June 18, 2009
Wanted to share a personal experience that has a great deal to do with the concept of “personal branding,” but has nothing to do with Information Security.
Here is some back-story. In December 2007, we bought a fifteen year old home. The previous home owner had neglected most of the maintenance for the past year. One item included in the sale was a 12 year old “hot tub” that is embedded into an outdoor deck. Needless to say, when we first attempted to turn on the hot tub, it did not work. I called the local spa company and they agreed to send a repairman.
It is now about 2 hours past the time that he was supposed to arrive, and a truck comes into my driveway. Out steps a sixty year old man named Jerry. It was clear from the greeting that he gave me, that arriving two hours late did not bother Jerry. He offered no apologies for his tardiness as we walked to the backyard. As we walked, I looked at Jerry’s wrist, as I expected, he did not wear a watch.
Soon after arriving at the hot tub, it did not take long for Jerry to convince me that he was the right man for the job!
He quickly deduced the exact model of the hot tub and told me about the manufacturer’s history of product development. He then told me that when my model came out, he regularly spoke with the lead engineer at corporate, who helped him troubleshoot and resolve specific issues with the hot tubs. Jerry even told me that he diagnosed some problems that they were unaware of, and that corporate often called him and asked him for advice.
It was no time before Jerry had his “a ha” moment. With the combination of a little elbow grease, the reattachment of some wires, and a wave of his magic elecrtical wand – the tub was working again.
I offered Jerry a cold drink and he happily accepted. I told him how impressed I was with his knowledge and efficiency. He gave me some history regarding his personal backgrund. He was a licensed electrician, who became involved fixing hot tubs by accident. He told me that he liked the work because, as he stated, “there are no real emergencies that involve a hot tub.” It was clear to me that Jerry earned a living to satisfy his lifestyle. He liked making his own hours. He was not interested in promotions or additional responsibility. He enjoyed his work.
Jerry was not going to be managed by anyone, and he did not want the headaches of running his own business. He took tremendous pride in his work product and his ability to solve the customer’s problem. You could tell he liked to be needed, and have people depend on him. He had no worries regarding his future, he knew that there would always be hot tubs to fix.
All of these items defined Jerry’s personal brand. The characteristics that comprised his skill set included deep knowledge and expertise, a commitment to customer service, and professional pride. If Jerry was also punctual, he would clearly have his place in the “Hall of Fame.”
Recently, we had another hot tub issue. I called the store, and asked for Jerry, and only Jerry. They told me that it would take a week longer and that Jerry would be by on Sunday morning. I said, “No problem.”
His car pulled up this Sunday at 3:00PM in the afternoon.
Just as I expected.
May 29, 2009
Many times over the past year, we have provided advice regarding developing a public brand and professional image by utilizing social media. Recently, I have been able to see this in action.
(Due to the level of confidentiality involved in the interview process, I can not reveal the identity of my candidate, his blog, or his twitter feed, but the following will serve as a summary of the events that took place.)
The candidate’s career had taken him on a journey where Information Security was not the original function of his employment, but through his own personal interests, accomplishments, and commitment, his position had evolved into the company’s only dedicated information security professional. In his current role, he is well respected by management and has been capable of affecting positive change in both the areas of technology and business process. However, information security had only become his full time job function for the past six years, and some recent changes in corporate direction had caused him to begin searching for a new opportunity.
My client is the Information Security leader for a company that has a sizable commitment to Information Security. Due to this level of commitment, he was searching to hire a Senior team member to assist in carrying out their Information Security initiatives. The key term here is Senior, and the definition as it applied to his team.
The client was pretty stern in the fact that Senior meant having a minimum of ten years dedicated to the Information Security profession. This was a derived from his experiences in leading his organization and what he found to be effective in both hiring and retaining talent in his organization.
Remember – what I believe is not important in this situation. He is the customer, he is the Information Security leader, it is his team, and my job as a recruiter is to carry out his wishes and find the candidate best suitable for him. I have to trust that he knows his organization a lot better than I do, and his experiences hold the key to his success in team building. I also know that if we locate a candidate that meets his criteria, my candidate has a better chance of career satisfaction and longer term success.
Here is the problem – my candidate only was able to demonstrate 6 years of dedicated experience on his resume, and my client wanted a minimum of 10. When I spoke with my client, I urged him to reconsider his stance, and give my candidate credit for the other years of experience when Information Security was only a portion of his job function. In addition to that, the candidate had made us aware of some industry activities that he had participated in, conferences he attended, and his personal blog, He also let us know that he was a guest on a few security related podcasts. As part of our candidate presentation, we referred the client to these resources.
The next morning, we received a note from the client expressing how impressed he was with the candidates written communication skills, his thought processes, and the content contained on his blog and twitter feed. He said that it was possible that his initial impression may have caused him to overlook a solid candidate, and asked us to coordinate an interview and initiate the interview process.
What I can tell you, is that this is purely a case where it was not the resume that opened the door, it was his blogging and his demonstration of his knowledge in the public forum that provided him with the opportunity for consideration.
At this time, we are only at the beginning of the process and a lot is yet to be determined. I will let you know the results in a later blog entry.
May 13, 2009
I found this one on Twitter in HD Moore’s feed. It’s the transcript of a fantastic IRC conversation that serves to remind you: you never know who can affect your career.
May 4, 2009
During the RSA conference I was invited to have dinner by a friend and industry colleague. The dinner was set up by representatives (sales people) from a large software company, which provides software and services to my friend’s company . I think that it is safe to say that the company does between 7 and 8 figures worth of annual business with this vendor, and my friend is a key advocate of the vendor.
From what I understood when receiving the e-mail invitation, my friend was given the liberty to invite industry colleagues and other potential “customers” to this dinner to forge relationships and potentially develop new business opportunities. I believed that I was added to the guest list for some broad perspective of the security market which would have been beneficial to all in attendance.
The dinner was initially to be attended by somewhere between 9 or 10 people, however for one reason or the other – jet lag, previous plans, not wanting to begin dinner at 9PM PST, the final number in attendance was 5. The final roster included me, my friend, his co-worker, and two representatives from the vendor.
The vendor chose a San Francisco favorite, Scoma’s, an Italian/Seafood restaurant located at Fisherman’s Wharf. After a round of drinks, we sat down at a table. It became very evident to me, whom the most senior member of the vendor team was, as he interacted with the waiter, received the wine list, and quickly accepted the role of “table captain.”
The conversation at the table was free and easy. We spoke about our families (even showed some pictures), sporting events, our college experiences, careers, the economy, and other topics. We did not even begin to discuss Information Security, their products, or anything relative to traditional business.
As this was going on, the “table captain” took the reigns and began to order. He ordered appetizers for the table, an extra course of salad for himself, a main course, and selected the wine. As a guest, I followed his lead. Shared the appetizer, did not select a salad, chose a main course within five dollars of his choice, and had a beer instead of wine. As the meal came to a close, he ordered himself a desert, coffee, and asked everyone if they every had port wine – and ordered himself a glass, I passed on dessert and coffee – but took him up and the port wine. I am not really a wine drinker, but I was up for the experience – and at his encouragement, I thought I would take him up on his suggestion.
The conversation continued throughout the meal, and everyone became more relaxed during the time, and people were obviously comfortable. The one single person discussed his current dating dilemmas, one spoke about raising a special needs child, we even touched on the standard no-nos, religion and politics. But that was the level of comfort, it was really a great dinner, until…
The check came!
The table captain left the table at the end of the meal to seek out the waiter and to call a cab. In his absence the waiter appeared and handed me an itemized copy of the bill and stated “Everything else is taken care of. This is for you.”
I did not know how to react at first. There were many items going through my mind, but I chose to just stare in disbelief for the first couple of moments. My first inclination was to go to see the waiter, and pay for the entire check – just our of principle and make the “table captain” feel uncomfortable, my second thought was to just reach in my pocket, pay cash, and leave on my own, the third option was to refuse to pay, and create more discomfort. The remaining three other people, including the person who invited me, were obviously uncomfortable and this created a very awkward moment.
After the awkwardness subsided, I reached for my money but was interrupted by the other member of the vendor team. Obviously embarrassed, he reached to his wallet and paid on the corporate credit card. It was also obvious to me how embarrassed my friend who invited me was. He remarked to me after how impressed he was on how I handled the awkwardness of the situation.
As we waited for the cab, the “table captain” returned to an much different table. The subject of business took hold and I can tell from the reaction of the two “customers” they were not nearly as engaged as they would have been, if the “table captain” would have just paid the entire check. The actions of the “table captain” gave off the impression that he was only concerned with people who could make him money. Personally, I think this spoke loudly for his character and I believe that I would reconsider sending any additional business in his direction. But that is just me!
There are a number of things we can learn from this. First, if you are going to invite someone to dinner, the expectation is that it is your meeting and you are going to be responsible. Second, it is always a good idea at a business meeting to follow the lead of the “table captain”. Your ordering pattern should mimic theirs. Third, never take advantage of a good gesture. If everyone is ordering $20 items, do not order the 4lb lobster that costs $80 – that is just rude and says a great deal about your character. Also, think before you speak. Know which topics are fair game to discuss, and which ones are a bit taboo for the subject. Finally, never make anyone feel insignificant. In the situation above, if the waiter produced five separate checks, I would not have had any issue. However, singling me out made me feel like a second class citizen, even though throughout the dinner I was treated like an invited guest.
Just remember, people are judging and evaluating you in many different environments. Your are always interviewing.