Do’s and Don’ts of Cubicle Etiquette

Image Courtesy of Squidoo

Image Courtesy of Squidoo

If you are working in a cubicle, a little bit of common courtesy mixed with common sense can go a long way to creating and maintaining a healthy work environment.  When you think of spending your work hours in a cube, remember you are similar to the animals at the zoo.  Anyone in the area can see, hear, and smell whatever you are doing.  Think about what you really want to share.

If you are on the phone,  assume that those around you can hear everything.  Keep your conversations professional.  Step outside or to a private area for personal conversations.   Your coworkers should not have to listen to a fight with your spouse, the medical symptoms you are sharing with the doctor, issues with your finances etc.  Keep private, private.

Assume they can also see everything you do.   Do not rearrange your underwear or pick your teeth.  Step into the restroom or a private space to do anything you would not want a group to see.  Also think about what they see in your space.  Family pictures and sports items are likely fine but be careful of photos showing unprofessional behavior or interests. Be careful not to have things that show you are not working such as that stack of catalogs.  Avoid clutter in your cube.  Also do not build a collection of dirty dishes.

Cubes also do not block smells.  Be careful not to have a heavy hand with cologne.  Fish from last night’s dinner may be an easy and healthy lunch but others may not appreciate the smell.  Be mindful of your colleagues.

If you live in a cube at work, everything you say and do is noticed by others. Be cautious about what you are showing them.  Pay attention so you can project the most positive, professional image possible.


Leveraging Your References

References are an expected part of the hiring process.  A job applicant should be prepared to provide references when requested.  Usually it is a good sign if you have advanced in the process to the point that they are checking references.  There are a few key considerations when preparing your references:

Identifying Your References

  • Identify people who can attest to your skills and capabilities on the job.  You should expect to provide at least three references.  They do not want to talk to family members or your best friend!
  • Ideally you will have at least one former manager.  It is common to not want your current manager to know you are looking for a new job so think about former managers at other companies, a manager from the current company who may have moved on, etc.
  • Think about references in terms of the job requirements.  If the job requires you to manage others, include someone you managed.  If the job requires significant cross-functional collaboration include a colleague you worked with on a cross-functional initiative.
  • Provide your list of references with names, titles, companies and both email and telephone contact information.  Be sure you have confirmed the contact information.  Include a note about context, maybe the person now works at company Y but was your manager at company X.   If it is someone you managed, be sure to note that.  Give the person calling your references enough context to ensure success.

Preparing Your References

  • Contact your references in advance.  Let them know you are job seeking and ask their permission to use them as a reference.
  • Verify their contact information.
  • As you feel you are getting close on a position, let your references know.  Tell them about the position, the company and the specific skills you want them to emphasize.
  • The more you prepare them, the more helpful they can be.

Anticipating Informal Reference Checking

  • Most hiring managers realize that applicants will only share references who will say good things.  Therefore, many hiring managers will reach out to informal references.  Who do they know at the company?  Who do they know on Linked In who knows people at the company or who knows you?
  • Because you did not hand select these references, the hiring managers tend to trust the responses.
  • I once interviewed for a job with a manager whose husband worked at a previous employer of mine.  I heard from several former colleagues that he had reached out to the entire department at that company seeking feedback.  I did get the job but they have more than a dozen testimonials from informal references prior to making the decision.

Reference Logistics

  • Most hiring managers prefer to speak with the references.  They may use email to schedule the call but a conversation is the best option.  People are more inclined to share more in a conversation than they would put in writing.  It also gives the hiring manager the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.
Image Courtesy of Cartoon Stock

Image Courtesy of Cartoon Stock

Career Change

Career change is common these days but it is how the individual approaches that makes the difference in the results.  For many business people, it involves returning to school to get an MBA.  In addition to the broad strategic framework, leadership skills and targeted electives, there are several other key factors to consider before turning to school for a career change.

Relevant Work Experience

  • Of course you want to identify your transferrable skills and how you can add value in your new field but there are many freshly minted MBAs trying to the same thing.  What significantly differentiates you in the job market as a career changer, is relevant experience in your new field.
  • It is one thing to talk about leveraging your finance skills in a new marketing career but you significantly differentiate yourself when you also offer six months of relevant, MBA-level marketing experience.
  • Look for a program that includes valuable work experience not just an internship project.

Build and Leverage Your Network

  • Networking is the key to success in most job searches but it is especially critical for career changers.
  • Look for a program that provides you outstanding opportunities to meet leaders in business and successful alumni.
  • Does the program provide you a mentor in your desired career field?
  • Will you meet executives on campus?
  • Your two years in an MBA program should be an opportunity to significantly expand and strengthen your network.

Do Your Research

  • Learn what a typical career path may be leading to the position you aspire to.  What is the typical entry point?
  • What skills are critical for success in these roles?
  • What is the typical salary?
  • What companies and industries offer these roles?
  • Utilize your network to conduct information interviews with people in the field and in the companies and industries you aspire to so you can learn the answers to these questions and more.
  • Build a target list of companies you are most interested in.  Start building your network in those companies

Some key considerations in your job search as a career changer:

  • Focus on transferrable skills.  Don’t try to sell them on everything you have done in the past.  Focus on the skills that you bring to this position that will enable you to succeed.  Do you have unique skills for this role?  Why should they hire you?  How will you add value to their organization?
  • Track record – have you already successfully transferred to a new industry, a new department?  Have you learned a new system or process?  Show that you learn quickly, set high standards for yourself and quickly become an expert in your area of responsibility.  You may not have done exactly what they are seeking but if you can show a track record of successful transitions and quickly learning new things, that can be very helpful.
  • Show your passion – let them know why you are so passionate about this opportunity and what you can bring to the company.  Be sure not to come across as the “flavor of the month” but as someone committed to success in this field.  Know the key issues businesses face in this industry.  Do you research in advance so you can ask insightful questions.
  • Know your competition – you will be competing for this position with people who have done this job before.  Sell the hiring manager on the unique strengths and perspectives you bring to the position.

Execute flawlessly – Be sure your resume has no typos or grammatical errors.  Same for your cover letter.  Prepare well for the interview.  Have questions prepared to ask the interviewer.  Be sure to send a hand written thank you note.  Every step of the process you want to stand out and be remembered for positive reasons.

How to Leave a Job on Good Terms

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Image Courtesy of

How you leave a job makes a lasting impression with those you worked for and with.  Since you will likely need a reference from that job at some point in the future,  you want to leave on as positive a note as possible.  It is also an amazingly small world these days and you could easily cross paths with those former colleagues in the future.  Best policy is NEVER burn any bridges.

How do you tell your boss and colleagues you are leaving?

  • Be sure to tell your boss before telling anyone else.  Give your boss the courtesy of letting him/her know first.
  • Be honest without being overly negative or critical.  Tell them a bit about the exciting new opportunity and what you will be doing.  Give them highlights of what caused you to consider other alternatives.
  • Once you have notified your boss, submit an official resignation letter for HR.  State that you are leaving and share the date, not the reasons.
  • If required, schedule a formal exit interview with HR.
  • Thank you boss for the opportunity you have had there and what you have learned.  Ask if he/she would be a reference in the future.
  • Ask how you can best spend your last two weeks – suggest documenting processes and procedures, documenting outstanding projects, training others on the team.
  • Always give at least two weeks notice.
  • Ask your boss if it is ok to tell your colleagues.
  • When telling your colleagues, stay as positive as possible.  There is little be gained by bashing the boss or the company and it could seriously hurt you in the future.

How should you spend your last two weeks?

  • If your current responsibilities are not already well documented, prepare as much documentation as possible.
  • Compile a list of any outstanding projects or issues.
  • Provide a list of where to find critical files on the computer.
  • Organize and label for your files so others can find what they need easily.
  • Work with your manager to identify any training you need to do with colleagues to provide coverage.
  • Coordinate with your boss how you should notify customers or vendors you work with to ensure that they know who to contact once you leave.
  • Don’t leave any personal items in your desk or your office.  Leave your work space clean and well organized.
  • Participate in an HR exit interview if requested.
  • Clarify how you want to be contacted if there are questions once you leave – home email?  Phone?

What do you do your last day?

  • Ensure that everything above has been completed.
  • Turn in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc.
  • Update your voicemail and email with appropriate contact information for whomever will be covering.
  • Address any outstanding questions with your boss and colleagues.
  • Graciously say goodbye and thank you for the experience.

Making the Most of a Relationship with a Mentor

Mentors can provide valuable advice, counsel, advocacy and networking assistance.  They can be a valuable career resource.  Family and friends may want to help but they often lack experience in the field we are targeting and more importantly, they are not objective.  They can’t always provide the constructive and objective perspective that is needed.  Professional mentors can provide support, encouragement and career-related guidance while identifying and maximizing networking and career exploration opportunities.

Most business professionals seek a mentor with more experience so they can learn from their experience or a mentor in a field they aspire to work in.  Open, honest communication is critical to a successful networking partnership.  Being clear about goals of the relationship and agreeing up front on the frequency and mode of communication builds a strong foundation for the relationship.

It is not your mentor’s responsibility to find you a job.  You can explore career goals, seek networking contacts and request advice but do not ask your mentor for a job.  If they offer, it’s fine but the goal of the relationship is to gain advice and insight

Guidelines we share with students to maximize their mentor relationship include the following:

  • Be considerate of your mentor’s time.  Return phone calls promptly and arrive on time for meetings.
  • Seriously consider all advice you receive.
  • Show evidence that you have utilized the assistance they offer.
  • Show appreciation for any and all assistance provided.
  • Be open to constructive feedback and seek it whenever possible.  Do not be defensive.  Be open to all feedback and learn from it.  Seek feedback often.
  • Assume the relationship will be strictly professional.  Let the mentor take the lead in making it more personal if desired.
  • Say thank you often.  Let your mentor know how they are making a difference for you.
  • Look for opportunities to give back -share a relevant article, offer to assist with a new technology, refer a qualified candidate, etc.

Possible goals for a mentoring partnership may include:

  • Expanding my professional network
  • Clarifying my development focus
  • Enhancing knowledge of key functions and industries of interest
  • Understanding organizational politics
  • Receiving feedback on critical skills for development
  • Testing ideas in a safe environment

Read more about mentors!

Overcoming Setbacks at Work

Setbacks may occur over the course of your career but it is how you handle them that can set you apart going forward.

Making Mistakes

As human beings we all make mistakes, we are not perfect.  How we handle our mistakes can differentiate us.

  • Carefully review your work before submitting it to others.  Double or triple check all your data.  Look at it different ways to ensure that the numbers tick and tie.  Build a reputation for providing quality, accurate information.
  • When you do make a mistake, own it.  Take responsibility for your mistake and do not point fingers or assign blame.
  • Learn from the mistake.  Identify ways to prevent that type of error going forward.  Understand what you did wrong and build a process to ensure that you learned from the experience.
  • If someone working for you makes a mistake, use it as a teaching moment to help them understand what went wrong and to avoid the problem in the future.
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Image Courtesy of

Getting Passed Over for a Promotion

It felt like the perfect opportunity but they gave the position to someone else and you are very disappointed.

  • Congratulate the person who received the promotion and ensure them that you look forward to working with them.  Sour grapes will only damage your career in the long run.
  • Get over your emotional reaction and then ask to meet with the hiring manager for feedback.  Seek honest and constructive feedback on why you didn’t receive the promotion and what you need to work on to be considered for future opportunities.
  • Identify a specific plan to develop and enhance the skills necessary to prepare you for future opportunities.  Monitor your progress and hold yourself accountable.
  • Seek opportunities to take on special projects or assignments to increase your experience and exposure.  Demonstrate your interest and commitment.

Getting Fired

Being terminated from a position can be a big blow to the ego.  It is important to pick yourself up, refocus your energy and move forward with your career.

  • Learn from the experience.  If you did not meet expectations understand what you should have done and learn from that reflection.  If it was a cost cutting measure reflect on what you might have done differently to make yourself more valuable to the organization.
  • Focus on the skills and expertise you bring to the table and begin networking earnestly to land you next position
  • Do NOT speak poorly of your former employer, stay positive.

Customer Complaints

If a customer complains to management about how you handled a situation, resist the urge to get defensive.

  • Review the situation and consider how it felt from the customer perspective
  • Brainstorm with your manager other ways to handle the situation in the future
  • Use it as a learning experience
  • Is there an opportunity to follow-up with the customer to make amends?

Not Receiving the Special Project You Wanted

The special project would have given you great experience and good visibility with management but you were not selected.  What can you do?

  • Once you can past the emotional reaction, ask for a meeting with your manager and request feedback on why you were not selected.  Learn what skills or experience you need to bring to the table for future assignments.
  • Update and implement your personal development plan to address these shortcomings.
  • Consider asking for a mentor to help you with your career goals.

Having a setback can actually spur career growth if you handle it professionally, learn from the experience and demonstrate your commitment to delivering results.  Getting emotional can lead to saying things you will later regret.  Stay calm and professional so you can learn from the experience and move forward.

My Boss & I Don’t Get Along

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The hiring manager wades through piles of resumes and conducts multiple interviews to find the best candidate for the job.  The candidate researches the company, asks insightful questions during the interviews, and even talks with networking contacts.  In spite of best efforts on both sides of the hiring equation, sometimes things don’t work out as planned.  What is the employee to do if he just doesn’t get along with the boss?


  • If you sense that things just don’t feel right, pay attention to your instincts
  • Pay attention to when things don’t feel right and start keeping a list, review and identify patterns and issues
  • Consider what you think the issue is and what you might do to remedy the situation
  • Honestly assess your fit for the position as well as your strengths and weaknesses
  • If you know you need to better understand how your role fits in the larger mission of the company, identify that and ask for what you need
  • The more specific you can be in what’s missing the better able you will be to address it

Meet With Your Manager

  • Request a meeting with your manager
  • Do not be confrontational but state that you are seeking feedback
  • You want to understand what you are doing well and what you could be doing better
  • Ask about your fit with the team
  • Ask for specific recommendations on how to make things better
  • If it is clear that there is just a personal issue seek further feedback, maybe you have very different work styles which are in conflict
  • If you are able to identify the problem and brainstorm ways to make things better, give it an  honest try and agree to debrief at a future date

Remain Professional

  • Do not bad mouth your boss to everyone else on the team and anyone who will listen
  • Do not let a bad attitude or frustration impact your work performance
  • Be sure to keep notes of discussion and observations


  • If you have tried talking to your manager and things are not getting any better, consider escalating the issue to HR
  • Meet with your HR contact, share your feedback and what you have done to address the issue, brainstorm next steps

Be Willing to Walk Away

  • If there is an irreconcilable difference between you and the boss, be prepared to look for another position, either within the company or outside
  • Even if the problem is the boss, it often takes time to address those issues through proper channels and it may not be worth it for your mental health to hang in there
  • Think about how to explain your change when looking for a new job without speaking ill of the company or the manager
  • Identify references at the company other than your direct manager before you leave so you are prepared in your job search

Manage  Your Stress

  • Dealing with a difficult boss can be extremely stressful
  • Exercise, get your sleep and do whatever you can to manage your stress level

Try to focus on what you are accomplishing or learning at work without  thinking about the negative impact of your manager, focus on the positive