Blue-Collar Advice For Success In A White-Collar Career
My daddy was a tug-boat captain. He didn’t go to college and he never worked in an office. But Daddy had down-home wisdom that he passed on to me. His lessons are as plain as the khaki uniforms he wore to work, and I am constantly surprised that so many people never learned them.
I spent my career in the staffing business, and over the years, I’ve met hundreds of people who needed some blue-collar educating if they were going to get what they wanted in life.
“Keep your mouth shut,” was one of his keynote lessons.
As soon as I was old enough to talk, Daddy started telling me about the times I shouldn’t. This worked to kept me out of all kinds of sticky situations.
Keep your mouth shut ~
when you’re about to bash an old boss on a job interview.
I was interviewing an executive assistant for my client. She seemed to be a good fit for the job. Then she explained to me that her old boss was immoral. “I went into his office one day to drop some papers, when he’d stepped to the men’s room. I saw his computer screen. It had pornographic pictures of women on it. I was so shocked that I told him I was sick and took the rest of the day off.”
I asked if the boss ever did or said anything off-color to her? No. Did he ask her to go into his office? “No, but I did. And I saw it. And he is immoral. And I certainly don’t feel obligated to keep his secret.” Each and levied a harsher judgment.
Keep your mouth shut ~
when you don’t know what you’re talking about.
It’s so simple that you’d think everybody would have gotten the message. But, no, they didn’t.
Mary, for example, proved she didn’t get the message when she interviewed for a job at Bendix Aerospace. Bendix had once made kitchen and other appliances, but hadn’t in many years.
JO, the office manager, never wanted a candidate to leave feeling bad about the interview: “I give every person I interview a packet of information on our company. Even if I know I wouldn’t hire them, I do it so they leave feeling good.”
It was a nice gesture that was generally met with appreciation, until Mary came in. As Jo explained, “When I offered her the packet, she flipped her hand up and said, ‘I don’t need it. I know Bendix makes refrigerators, and that’s all I need to know.’”
(Actually I knew they were aerospace, but thought they still made refrigerators too. I kept my mouth shut.)
Keep your mouth shut ~
instead of telling people your personal business.
“Baby,” Daddy told me, “if you don’t want the boss minding your personal business for you, keep your mouth shut about it.”
I explained this to countless candidates who, on job interviews, blurted out all kinds of personal, and unsolicited, information, about their commutes, children, husbands, divorces, illnesses, and personal problems.
The HR manager was just about to make a job offer, and told the candidate information about the company including that the hours were 8:30 to 5:00. Instead of keeping quiet, the candidate mused aloud:
“Oh. Yeah… okay. Well, my children have to be at school at 8:30. That means they will have to eat breakfast, then be at the bus stop…”
The HR manager asked him, “Does that mean you can’t be there at 8:30?”
“Oh, no,” answered the candidate, “My wife will get them off. I was just thinking out loud.”
By the time the candidate called me, I’d already heard the story from the manager. All I could say was, “You could have had the job. Why didn’t you leave your kids at home?!”
“You can’t be judged for what you don’t say, so keep your mouth shut.”
Some people couldn’t be helped. I was interviewing a woman who started telling me, in graphic detail, about her divorce. “It was terrible. My ex-husband wouldn’t leave me alone. He called me at all hours. When I wouldn’t take his calls, he came to my home and kept me up all night fighting. It was awful! It was like he was a stalker. That’s why I left California and moved here.”
I asked, “Was he actually stalking you? Are you afraid he’ll come here and torment you?”
“Oh, no,” she said, “He’s still in California and has a new girlfriend. He hasn’t called me in three months.”
In that case, I told her she didn’t need to go into so much detail. “Stop talking about him. You’re presenting a problem that no longer exists to a prospective employer.”
She said, “Well, it is part of my history and you never know…. He could break up with her and start calling me again.”
Even Daddy couldn’t help some people.
Here are some other times when Daddy said you ought to, “Keep your mouth shut”:
When you ought to be listening.
When the folks you work with are gossiping.
When other people are complaining about the boss.