How to Talk About Your Client in Public

October 13, 2014

[caption id=”” align=”aligncenter” width=”400"] Photo Credit: TechTarget™[/caption]

I recently came across a post on Linkedin from the SVP of People Operations at Google. I thought the following point was important:

Mistake 4 = Confidential information. I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. While this candidate didn’t mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that’s what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5–10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.

I see it all the time. I actually see it less in resumes than I do it in client meetings.

“We’re working with the big airline that starts with U.”

“It’s the big mac company.”

You’re not kidding anyone. And you never know who knows someone at the big mac company.

Check the Rules First

I wonder when I hear people be transparently secretive about the company they’re working with whether they’re boasting about the client. I’m certain it makes the work seem more important if you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it.

Nearly 100% of the clients I work with have rules. There are probably 99 different rules so it’s important to actually figure out what you’re allowed to say and what you shouldn’t. As pointed out above, follow the rules.

Separate the Company from the Project

Most of the clients I work with — when you sort through all the legalese — really want you to not share what you’re doing with them. You can say you’re working with Pepsi, but you can’t say what you’re doing for them. Likewise, if you want to talk about the project, you should talk about the project details and skip the “blue soda company” or any beverage company for that matter.

The Idea of the Reference

Most clients want to know you have project experience and industry experience. They want to know that you’ve done work at banks before. They also want to know you know the technology they are going to implement. Our instinct is to say “we’ve done the exact same project for…” When the answer should be “we’ve done this project for some of your peers too.”

You’d Think Security Consultants Would Be Better

Working in the information security industry, you’d think we’d understand the privacy of our clients projects. It’s a competitive industry and these examples occur all the time. (Of note, those working on security breach cases seem to be the exception.)

If we talk about our client’s projects, what else are we talking about?