Home and Small Office Networking Guide

Value of Networking + Informational Interviewing Tips

I recently facilitated the ASTD Training Certificate Program sponsored by the ASTD Ft. Worth, TX chapter. One of my participants was a gal named Eileen from California. Eileen is transitioning from Sales Management in the Pharmaceutical industry in to training and development. Eileen will be fabulous – she has excellent business acumen, in-depth industry experience, a natural energy and zest for learning, and great facilitation skills. She was a joy to have in our session!

As I mentioned, Eileen is transitioning into the workplace learning and performance/training and development profession. She’s asking the right questions to gather the information and perspective she needs to be successful. Eileen just wrote me today with a networking update:

“… speaking of networking, I have just learned the valuable lesson of always getting your job search message out complete with your professional objective.

Monday night while sitting around after playing a tennis match, the other members of the team asked about my class that I had taken through ASTD. I raved on about the class and about you. One of the players whom I don’t know very well sat listening intently and then asked a few more questions about what type of job I was looking to transition into. I provided a recap of my past employment, my skills and my goals about breaking into the training and development industry.

She then says to me, “You know, you should speak with my mother-in-law, she OWNS a training and development company”!!! Amazing, huh?”

So Eileen is on the right track to make her transition successful! She now has an informational interview set up with the owner of the training company. Eileen asked me for suggestions on questions that she should not miss asking. Below are some thoughts I shared. Read on, and then let me know what powerful questions you recommend for information interviews?

  • What do you recommend I do to prepare for a position In your company/department should one become available?” Take good notes, then if you are really interested in that company/department, start doing what they suggest!
  • What concerns would you have about hiring me?” or some variation… the goal is to ferret out information that may be holding you back without you being aware of it.
  • Similarly, ask “if you had a position available, why would you hire me?” or some variation – try to discover what the person you are talking with sees as your strengths that you may not recognize (or to reinforce what you know to be true about yourself and to help them see it as well).
  • Be sure to find out about the types of clients they work with, the type of work they do… “Describe a typical day in your job for me.” They likely won’t have a “typical” day, but you want to get a feel for the variety of activities and responsibilities in their work. Of course, if you are talking to the owner of a company that has people/trainers working for them, you may want to modify to “a typical day for your trainers” or whichever position you are interested in.
  • It is always good to ask about the pleasures and frustrations they experience in their role/company. This will help you be realistic about future positions you may land in.
  • I’d also recommend asking the person you are talking with to describe her perfect client, her company culture… all things to help you get a feel for if you’d want to work there or to help you narrow down the type of work you want to do and the type of environment in which to do it.

I hope these questions help Eileen. As I said, she is well on her way to a successful transition into my beloved profession.

We all need a little help from our friends via networking, informational interviews, and thoughts on how to prepare. What tips do you have for informational interviews?

Tips for Securing Your Network

When computer networks were isolated within the walls of offices, an Internet connection was a luxury and not a critical component of business functions. That has now completely changed for businesses that rely on computers to acquire and deliver services. Customers, business partners, remote office locations, and mobile workers expect connectivity to your office network. This interconnected nature of networks opens doors to new levels of productivity; and to threats that can disrupt business.

Securing your network should not be an afterthought; it just makes business sense. The benefits of a secure network are numerous:

It is more reliable, has fewer problems, and consequently costs less to maintain.
It improves productivity across all your stakeholders: customers, partners, and employees.
It protects your investment in bandwidth by controlling abusive use and unwitting hosting.
It lowers your exposure to legal and regulatory action.

In this article I highlight numerous tips for securing networks. This information was gleaned from research of published industry best practices and tips from government sites, such as the FCC, and from our own experience in supporting business networks.

The tips presented here can significantly enhance your computer network security. Do note, however, that no one can guarantee absolute security. You need to carefully balance the requirements for implementing security with proper investments in time and money, while keeping business objectives squarely in mind. These tips are organized into a few key strategies.

Employee Education and Policy Strategy

Provide Security Training: All employees, includes managers and executives, should be educated on basic security practices and how to protect sensitive business information. Establish policies and rules, including penalties for violating them, on how to protect sensitive data and make training available on a regular basis. Topics include: whether and when to use Web for personal use on office computers, instant messaging, social networking sites, streaming video and music, if and how company monitors Web usage, prohibited activities, tips for safe browsing, common techniques used by hackers and how to avoid falling prey.

Use Strong Passwords: Passwords are the most common method for gaining access to network resources. Unfortunately, they are also easy to hack through the use of automated tools. Train staff to use their passwords as they would their home keys: don’t leave them lying around and don’t share them. Strong passwords typically use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols, are at least 8-characters long, are changed every quarter, and differ significantly from previous passwords.

Regulate Access to Information: You probably don’t want to give everyone full access to everything. The judicious use of network user groups and permissions ensure network resources and data are available on a business need basis and that the Administrator account is only provided to trusted resources and executives and used only when necessary. Many line-of-business applications support roles, such as Sales, Operations, Accounts Payables, etc. to provide access to data they maintain on a business need basis.

Internal Network Strategy

Implement Backup and Disaster Recovery Procedures: Core business data is the lifeblood of any business. Implementing a multi-level backup procedure; image, file and folder, and offsite, is a simple way to protect critical data. Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) appliances take this a step further by helping you quicken server recovery in case of failure. Testing your backups periodically is an important component of any backup strategy.

Implement Desktop and Server Virus Protection: These software solutions have been around for a long time and they continue to evolve as threats evolve. Keep your anti-malware software current and its definitions current.

Patch Desktops and Servers Regularly: Security vulnerabilities in the operating system and in applications are regularly addressed by reputable software vendors. Take advantage of them. Keeping security patches current from your software vendors protects your computer from known attacks and vulnerabilities. Again, there are centralized patch management tools that make the process less time consuming.

Centralize Computer Administration: By implementing a server and applying a group policy across computers, you can standardize the process and save each user the time it takes to implement configurations one computer at a time. There are tools to centrally manage virus updates, security patches, desktop firewall, permission groups, and other security features.

Secure Physical Access: Do not overlook the physical location of your critical network infrastructure. These should be accessible to trained and trusted employees. Keeping this infrastructure secure in a locked room or server closet will reduce inadvertent or fraudulent access or change to network.

Secure WiFi Access: WiFi access to the network enables even mobile employees to be productive. Data, as it travels over the air is typically less secure than when it travels over wired networks. Information traveling over the air is at risk of interception. Use wireless data encryption protocols to ensure that data is encrypted during transit from source to destination to protect against risk or interception. Also, setup wireless access point for guests on a separate subnet so they can access the Internet but not your network.

External Network and Perimeter Strategy

Consider Outsourcing Email Services: Corporate email has become mission critical for businesses of all sizes. If you do not have a mission-critical application support infrastructure internally, consider outsourcing your email infrastructure. The widespread availability of such solutions from key industry vendors makes these affordable. And you can leave the worry of securing and maintaining such infrastructure in the hands of those that do it 24×7.

Secure the Perimeter: Connecting your network to the Internet allows you and your employees to gain access to valuable data and be productive even when on the run, but it also exposes your network to attack from intruders. Most small businesses use consumer grade routers/firewalls to protect the edge of their network that is right behind the broadband modem. Though these devices have grown in functionality, they aren’t equipped to handle the perimeter security needs of a business. With business grade routers/firewalls/UTM (Universal Threat Management) appliances, you gain a powerful hardware platform that provides ability to filter malicious traffic and spam from the outside, receive regular security updates, provide secure remote access, implement intrusion detection and prevention services, and prevent infectious code from executing from trusted but compromised sites.

Stay Informed and Vigilant: There are numerous industry and government sites dedicated to network security. Stay informed as data and practices continue to evolve. Business-grade UTM appliances are designed to be monitored remotely from security operations centers and to send reports and alerts that may need attention.

Request Links to Related Resources

If you found this topic of interest, I encourage you to request a list of additional resources you can download at no cost. Simply email: info@rcare-solutions.com with the words “Network Security Tips” in the Subject line.