently now a Pirate) as well. Regardless of the reasons in telling this – my direct supervisor was very supportive, very proud, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was very disappointed that I was leaving. I burst into tears and it was next to impossible to keep a straight face.

Conversely, the next supervisor posed a lot of ethical concerns for me and that was a very different situation altogether. It involved me walking in, handing him an envelope with my letter of resignation in it, and walking right back out. The implied “bird” was flipped in his general direction. Not my most shining moment, professionally speaking.

When do you tell people? Co-workers? Friends?

Tangent: For me, and since the situation was very specific… I had literally 2 weeks to get everything done, let people know, get things together, tie up the loose ends, and make sure everyone was taken care of. Once the notice was given, people needed to know! They don’t necessarily need to know why, but they deserve to know the pending vacancy that you are leaving in the organization and in their lives.

Tananda: I agree. Keeping in mind that some companies and organizations have specific rituals and may have their own ideas about how they want to make that announcement. Again, it’s all about the role you play in the company. Depending on what your role is, that company may need to bolster morale, do damage control, assure people that the proverbial rats are not fleeing the proverbial sinking ship. They may want to have a “spin” on why you are leaving and they may want to dictate what that spin is. However, most places are not that uptight.

Cake or No-Cake People

Tananda: So, just a brief statement about what a dear friend and colleague refers to as the “cake” and “no-cake” people. Briefly stated, there are people who get the big send-off, and those who leave quietly… we won’t mention the ones who are escorted from the building, but you get the idea. It isn’t necessarily a reflection upon their character as human beings, but it may be a statement about the impact they made on their workplace.

That being said, there are circumstances that completely preclude the option for “cake,” but generally, the co-workers and others make sure that those people that would have had “cake” still get it even if there is no time for the big send-off inside the office.

What about current employer contact on references?

Tananda: This is prior to obtaining new employment, yes?

Tangent: Yes.

Tananda: If I say it depends, that’s another cop-out, but it does. It depends on the personality, or personality disorders, of your direct supervisors. Most places have a little check-box that says, “May we contact your current employer?” and you can always say no. If it’s a problem for them not to be able to contact your current employer then they may not want to interview you. They may want to ask about it, but most hiring places understand when you are still employed and might not want to rock the boat. (There’s a definite nautical theme in this article. AAARRRRR!) On the other hand, for a lot of higher-level professionals, they expect other people to want their quality employees, and they expect to receive those reference calls on those quality employees.

For the record, and as a courtesy, I like to let my current employer know if I’m exploring other employment options so they are prepared if someone calls asking for a reference. Not that I’m leaving. But my position is a little different. On top of my full time position, I teach and consult, so those really aren’t conflicts and they aren’t reasons for me to leave my current employer.

Tangent: If you are working for someone who is got a “not-so-great-grip-on-sanity” [different term here censored for family content]; you probably do not want them involved in the process. However, if you are working for that great boss and great employer, you would want any potential hiring agents to talk to that person who will (of course) “talk you up.” If you suck and know it, you are obviously not going to be letting any new folks out there talk to the old ones who could clue them in… and if you are completely unaware of your worth, you might just need to flip that coin and see how it lands.

Tananda: The only thing about the “if you suck and you know it” is that there are a lot of states that have legal restrictions on how much a former employer can say to someone calling with a reference question. They are technically not allowed to bad mouth you. However, they can and do ask whether or not you are rehire-able and a negative answer speaks volumes. It tells the potential new employer that your old employer would be happy to be rid of you.

Tangent: *whispered* You’re not gonna get that job.

Tananda: Precisely.


Tananda: So, we were just talking about that.

Tangent: Yep, we sure were.

Tananda: Don’t do it.

Tangent: I think that’s enough said, don’t you?

Tananda: But what about if it’s your friend getting ready to apply for a job with your former sanity-challenged boss?

Tangent: There’s… um… there’s really a very fine line between what you might tell a friend in confidence, and what you might tell a potential job-seeking employee. You don’t want to set the friend up to not get a job when they need it, but you also don’t want your friend to be challenged (and possibly use your picture for dart practice) when they end up working for your boss who wears his backside as a toboggan.

Tananda: So, bottom line? See my second statement, “Don’t do it.” And your friends have probably already seen your misery and would hopefully not pursue that line of employment anyway unless they were truly desperate.

I hated my former employer… And?

Tananda: Operative word, “Former…” And to quote Raifiki: “It’s in de past.”

(Ensue tangential conversation about Disney movies.)

Tangent: So, here’s the thing. I have another story.

Shortly after I moved here, I started working for a company where I reported to more than one person. I caught one of the people I reported to speaking to another in the break room and telling them that their job in life was to make me cry as often as possible. I hated that job. Hated it. I still see that person around this area. No matter how many years have passed, and how much I hated it, badmouthing her or the company doesn’t feel right. Talking to friends and such about the negative experience serves no positive purpose.

I try to be above reproach no matter who they are or how they have treated me. I can cut them out of my life. It gets to me. It gets to anyone, but I need to live my life to a certain philosophy.

Tananda: The point being, that rehashing and being negative in what we say and do, doesn’t remove the experience and doesn’t shine a very positive light on us or our professional behavior. And it doesn’t help us move on. It keeps us locked into looking in the rear-view mirror when we need to be looking forward.

I’m leaving people behind…

Tananda: Literally, one of my people that I was leaving, cried non-stop for about a week. That was the hardest part of leaving any job that I have left. Sometimes those people are not necessarily my employees. Sometimes they are my boss, but I tended to be a caretaker for them, too.

Tangent: In my case, having gone through this so recently: I looked at it from two different perspectives. I’m trying to make sure that my people are not left clueless about what I did for them and be able to do those things for themselves. By the same token, I am really going to miss some of those folks. I do miss some of those folks. But that said, you have a new job. There is so much new to learn, absorb, get into… I haven’t even been on Facebook lately, and that was my only connect for some of them. I have every intention of keeping in touch, but life happens. I miss my people, the ones that I saw every day that just stopped to say “hi”. <sigh> But this was a good decision for me. I need to remember that.

Tananda: Well, you haven’t managed to get rid of me yet!

Tangent: I’m good with that, actually. I’ll keep you.

What about non-competition clauses and conflicts of interest?

Tananda: Be aware of any potential issues that a new employer may have. A lot of them will want you to disclose any conflicts of interest, including friendships, volunteer work, consulting, or other income. Non-competition clauses mean that you can’t go work for somebody that has one of these agreements with your former employer. Period. End of story.

Making sure co-workers left behind are taken care of after you leave

Tangent: In my case, I feel like (especially given the administrative nature of the work I do) and most of the things people are relying on me for… people are not going to be able to do what I did. They wouldn’t know how, because I had always done it for them. My task in leaving was to leave them with the bevy of information to make sure they could do those things for themselves, or knew who to contact to get it done. I made a document that covered everything, and the response to that document was a mixed bag of incredulity and amazement that I would even put my time into making sure that people had that information. But I felt it was my responsibility.

If you are in another role, it may depend on what your employer (direct supervisor) may require to be done in preparation for your departure. There are just going to be times when it won’t make a “hill of beans”… You may not have a job that really impacts others, and truth be told it is going back to job specificity. So, how and what you leave people with may not be as important as cleaning up any potential messes. On the other hand, it comes down to what sort of person you are and the responsibility you feel to the people you leave behind.

This is a really good time to brush up on the decision-making skills. It is really up to you, unless your boss specifies, to decide what you need to do to take care of those left behind, right?

Tananda: My situation is a little different because I have the people that rely on me for their clinical support. I’ve been their teacher, their supervisor, their mentor, the encyclopedia of all trivial knowledge, a cornucopia of strange and unusual facts, and leader from a sense of stability. My decision to leave that kind of role means that I need to make sure that not only are the day-to-day tasks and job functions taken care of, but the emotional needs are met as well. My employees really get shaken up when they have to worry about reporting to someone new, even temporarily; having a new commanding officer that is running inspection. So, my job means making sure that my crew is as shiny for the new person as they can possibly be and that all of them feel confident enough in their abilities to do their jobs without me and still come out smelling like roses.

Asking for written references, letters of recommendation or introduction

Tananda: Let’s do a brief introduction on what these things actually are.

Tangent: Yes! Because, they all sound the same, but they’re really not.

Written References: These are typically three written character references from someone who knows you in a professional capacity, someone who knows you in a training or social way, then maybe someone who has known you for a long time. They are kept in your portfolio (yes, you should have a portfolio) in perpetuity…meaning forever and kept updated as your experiences warrant. These are things that talk about you as a person and the address the core of who you are.

Letters of Recommendation: These are letters addressing your appropriateness for a particular position. These are from someone who has the qualifications to judge your ability to perform the duties of the position you are seeking to fill.

Letters of Introduction: Hi, let me introduce you to Hyacinth she is awesome and you should hire her. And, more specifically, it is generally from someone who is known to the person who is potentially going to hire you. It’s a professional formality. And while it may seem kind of old fashioned in this modern era, it’s a nice touch – kind of like a flourish – and employers definitely pay attention.

Tananda: The question is, why are we talking about this? Because, if you have a decent relationship with your current employer, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get those things lined up…just in case. To catch a letter of recommendation from a respected supervisor is a big deal. Ask a former employer if they would be willing to be listed as a reference on your resume. Keep in touch with that mentor and continue to keep a good eye on their connections, so that when opportunity knocks, you can ask to be introduced.

Tangent: OK – this is great! I think we need to tie it in a nice, pretty bow now.

Tananda: But you make better bows than I do!

Tangent: But you’re better at nautical knots.

Tananda: Actually, we’re really not done. I have one more thing. Try not to burn a bridge that you’re attempting to cross because you never know who’s back there on the other side who you may need down the road. Plus, I always like to have something at the end that ties in with the title.

Tangent: Yeah. What you said. Bon Voyage!

The New Cheese: Can You See what I’m Saying?

Once upon a time, I used to enjoy a variety of futuristic science fiction shows. In truth, I still enjoy them. My point being, that when I watched these various offerings to the entertainment media, I saw people communicating across great distances by face to face communication. Perhaps some of you remember these shows as well. The epitome of the advanced society seemed to be the live interaction with the large or small screens set in walls or tables for the purpose of information exchange.

I can remember never being able to imagine that this sort of thing could be real. It was the far future… or so I thought.

Look around. The future is here. Webcams, Skype, Polycom, Netmeeting, videochat, FaceTime. The list keeps going. That futuristic communication method of space adventurers and other worlds is here. It is as close as the computer on which I am typing and the smartphone in my holster. Not only can we have face to face communication with loved ones at a distance, telemedicine has been using video conferencing to provide services to remote populations for over a decade.

This is not just a trip down memory lane or a wistful look at how the world has changed; at least not exactly. In all the years since I entered the job market, the usual dance has been done by submitting my application or resume to a potential employer followed by a phone call and hopefully an appointment to go in for a face to face interview. Sometimes, this ritual of the hiring practice has involved travel, occasionally quite a distance. Today, the job of job-hunting can be quite a costly. With gas prices ever climbing, long distance interviewing is not in the budget for hirer or hire-e. Even after the interviewing and hiring process is completed, many companies have gladly embraced alternatives to travel expenses for workers and executives attending remote meetings with customers or business offices.

Technology to the rescue! Today, interviews and meetings can be conducted by phone, conference call, or various videoconferencing options. For today’s modern business market, people can put faces with voices and names across oceans and continents. It provides an opportunity for connection and personal interaction for telecommuters as well. The advent and spread of video technology combined with improved speed of transmission and connectivity have made face to face communication possible no matter the degree of separation.

Sounds great, right? However, as with any innovations, there are some pitfalls to consider and guard against. Here are some thing to keep in mind for teleconferences (voice or video):

Camera position. Nothing really earth shattering, I know, but just think for a moment. It may not seem like it, but the position of the camera into which you are looking to communicate can possibly put a tone on your interaction that you never intended. Try to keep the camera at a natural level for a straight forward gaze. Your web cam should be placed where you will be looking towards it when you are viewing the display screen showing your conversational companion. Elevate the camera by placing laptops on platforms or removable cameras at higher levels. This is partially for comfort, but it also avoids the awkwardness of appearing to look up to or down at your audience.

Appropriate background. Honestly, I feel like this should be unnecessary but given the number of internet “selfie fails” I have seen, it is apparent that not everyone considers what a viewer might be able to observe within the frame of your webcam. Keep the background clear of clutter, unprofessional items, or distracting activity. The last thing you need in a Skype interview is a photobomb of the half-dressed roommate running from the bathroom to their own room. While this is especially true for the face to face via camera interactions, it goes for voice only conferences too. Try to keep background noise to a minimum. Go somewhere private where noise levels can be managed to the best extent.

Dress the part. Telecommuters have said that one of the best parts of working from home is the ability to work in your pajamas if you want. That’s fine. I will suggest that this be an exception rather than a rule, though. For video interviews and meetings, it might not be technically necessary to dress in a three-piece suit, but it is a good practice for professionalism to at least dress, and it doesn’t hurt to put on something that resembles work attire. The whole proverb about “people who look nice, act nice” is true. Dressing up or at least getting dressed for work has a psychological impact. You may find that your demeanor is more professional when you are dressed for the part. Even if there is not a camera pointed in your direction, there is a change in the tone and language from that psychological preparation of dressing for success. 

Mute buttons and headsets are your friends. Background noise can be a distraction in any conversation, and depending on the noise in question, it may give the perception of unprofessional conduct or chaotic work environment. When you do not have the “floor” so to speak, the mute button can be the best friend you can have. Aside from the background noises of your environment, it can prevent the inadvertent heaving breathing episodes or deafening listeners with an unexpected sneeze or cough. If privacy is not always available by means of a door or other enclosure, invest in a noise canceling headset. It will make your words clearer and help others understand you better.

Behave professionally. Just because the person isn’t in the room doesn’t mean you shouldn’t conduct yourself professionally and with decorum. Watch your body language, grimaces, use of vernacular, and tone of voice. You may think that if the conference or interview is not on camera, it shouldn’t matter; but I can assure you that certain non-verbal language can impact your tone and pronunciation in a way that others may be able to perceive. Additionally, if you are not careful about these behavioral cues, you may subsequently forget to guard against them when in vivo. Additionally, in video conferences and interviews, try to avoid excessive use of hand motions (unless, of course, you are actually signing for communication… as in American Sign Language or other manual languages). If you are not actually signing, excessive motion can be distracting or appear restless.

Pay attention. Too many people in the world today fail to listen. Most of you will say, “But I do listen!” I suspect that some of you make an effort to do so, but how many of you, when you truly examine your own listening are only listening to prepare a response? This is something into which I have recently put a lot of thought. Instead of hearing what the person has actually said and means, when one is listening merely to construct an argument, you miss not only the meaning, but you may read into their statements something that was never intended. It is especially easy to fall into this trap when communication is telephonic. Humans are programmed to look for meaning. When the visual and non-verbal cues are absent (because the communication is voice only or even text only), many people will insert additional context or content that was never intended by the speaker or writer. So, pay attention to what is actually said. The information gained from what is actually there is potentially ten times more valuable than any imagined meaning gleaned from between the lines.

Wait your turn. This goes hand in hand with the previous tip, and it is possibly the most difficult thing to do in a phone interview or conference call. I have been witness to so many people talking over each other, everyone desperate to get in their two cents, that no one actually heard with the other was saying. With time constraints and ignited passions, it is super difficult to keep the reins on the spoken word dying to pour from the throats of all participants, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to try. Listen for the natural breaks and pauses in the conversation. I know that there are times when interruptions may be unavoidable, but when necessary, apologize. Give the other person the opportunity to continue their own statement. Generally, you will find that by your manners, you will insure your own “turn” to follow. Again, listen closely to others in the conversation. You may find that you do not need to make a statement that may only be a restatement of something that someone else has already said. In video formats, you will have more non-verbal cues to observe for the natural breaks, but it still may not be quite as apparent as the in person interaction. Remember to use good manners and excuse interruptions.

As we continue to increase our technological adaptations for business and personal communication, I foresee face to face (via technology) interaction becoming as common as phone calls are today. Personally, I am thrilled (mostly because I was a big enough geek to love all those science fiction stories and shows), but it does take some accommodation and “getting used to”. I do not by any means believe I have addressed every pitfall or obstacle, but hopefully this short list of tips will help make those distance conferences go a little more smoothly and successfully. Happy face-timing!

Surviving The Cube Farm: A Lesson in Office Etiquette


Having spent years, and years, and years (honestly, it feels like eons sometimes) in an office environment, I think I can officially pronounce myself an expert in office etiquette. I don’t have a medal, or a certificate, or a fancy diploma, or a fez with a fun tassel (fez’s are cool) to prove my expertise, but I promise, I am an expert. Though, truth be told, some of said expertise is actual and some of it is totally because I’m petting my peeves, but all will be totally worth your while.

Whether you have worked in an office environment or not, you’ll probably find this as helpful as you will amusing. See, even if you don’t work in an office, a lot of this is just common sense, best practice stuff that you can apply to your everyday life.

I need to also say that while this is about working in an office and the etiquette practices therein, I want to further clarify that I am mostly referring to those of us 9-5ers (ha-ha) who work in a cubed office environment. More commonly referred to as The Cube Farm.


Let’s start with an easy one. Something everyone wants to have but that mostly no one gets. Nothing in The Cube Farm is private. Nothing. Or, mostly nothing. Just understand that it is likely everyone knows everyone else’s business all the time and you’ll already be on the road to success.

The Office Gossip (TOG). She (well…TOG could be a he, but for the sake of this argument, let’s let her rip) makes it known that she knows everything. She is the one to track you down on your first day simply to tell you that she is the eyes and ears of the place and if there’s anything to know, she’ll know it. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. She wants you to spill…immediately…and will pressure you until you do. Depending on your own personality, and how much you want everyone else in the office to know about yourself, it’s probably wise to steer clear.

The Connected One (TCO). TCO knows everyone. Literally and figuratively. TCO is your personal 6-degrees of separation. You used to work there? Oh, do you know so-and-so? You live where? Oh, do you know… You get the picture. And heaven forbid if TCO finds out that you and they know someone in common (or several someones in common) because every time that someone makes a move, TCO is gonna tell you about it. TCO is great for networking, though.

Beware if TOG and TCO are one and the same. That’s a recipe for disaster! I suggest you hide. Just a couple examples of some Privacy Pirates that you might encounter.

If you’re an average Joe or Jane, sitting in your little cube, doing your work, going about your day, minding your own bees-wax, then you’ll probably escape any lasting damage. But offices employ many, many different kinds of people. I shall shout fervently: WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?  Here are a few pointers that might help when it comes to maintaining your privacy.

Never enter someone else’s cubicle without permission. I’ve seen it said in other places that you want to behave as if there is a door and knock, tap, or employ some other gentle method to get the attention of the person in that cube without simply barging in. You don’t like it when folks barge in on you, right? So why would you do it to someone else?

Try not to sneak up behind someone in a cube. See above.

Let others know when you can and cannot be interrupted. Well, yeah – I admit this one is kind of tricky. You don’t want to be interrupted and really don’t have time to tell anyone not to interrupt you so, now what? Well, some offices will allow you to post a flag, or a small sign, or a rotating magnet like you might put on your dishwasher to let the rest of the family know the dishes are clean or dirty. Wait…sorry. Hang on. The rotating office magnet should probably say something like busy and available, not clean and dirty.

Prairie Dogging. The end-all be-all of office interruptions. The popping up of heads all over The Cube Farm to see what’s going on. Up down. Up down. I feel like I need a giant hammer and so I can play a gratifying game or two of Office Whack-a-Mole. Aside from the dogs just being annoying, it’s an invasion of privacy. You do not need to see what is on the other side of that wall so badly that you can’t walk over there.

Loitering outside another’s cube. Totally rude, Dude! Don’t hang out while you wait for the occupant to finish a phone conversation. First of all, you have no idea how long that call is going to last and you could potentially be standing there forever. Kind of foolish, if you ask me. Secondly, if you see someone is otherwise engaged, it is just common courtesy to come back at another time. Common courtesy is, sadly, lacking these days.

Looking at other people’s stuff. Yep. We’ve all done it. The quick flick of the eyes to the monitor screen in front of you, whether it is your screen or not. The information contained on the screen of a co-worker does not apply to you. Period.

Listening to other people’s stuff. In The Cube Farm, it’s next to impossible not to hear your co-worker’s conversations. They’re on the phone or talking with other co-workers all day long. Sometimes it’s hard not to listen, but try. Don’t comment on overheard conversations, or answer overheard questions either. What someone is discussing with someone else does not apply to you. Period.

Touching other people’s stuff. We’ve established that cubes don’t have doors. Doors are a visual representation of privacy. There is definitely something to be said for doors. Doors rock. The lack of a door does not mean you can help yourself to whatever is contained within another’s space.   The pens, pencils, sticky notes, paper clips and various other office supplies are not yours, are not meant for you and should not even be borrowed without permission from the occupant. This goes for food, drinks, and stuffed animals. (Hey – we all have a stuffed animal at our desks, right?)


As you’ve gone through your day in The Cube Farm, have you ever heard something that drove you nuts? Or something that was so…off…that you felt the need to go investigate? Like that anecdote about children; if they’re quiet, you need to check on them because probably someone is doing something they’re not supposed to?

Any office has sounds you cannot avoid: typing, ringing, the hum of the white-noise maker, which is supposed to drown out or muffle sound but tends to just make more noise. The air conditioner or heat coming on and off. The microwave beeping in the break room. The ice machine dropping ice into the bin. The hum of the vending machines. People walking, talking, drumming their fingers out of boredom or insanity because the conference call they’re on is now going into its second hour.

The Gum Popper. Om nom nom. Chomp chomp. Pop. Oh and the snapping. Don’t forget the snapping. They don’t even realize they’re doing it.

Slap Happy. The one who wears nothing but flip-flops year-round, even though they’re totally against the dress code, and does laps around the office twice hourly because they are getting their exercise by not taking the shortcuts everyone else uses. Slap. Slap. Slap. Oh, there they go. Wait! Slap. Slap. Slap. There they go again. What’s this, their fourth or fifth round this hour? Shall we take bets?

The Loud Food Eater. If the gum chewing wasn’t bad enough, there’s this guy. Constantly eating. Snacks. Crackers. Chew chew chew. And that thing he does when he’s got something stuck in his teeth? Shudder.

The Talker. This is the person who talks on the phone all the time, as loudly as they can. Or yells across The Cube Farm to the person four rows away to find out if they have any Ibuprofen. Or holds mini conferences outside their cube. It’s enough to drive anyone mad. Wait! Who has the headache?

A few descriptions of Annoying Animals in The Cube Farm for your amusement. I would like to put to you, dear readers, to be mindful of others as you move about the office during the day. Be considerate. Be aware of how your voice can carry or how the crinkling of the wrapper from your second bag of chips can be disruptive to your neighbor and that loud conversations are distracting and disruptive. And I haven’t even begun to talk about phones. That being said, let’s consider this further, shall we?

Ringing desk phones. We know that ringing phones are a product of being in an office. But did you know that the new-fangled technology we have these days allows you to adjust the volume of the ringer on your desk phone? You may be hard of hearing, but did you take into consideration that your neighbor might hear just fine thank you very much? A lot of office phone models have a little red light that blinks or flashes when you have an incoming call. If you place your ringer low enough for you to still hear it and within your range of vision (try peripheral, it’s awesome) you’ve got two layers of assurance you won’t miss a call.

Ringing cell phones. Turn ‘em off, people. Just turn them off. Or, set them to vibrate or silent ring. You do not need to have your personal cell phone on you all the time. Yep. I am like most of the rest of you, attached to my technology at the hip, but even I turn my ringer down, or off completely during the day. Your employer is not paying you to text (beep), play games, (boop), or chat (ring) all day long. And please, for the love of all that is good and peaceful in this world, do not leave your cell phone – ringer on – on your desk and then walk away. None of the rest of us need to listen to your Minion Ba-Na-Na PO-TA-TO ring tone over and over again. (Although props for a good choice of ring tone.)

Speaker phone conversations. Oh my. This one walks a fine line between being one of those aforementioned peeves I’ve been petting and being actual office etiquette. I haven’t weighed the scale to determine which side is heavier. But, if you must have a conversation using speaker phone, remember these key points: 1) Everyone else can hear you, and everyone else can hear the person on the other end of the line. 2) If you know about the call ahead of time, reserve a conference room so you can have a closed door between your speaker phone conversation and the rest of The Cube Farm. Your fellow dogs will thank you.

Voice Volume. If you’re a naturally loud talker, I understand. So am I. I’ve been known to burst my own ear drums from time to time. That’s another story. But there are these wonderful inventions called headsets. They are not only for comfort and convenience, but they also allow for a quieter (and more private) conversation. If you don’t have a headset for your desk phone, talk to someone who might be able to rectify that for you. They’re a good idea and should be standard equipment, right along with your computer and a monitor and a phone.

Tech Sounds. If you use email or instant messaging to communicate with your co-workers, turn the sounds off. Those dings and bings are enough to turn Dr. Banner into his big, mean, green friend with little to no warning.

Music.  If you are one of the bazillion people who like to listen to music during their work day, unless your office management says otherwise, it’s okay to use ear buds or headphones. Just remember not to get too zoned out, just in case you’re called by the little red flashy light on your phone or the loiterer outside your cubicle.

Are you feeling the burn yet? Think you can manage a couple more reps? Good. Let’s keep going.


Last on my list of things to discuss in the world of office etiquette is (drumroll please) smells. Odor. Scent. The things your sniffer sniffs out and process into four categories: good, bad, ugly and really, really offensive. (Points if you can get both random movie references there.)

The Scent Hound. Like a bloodhound to the scent of a missing person, the rest of us can smell you coming a mile away or follow your trail every place you’ve been. Your odor lingers when you pass through in such a way that one can almost see the molecules of your scent du jour hanging like a fog in the air. Patchouli does not equal bath.

The Lunch Eater. Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have The Lunch Eater. Sitting at his desk during lunch time, single-mindedly putting away the pastrami on rye he got from the local deli. Complete with onions, mustard and pickles. On the side, salt and vinegar potato chips. Look at him, ladies and gentlemen. Take note of how smoothly his arms raise the dripping sandwich to his mouth and how purposefully he bites, how possessively he chews. Beware. He is at his meanest at lunch time.

The Stink Monster. Stinky needs no qualifiers. Stinky is the leftover salmon for lunch eating, microwave popcorn burning, close-talking halitosis having, run the other way when you see him coming co-worker. Add in a layer of bad cologne and last week’s shirt (complete with armpit funk) and all I have to say is, “Eeeewwww!” It is Odoriferous Odiousness I share with you, my fellows. Let’s tone it down some, shall we? We, your co-workers, are breathing this air, too. You do know that, right?  Perfumes, colognes, body sprays, organic natural oils, scented hand lotions, hair sprays…what do they have in common? They all should be totally avoided in The Cube Farm. Period. Those of us with breathing issues like asthma or allergic sensitivities will thank you. File this under how to win friends and influence people. Not the book though. I mean it in the most literal sense.

However loudly you may complain about others, how loudly are they complaining about you? Take some time to think about your habits and ask yourself these questions:

1)      Does it invade or affect another’s privacy?

2)      Does it make noise and if so, how loud or obnoxious would I, personally, consider that noise to be?

3)      Does it smell? Period.

I am not judging. We are all individuals and we all have our own little quirks.  Some of us get along really well, some of us don’t.  Sometimes the best we can hope for is tolerance.  But as I leave you to go silently into that good night (or day, depending) I ask that you truly and openly think about those you encounter at  your office every day.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin to see just what part of the corporate puzzle they play, and if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll be able to fit that piece in exactly the right place.  Also, if you have very strong feelings about indivudual Privacy Pirates, Annoying Animals or Odoriferous Odiousness-es, talk to your manager about the best, most thoughtful, and least offensive or hurtful way to approach.  You could be doing them a favor.

While it’s absolutely impossible to please everyone all the time, your consideration of the above-mentioned things won’t go unnoticed. Your fellow Cube Farm occupants will thank you. They may not thank you personally, but they’ll thank you. Believe me.

Holster It: A coming of age tale


So, those who know me in the real world outside the “interwebs,” have heard my tales of woe as my own decrepitude and mortality was shamelessly flaunted before my very eyes in my quest for convenience. I shall share with you my pain, but this is not only a revelation… it is also a cautionary tale for the astute professional.

I do not know about the rest of you out there, but despite my best efforts to resist, I have become completely attached to the evils of technology. By this I mean, of course, the mobile phone. Yes, sad as it is, I seem to have forgotten what it was like in the days when you left home or office and people would just have to wait until you came back to speak with you on the phone. Other elements of my life have been impacted, however, in addition to just the communication-from-anywhere-at-anytime phenomenon. I no longer wear a watch. I rely upon my clever little mobile device to provide that information and be correctly matched to time zone (since the time is received from the closest tower). It is a right handy trick, especially for those of us who might be in multiple time zones on any given day. It truly was a bit of a challenge to keep appointments and meetings straight when merely relying on the timepiece secured to the wrist. Not to mention, there was always the issue of returning to your home time zone only to forget to set your watch back… ah yes, much like the Daylight Savings Time, there was always the risk of missing a meeting or showing up ridiculously early upon return from a different zone. But I digress…

Unlike many of my technologically savvy and technology-adoring friends, I firmly resist getting the latest and greatest every time something new comes out. I am not criticizing the impulse to get the newest shiny on the market and try out the latest updates. I am just not one to be always on the cutting edge. I will leave that to my dear ones who are always happy to provide me with unsolicited reviews of “Look What It DOES?!?” and “Oh my, they will need to fix that bug on the next firmware upgrade…” It helps me avoid any of the less successful technological advancements. However, as logical and appropriate as that sounds, I’m totally lying. I anthropomorphize my equipment. It’s true. My fear of change and resistance to same stems in many ways from my feeling deep down that my poor gadget will feel abandoned and cast aside for the younger model.

Regardless, the time came after four blissful years with my iPhone, that my formerly reliable equipment was no longer so reliable. It just no longer worked. It would reboot at random, never get a good signal, and froze up regularly. Sadly, the day came when I could no longer give the excuse of “It works just fine for me.” I had to bite the bullet and get a new phone.

I will not go into the details of that painful drama. With shaking hands and sweaty palms, I discussed and made arrangements with my telecommunications provider to get a new phone. Those of you out there that relish the excitement of new tech in your life cannot possibly understand my anxiety and stress over what must seem to most a very simple, though costly, transaction. However, by the end of the day, the deed was done. A new phone was mine. Herein lays the unexpected snag…

I have for many, many… I shan’t say how many years carried my mobile device in a holster. This is a pouch that attaches to a belt or waistband and into which you can put your phone. I found that it was also handy for carrying the most frequently used of my wallet denizens, driver’s license, ATM card, insurance card, etc. As you might expect, the holster was in about the same condition as the old phone. Sure enough, it disintegrated shortly after the new phone came into use (possibly died of grief, who knows).

Now, these days, it seems most people have their phones surgically attached to their hands. Seriously, this is merely from observation that no one seems to be able to put the darn things down. I have noticed that some folks pocket phones or maybe have them in voluminous purses, but primarily, the devices appear to be constantly in use or held in the hand. How do these people go to the bathroom?!?

I am not of the ilk to have phone in hand at all times, and not all of my fashion choices have pockets. I ceased carrying purses long ago as I had a tendency to leave them wherever I hung them over a chair or happened to set them down. Needless to say, I have been reliant on my handy holster for many years. When my old one disintegrated, therefore, I had absolutely no suspicion that this was the serious loss that it became. I figured, “I’ll just buy a new one.” Oh hell no… Did you know that there are about a metric blue-billion different colored, designed, bedazzled, blingged-out Otterboxes on the market? Did you?!? There are. I walked into the first store, and the young man working there became completely baffled when I asked for a holster. With his head on one side like an inquisitive dog, he proceeded to show me the varying array of rubberized phone condoms that I could choose. “No, I want a holster.” I was told that they had nothing like that, but wouldn’t I like a nice fuchsia Hello Kitty Otterbox? I managed to escape minus Hello Kitty, rhinestones, or glitter. I continued my search in a variety of office supply and technology gizmo stores. With every stop along the way, my spirit became more and more dejected. The lowest point of the day was when a store employee shortly out of his infancy and looking no more than 12 years of age informed me that he didn’t believe anyone made holsters anymore, because no one of the current technology age used them anymore. He hadn’t seen one in “ages,” and wouldn’t I like a nice Otterbox?

Now feeling even more like a relic of a bygone age, I was close to tears as I approached the last bastion of hope. I dared not meet the eyes of the staff who were likely young enough to be my offspring. However, I recollected myself enough to notice that a nice gentleman (who looked to be at least past puberty) holding the door open for me. I meekly asked if they carried holsters… AND they DID! I was giddy and in tears as I purchased my lovely leather holster and found that it fit my new phone with space for cards. It seems that despite my advanced age, I must not be entirely alone in my quest for an efficient carrying method for my phone.

Why, you may ask, is this particular article in The New Cheese? Isn’t TNC supposed to be about professional stuff? Yes indeed it is. Here is why. It is not only to free up my dexterity that I prefer to use a holster instead of a colorful rubber phone condom.

It has become common practice to keep your mobile phone permanently in your hand. People sit in social circumstances with their devices constantly before their eyes, consulting them approximately every one or two minutes. Sadly, this is the status of our society today. We spend every moment incapable of being separated from the electronics.

Most professionals holding positions of responsibility in any organization will have one or more electronic devices connecting them with the plethora of information sources on the internet, their staff, and their customers. Today, the instantaneous access to any individual has created the expectation that all employees, managers, and leaders have their phones on at all times. Phones remain in hands or on conference tables immediately visible to anyone present. However, many individuals in the modern workplace believe this expectation gives them license to have their mobile devices permanently attached to their hands in all environments and situations.

True professionalism involves basic civility and manners. What do mobile phones have to do with this? In interviews, meetings, business discussions, and trainings, people deserve the attention of their target audience. Distractions such as incoming phone calls, text messages, and social media notifications detract from the interaction and give the impression of disinterest, immaturity, lack of focus, and unprofessional conduct.

Be a professional. Presenters, trainers, and potential employers or employees deserve your respect and full attention. Holster the phone, iPad, or personal assistant device unless using it specifically to take notes or perform a function related to the discussion at hand. Use the silent mode. Turn off ring tones and notifications for the duration of the meeting, interview, or training. Use the “airplane” mode to suspend all potential signals until after the meeting. In the event of forgetting to silence your phone and receiving a call or message, remedy the situation by switching on silent mode and in one on one or meeting situations, apologize concisely and move on. People lived without instantaneous access for many years. You can always check messages, texts, and Facebook at a more appropriate time when you are not infringing upon the valuable time of others.

So, the moral of the story? The appearance of the professional is not enhanced by a constant barrage of incoming electronic communications on a rubber encrusted mobile device permanently ensconced in your hand. To all those currently holding or hoping to hold a professional position in some organization, with regards to your mobile phones, literally or figuratively, do yourself a favor. Present yourself in a mature and professional way… Holster It!

Dress for Success -or- Professionalism vs. the Interview

Dressing professionally is never more important than when seeking employment.  When a hiring manager gets their first look at a prospective employee – for the sake of this article that would be you – what do you want them to think?  Let’s see if I can help you make them think, “Wow! I want that person on my team!”

I am constantly amazed by just how casual this world has become.  I have seen prospective employees wearing jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, ill-fitting clothing, dirty clothing, sporting all manner of piercings and tattoos (more on that, specifically, later) unkempt hair and a general outward appearance of apathy.  I find myself wondering about the thought processes of these individuals while they are dressing themselves.  It seems to me that in order to get a job – a decent, well-paying, respectable job – one needs to actually care not only about what skills one can offer (which is obviously important) but also how one appears to a prospective employer.  A good first impression is not necessarily the most important thing in the corporate world, but it certainly helps.

In my opinion, it does not matter if you are applying for fry cook at McDonalds, a call-center representative, a sales manager or the company CEO – it is always a good idea to dress professionally for your initial interview and then let your employer dictate the dress code thereafter.  Also, once dress code has been discussed, stick to it!  This, of course, applies to all jobs, unless you are applying for a position with a company that promotes self-expression such as the little store on the corner that specializes in original vinyl recordings or the little bead and yarn shop with the wacky owner, or the trendy art gallery downtown.  Even then, it is better to ask how you should dress for an interview than risk showing up in something inappropriate and being turned down solely based on your appearance.

Speaking of the corporate world, I’ve been in it for quite a while now; long enough to have a good idea of what the word “professional” means.  And while I may not be a hiring manager, or one who has any say in hiring practices, I have observed much and have had multiple discussions about this very subject with those who are in such positions.  I made copious mental notes and serve them up for you now, on the virtual silver platter. 


  • Go easy on the make-up and jewelry.  You are there to discuss how your skills can benefit the company, not show them how well you can accessorize or demonstrate your skill with an eye pencil.
  • Do not wear perfume.  Seriously.  This one is pretty important, folks.  If you must wear perfume, go easy with the application!  Keep in mind that many people are sensitive to artificial or overwhelming scents; an allergic reaction can end your interview before it starts.  Also, if you have a thing for patchouli oil…just don’t.  OK?
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and fits well.  Clothing that is tight, revealing, loose or ill-fitting is inappropriate.  Not only that but if you are fidgeting with your clothes (or jewelry, or hair) during the interview, you run the risk of seeming insincere.  It’s okay to be trendy, but make a concerted effort to do it in a professional, well-put-together way.
  • Wear your hair away from your face.  Think pony-tail, French twist, clip or barrette.  Having your hair in your face during an interview is a distraction to both you and your interviewer.  If you are constantly tucking stray tresses behind your ear, your interviewer is more likely to focus on your movements than your words.
  • Skirts should be no shorter than one inch above your knee.  Seriously.  I realize that short skirts are the thing right now and that some companies don’t care if you wear them – but do you know that when you go in for an interview?  No, you don’t.  Short, tight clothing just isn’t appropriate, so let’s not and say we did. 
  • If you wear a skirt, always wear nylons.  Forget comfortable and go with professional and modest.
  • If you wear nylons, please, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, do not wear open-toe shoes or sandals.  In fact, open-toe shoes, sandals, flip-flops and other footwear such as this appear on the “inappropriate” items list of the dress codes of most professional places of employment.


  • Shave.  Unless you have a fully-grown beard or mustache, please shave.  A five o’clock shadow at nine o’clock in the morning is just lazy.
  • Make an attempt to tame your Harry Potter hair.  If your hair naturally sticks up at all angles, and you have done everything to tame it with little to no success, that’s one thing.  However, if you look like you’ve just rolled out of bed…well, I’ve already used the word lazy.
  • Wear slacks or freshly laundered khakis – with a crease!
  • Wear lace-up shoes.
  • If you wear lace-up shoes, you must wear socks.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a well-dressed man come in for an interview wearing no socks!  Do I need to call your attention to that dreaded “inappropriate” items list?  Believe it or not, a lack of socks is considered inappropriate on most dress codes.
  • Wear a button-down shirt.  Ironed and creased in all the right places, please?  If you do not know how to iron, take your shirt to the dry cleaners well before the day of your interview and don’t forget to pick it up the day before!  The cost of dry-cleaning one measly shirt is a small price to pay for looking crisp, clean and professional.


  • Wash.  Wash yourself and your clothes.  There’s nothing worse than sitting in a small room with someone who smells less than awesome.
  • Clean and clip your fingernails.  Yes, believe it or not prospective employers do, actually, look at your hands.  They’ll probably shake your hand, too.  Dirty or ragged fingernails are a small sign that you don’t really care about yourself.  If you don’t care yourself, why should a prospective employer think you’ll care about your job?  Details, people!  Details!
  • Iron your clothing.  Wrinkled shirts, pants, blazers or any article of clothing only shows that you are…oh – there’s that word again…lazy.  No one wants to hire someone they view as lazy.
  • Jeans, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, and sneakers are unacceptable.  Period.


I told you I’d say more on this subject.  I have no issues with tattoos and piercings in general.  Hey, whatever floats your boat, right?  And, not to ooze clichés but, it’s your body and who am I to judge?  Tattoos and piercings are a bit more widely accepted these days, but tread lightly with prospective employers with regard to body personalization.  (Go me with the political correct-ness!)  I’m also not saying you should hide who you are – an employer needs and wants to hire the real you – but until they get to know who you really are, do you really want to flaunt that?  Well…maybe you do.  Maybe you’re a take-me-as-I-am kind of person, and that’s fine.  I guess what I’m trying to say is this is a touchy subject and use your best judgment.


  • Don’t arrive 30 minutes early and sit in your car smoking, or fixing your makeup, or chatting on your cell phone.  If you are there early, go in.  Let the receptionist (if there is one) know who you are and why you are there.  You may even say, “I know I’m early, but…”  Most places of employment have a lobby or waiting room and will encourage you to have a seat inside.
  • Go over your resume so you know it in detail and be prepared to answer for any lapses in employment.  (Keep your eyes open for an upcoming article regarding Master Resumes.)
  • Give a firm handshake.  Don’t present a limp or “wet noodle” handshake.  You can almost guarantee that you will be passed over for another candidate.  Now, the flip-side of that coin is to try not to break your prospective employer’s hand, either.  Many hiring managers base their entire opinion of you solely on your handshake. 
  • Eye contact is always extremely important.  Look your interviewer in the eye as you shake their hand, as you answer questions.  Use caution, however, as too much direct eye contact can be viewed as hostile or defensive whereas not enough eye contact can be viewed as evasive or untruthful.  Easier said than done, but try to find that happy medium.
  • Drive someone else’s car.  I realize this one is a long-shot, but think about it.  If you drive a beater, or something with a smashed rear quarter panel, or something with a hood that is a different color from the driver’s side door, which is a different color than the trunk, what impression are you making.  You know these people are watching you, right?  They’re judging you from the moment you pull into the parking lot and thinking about things they could never say out loud, legally speaking.  So consider borrowing someone else’s car, or possibly having someone drop you off.  This is not to say that once you have been offered the position you should hide what you drive, but just another way to put forth a professional first impression.


Do you really need to send a thank you note to your interviewer?  Not really, but it’s a nice touch.  This is usually reserved for higher-level positions.  Does receiving a thank you note (for your time and consideration) tip the scales in your favor?  Maybe.  Just maybe.