Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How I Potty Trained My Way Into A Top Secret Security Clearance

No, don't bring me any references. You're not going to give me the name of anybody that has anything except nice things to say about you.  Just come over to the house and I'll make up my own mind.  - Homeowner, Malibu, California, just before my first domestic staff job interview.

I've noticed that over the past seven years that whenever a domestic agency reads The Domestic Staff Citizen for the very first time, their reactions are divided into two distinctly different camps:

We think it's great that you write a blog... keep it up!


We think it's awful that you write a blog... now stop this immediately!

Both reactions are two sides of the same coin: seeing inside one's head and learning how they think is a good thing to some people - and an awful thing to others. I can only imagine the second attitude comes from a mindset of how those perceived to be as members of lower life stations and castes should behave: children should be seen but not heard.... domestic servants must be invisible at all times...  and other such pecking orders ingrained into our societies about whom is allowed to speak - or not.

As delicious the flavor must be to see oneself having the power of upholding such domination over others and deciding who has the right to express their thoughts openly, the problem is that domestic workers being told to shut up and stand in a corner until called for the interview are then placed within some quite valuable settings... the most valuable and sacred of spaces which should require, I would hope, a thorough examination and knowledge of how said workers behave - which is based upon how they think. This requires, to a certain degree, them speaking, and other forms of communication whereupon one must open themselves to a full, transparent inspection. Ironic.


I learnt at an early point in my working life that work references are also two sides of the same coin. Some people think references are a great time saver: there's just something, I suppose, about if-someone-said-it-then-it-must-be-true, and combined with a signature at the bottom of the page, well, I guess that just seals the deal for many people.

But the wise man on the beach in Malibu whose quote is above, he knew better. He knew that work references are often suspect, because, as he said, no one is going to hand over a reference that is anything less than stellar. And resumes?  The "three second scan," which many agencies and estate employers I've known are proud to boast that's all they have time to spend with one, should pretty much tell you how valuable those are at helping others understand what you can actually do - and why you will or won't do it.

So, then, how should a domestic staff candidate go about selling themselves in our highly competitive job market, in a process by which the only information they are permitted to provide during the grueling process of job hunting is, basically, suspect or ignored?  How do you persuade other people to get inside your head long enough so that "the real you" is easy to decipher and is presented to the employer and their hired agency - so that, ultimately, you can get hired?

There's no easy answers.

But what I did - during my job search of 2010 - was to create this blog, The Domestic Staff Citizen, whose mission, vision, and values can be found here.

My initial thought was that I'd post just a few articles, highlighting my passions for effective team and Human Resource Management, Organizational Training and Development, the promotion of service cultures and being a highly motivated worker - the kind that anyone would want to hire. This thought was based on my early indoctrination that resumes and references can be a disastrously ineffective method of truly knowing someone. I wanted others to actually have a way to understand how I thought - and what I could actually do for them, on their estate.


I think the obverse of the coin is slowly gaining the upper hand, however, as I've noticed a certain uptick in the number of estate employers now utilizing pre-employment personality and character exams. One such testing company advertises that no job candidate should ever be subjected to more than a twenty minute exam, as with anything more, the candidate would, purportedly, then become frustrated, irritated, or some other form of stampy-feet tantrum and simply get up and leave the room, heading straight to another interview that was not so arduous to endure. But I'm not so sure about that; I think that's just their way of saying they couldn't come up with more than twenty questions to ask.

Such was not the case when I joined the U.S. Air Force at age 19, and was on my way to the Security Police Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Over a period of several days, I recall, we were given all the normal physical and aptitude tests one could think of, had several interviews with a variety of psychiatrists to make sure we were the type who could be trusted with carrying assault weapons, and then most interesting of all, were given a battery of psychological exams, including the mother of all such exams - the one that digs deep, and I mean really deep, into the psyche to ensure the person can be trusted with some of the Nation's most valuable information and granted a Top Secret security clearance - necessary in the career field if I were to be assigned to the higher-level security posts which required the utmost of trustworthiness - those of being assigned to guard storage bunkers containing the most valuable of classified resources.

Anyone who's been in the military and in such a position requiring this same clearance, I am sure, has taken a similar exam and will recall the seemingly nonsensical questions asked. Hundreds of them, over a grueling several hours period.  Even after all these years, I still recall the Sergeant who proctored the exam was very clear: don't try to understand the questions - just answer them honestly. Period. Honestly, as in fully so, as in: complete transparency. The exam, we were fully assured, was well structured and designed to go deep into the recesses of our minds and how we thought and behaved in a variety of settings. And believe me when I say - we fully believed him.  

I don't remember most of the questions on that exam, and it really wouldn't matter if I did. The questions themselves were not classified information, nor is the exam the type that anyone could ever study for. Many safeguards were built into the exam by the industrial psychologists who created it, to alert to inconsistencies of thought and approach, so that it was virtually impossible to "cheat."

This exam was the full unveiling. It was the real deal. The only thing I remember now it asking me, perhaps half a dozen times: After a #2, did I turn around and look at it before I flushed?  

The answer for me was: yes.  

And as amusing as that sounds, I'm sure the Air Force didn't really care if I did or if I didn't look before pulling the handle. I do think they were looking for consistency, and if my answer to that question was in line with how I answered many of the other several hundred questions - many just as seemingly perplexing for someone to know. Yet to those who were reviewing my answers, it would all make sense as to how I thought - and if I could be trusted in critical settings.

Know me they did. Full transparency. Full disclosure. Full consistency of patterns of thought. No surprises later - in either behaviors or ability. The type of knowing that any employer would love to have about their candidates - in advance.

And I think you can understand: if the U.S. Air Force was going to put a 19 year old with a M-16 rifle in front of a classified national resource and tell him to protect it at all costs - they were going to make darn sure that person was hardwired with both a stable and mature enough mental constitution to be entrusted with such magnitude of responsibility.

And someone who would know the importance of keeping secrets. Classified Top Secret secrets, to be precise.

The Air Force knew there was a huge difference between someone being open about themselves and their innermost private thoughts - and someone who is a traitor. This critical thinking ability to differentiate between the two seems to be lost on those persons in the second group noted at the beginning of this post, those who imagine that because someone is willing to disclose their thoughts about the importance of Human Resource Management and Organizational Training and Development for domestic service teams - they would also then have a propensity to disclose sensitive information about their employer's personal lives - that information which has been entrusted to them.

As it turns out - people who are hardwired to be trustworthy are, well, trustworthy.


So, to now wrap this all up -
  • I look before I flush.
  • Promoting Human Resource Management in public is not a shameful endeavor.
  • Shortly after my military career, I began working in domestic service, and for the past 28 years not once have I felt a desire to name-drop which celebrity I just saw leaving the house without their lipstick (this type of information seems to be our industry's sad equivalent of a national security breech).
  • Despite some people not understanding the benefits of workers in any career field being exposed to the basic concepts of Human Resource Management and Organizational Training and Development, I continue to express and write about my passion for these and similar topics on The Domestic Staff Citizen, doing so both openly and without fear of someone thinking my blog is some sort of scheme to feed celebrity news to the masses.
  • Resumes and references are both easily faked - and the domestic services industry would do very well to acknowledge this fact and to follow the lead of those organizations who have realized it long ago, and have developed much more reliable methods of examining their candidates and understanding if they are trustworthy of keeping secrets.  
  • And last but not least - never underestimate the value of potty training your children. They just may grow up one day to be Estate Managers.

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