So I finally cleared up a major headache at one of my work sites this week. One of the guys on my team had gotten pulled over on his way into work last month, and when the street cops ran his license, turns out he was driving under suspension! He couldn’t post bond quickly enough to make it into work on time, so he missed a shift and of course that sparked a big HR investigation. They wouldn’t clear this guy to return to work until he had paid off his tickets and gotten his DL reinstated. As if dealing with the DMV and losing out on a couple weeks’ salary wasn’t punishment enough, the kid got hit with a disciplinary write-up on his first day back to work.
But even though this was a serious incident, it’s actually pretty common. One of the biggest mistakes that new guys make is to view security as simply a shift work job. Sure, your actual hours on duty might just be from 7 to 3, 3 to 11, or whatever, but you can’t just hang up this line of work at the end of the day. What you do in your personal life outside of work will have a huge impact on your career, and I feel pretty safe in saying that the most effective ways to commit career suicide are all things that you do when you’re off the clock.
Take dealing with the law, for example. Remember back in junior high school, when your principal said that your discipline reports would all go on YOUR PERMANENT RECORD? Now that you’re grown up, that’s the job of law enforcement. Any time you’re arrested, even if it’s just a citation like a traffic ticket, the incident is recorded and will show up during any criminal background check. It doesn’t matter if you went to court and beat the charges, or had them dismissed, or whatever, the arrest is still part of a permanent criminal record. Personally, if I have an applicant who’s been arrested four times in the past ten years for DUI but hasn’t been convicted for whatever reason, I’m probably going to put someone else in line to get hired before them. Even with no convictions, it just says too much about a person’s character that they would continually find themselves in that situation.
And let’s talk about drinking. Besides scoring a Lautenberg violation for committing an act of domestic violence, alcohol is one of the quickest ways to sabotage your career. No matter how smart of a guy you are, you do some dumb stuff when you’re drunk. And even worse, you and your buddies all have cell phone cameras, and insist on posting your drunk party pics to Facebook and Myspace. Hey, I’m all for going out and having a good time at your cousin’s wedding or bar mitzvah or whatever, but keep in mind that one of the few things that will automatically make you ineligible to hold a security clearance is a dependency on alcohol or drugs. If people are always coming in to work in the morning talking about how OUT OF CONTROL you were at that party the night before, your manager has a responsibility to address that behavior. Remember that when you work in a tight-knit community like the security field, even unsubstantiated rumors have a way of becoming peoples’ perceptions of reality. Even anonymous allegations of substance abuse are enough to prompt an investigation if your position requires you to hold a Top Secret/SCI clearance.
Most guys I know put in at least 40 hours a week at work. It doesn’t make sense to blow all that effort in an instant, so make sure to use your head when you’re off duty in addition to when you’re on the job. Find ways to blow off steam besides drinking. God forbid you should take some college courses or hit the gym every once in a while. But if you do go out on the town with the work crew, be smart about it. Make sure that everyone in the team is looking out for everyone else, and will step in to stop stupid stuff like a bar fight before it starts. Always use a designated driver, and if you absolutely must post those Saturday night pictures to your Facebook account, be sure to update your privacy settings first!
Your behavior outside of work is just as important as your performance while you’re on the clock. No matter how high speed you are, your entire career can be brought down by a few minutes of questionable judgment, even if it happens when you’re off duty.