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Great career advice that changed my life!

career advice

Raymond (Hoffman) may have the skills, but car salesman Charlie (Cruise) would be the one that nails the interview and gets the job. Speak up!

Great Career Advice

I feel very fortunate to have received some great career advice over the years. I thought it might help others out there, and hopefully, folks would share some advice that they received. Some of the best career advice I have received was in my Corporate America years.  This advice came after working with 5 or 6 managers and having a job or two prior. This is advice that the prior managers didn’t bring up to me and is advice I think about to this day. The advice that was given to me was from my immediate manager:

“Speak up, I am not a mind reader.  If you don’t speak up, I can only assume you don’t care, don’t have an opinion or any ideas.”

I share it here because I think this great career advice is critical to both the job interview process and your career.   It is a key component to managing the interview process, your manager, and your career.  If you don’t say what is on your mind, how can you expect a hiring manager or your direct manager to know what you are thinking?

Honest with me and set me straight

This wasn’t advice for a specific situation, it is timeless, evergreen and career advice I think about to this day. My prior manager could have given me the heads up but MZ had the courage to set me straight. Yes, I have since gone back and thanked her for the professional courage for telling me “whats up”.

Some perspective: I come from a background where you don’t speak until you are spoken to and you do not ask for anything. One aspect of this philosophy significantly impacts my professional life and I go into more detail below. The other side of this philosophy impacts my social life. If I go to a friend’s house, I won’t help myself to a Coke in the fridge. I wait to be asked if I want something to drink. When I am asked if I want a Coke, I decline the first two times. This neurosis stems from a society that is very polite and doesn’t want to cause any trouble. It comes from a society that historically didn’t have anything. You declined an offer of food or drink because the person making the offer probably couldn’t afford to give you anything. If they could give you something, it wouldn’t be much, so this way, your host “saved face”. You saved your host from being embarrassed and looking poorly.

Translated into the workplace

I never asked for extra work. I did the work I was given and from a metrics standpoint always scored in the top few percentile points. I thought I was doing a great job but I wasn’t getting the cool new projects and would watch what I thought were lower performing co-workers receiving more opportunity. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe the plight of a guy who knew no better. I was the guy that was a great soldier but would never be asked by management to provide an opinion because it was assumed I didn’t have one.

After an annual review in which my metrics were praised and I was told I was doing an amazing job, I got hit with the real deal and I DO NOT think it was because my manager recognized a cultural difference. In retrospect, if she did think it was a cultural difference, working in corporate America, she probably wouldn’t have brought it up for fear of being misinterpreted and then sued. This wasn’t a race thing, she wanted to push me as in individual and I am grateful to her.  

“Nasty, I think you are one of the smarter guys in this department. Your performance indicates that you know how to maximize your time and the tools. But I do not know what is going on in your head or if anything is going on up there at all. You never make a suggestion, you never comment on anything, and you never agree or disagree with anything. If I didn’t know any better, I would think you don’t care about this department or your career.”

WTF is this!!??  You just gave me great marks and now you insult me? Is this sandwich feedback with only one piece of day old bread?  Seagull Management? This is more like a Shit Sandwich without the bread. Do you think I would busting my ass to perform at this level if I didn’t care????? I felt like Raymond from Rain Man. Intelligent, but viewed as a dumb ass that should be wearing a football helmet. Regardless of performance, I would be viewed as an imbecile. I was not going to get the girl.  (I mean the opportunities and projects)

I went home more bitter than sweet. Great review, but the feedback crushed my insecure and naïve little boy mind. After going home and thinking about, I had an epiphany.  I don’t ever ask for anything. I especially do not ask for more responsibility and I won’t give my opinion until I am asked for it. This is especially true around elders or those considered senior or with more experience than me. It was the way I was raised. It was ingrained and all I knew. In the world I came from, if and when I mastered whatever I was doing, then, and only then, would I be given more responsibility. Being given more responsibility was the reinforcement that one had mastered the current responsibility. You didn’t test for a Black Belt, you were given one when you were ready. It was the ultimate compliment. I didn’t need an atta’ boy and I wouldn’t think of asking for one. Those senior to me would determine when I was ready, and I would keep trying until I was acknowledged. I came from a world where you never ask for praise. Think Tiger Mom, think Southern Gentleman, think introverted or shy. All are candidates for this great career advice.

Corporate Translation: In this newly exposed Corporate World, the way to get more responsibility was to ask for it or show interest. Simple as that. Whether you are doing well or not, not asking was a sign that you were not interested. No need giving special projects to someone who isn’t interested.

Street Translation: (Warning, this is going to sound sexist as shit but I want to give an example beyond work that folks can relate to.) Lets say I am hanging out with someone I really like and am I think is someone a Long-Term Relationship is a real possibility with. If I do all the right things, I will forever be in the dreaded “friend zone”.  If I open the doors, pick up the tab, bring presents when they are sad, and agree with everything they say including they have a tiny ass. . .  Friend Zone. Yes, the above sounds good on paper, but all that effort won’t get you running the bases. First, second, and third base are getting felt up by the Rain Mans fast-talking brother played by Tom Cruise who is making moves. Until I vocalize that I care, give a damn, have an opinion, and maybe even stand up for an idea I believe in, I will continue to strike out. I need to say I am interested in this potential mate or I will never leave home plate. Friend Zone.

You want me to volunteer my opinion before it is asked of me? You want me to present my ideas without being asked of them? You want me to disagree with someone senior to me when I feel they may have missed something? 

“Ohhh, you want me to be pro-active and do what I can to further the company, the department, and my career.”

The above sounds absurd now as I read it, but to this day, I remember that day and am grateful it came later rather than never. The company I work with now is 10X more culturally diverse than the Fortune Company mentioned above, and the guy I report to is sensitive to the differences. In the same way, I have had to adopt, I am fortunate he has appreciated different backgrounds and makes adjustments for me.  This is what great leaders do.

HR is asked to be sensitive to different cultures, but at the end of the day, if you want to be successful, you need to speak up. Not all managers have the professional courage of MZ, my manager at the time. Cultures/companies have different rules and if you want to play in the National League as a pitcher you better be ready to swing a bat, and yes, get on base.

Looking out for number one doesn’t mean you have to be the selfish ass. You are doing your manager and your department a favor when you volunteer your skills, give your ideas, or show an interest/volunteer for projects. If you wait for someone to ask you, you will probably be waiting a long time. You will always be in the Friend Zone.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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