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What undercover police work can teach you about your boss

Former police officer and CBS’s “Big Brother” winner Derrick Levasseur reveals how you can better gauge your boss, co-workers, and even interviewers in his new book, “The Undercover Edge.”

What undercover police work can teach you about your boss

If you’re a fan of the reality series “Big Brother,” the name Derrick Levasseur may ring a bell. He won in 2014, taking home a record $575,000 in prize money.

Now, he’s written a book, The Undercover Edge: Find Your Hidden Strengths, Learn to Adapt, and Build the Confidence to Win Life's Game, describing how he used what he learned in his 13-year career as an undercover cop in Providence, Rhode Island, to beat the odds on “Big Brother,” where contestants are required to live with others who may have differing ideals, beliefs, and prejudices, with the goal of surviving in the house the longest. 

“In a way, the show is a microcosm of our society,” observes Levasseur. “We’re a melting pot of different races, ages, religions, and politics, and sometimes you don’t get to choose whom you’re surrounded by, especially at work.

“People who are able to adapt to their environment and build productive relationships, no matter who they’re dealing with, will be the most successful in the workplace and in life,” he adds. “For me, ‘Big Brother’ was a chance to prove that.”

Monster recently spoke with Levasseur about how his experiences can translate into a smarter approach to your job search and career.

Q. Was there one particular skill from your background that contributed most to your “Big Brother” victory?

A. Not really one skill—it was the entire approach to undercover work, which involves three main components: observation, adaptation, and communication. By understanding those around you, you can adapt how you communicate with them, so they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.

The truth is, some people will help you excel in the workplace, and some will hinder your growth. The key is to know the difference. When you’re trying to figure someone out, you need to identify their ambitions and what motivates them. That’s why there’s so much in the book about how to identify coworkers’ and managers’ underlying agendas, and how you can use that knowledge to your advantage.

Q. Does that require being an excellent listener?

A. It does, including being aware of what someone’s body language is telling you about their real thoughts. But listening with an open mind is also crucial to self-awareness. In many cases, people around you at work will acknowledge your strong points publicly. They will also, at times, give subtle hints, or not-so-subtle ones, about your flaws.

The key to self-awareness and self-improvement is accepting the reality that there are some things you naturally excel at, and other things that aren’t your strong points. Since it’s not always easy to hear about your shortcomings, some people ignore criticism, whether it’s direct or implied, altogether. That’s a mistake. You have to be receptive to both positive and negative feedback if you want to become the best version of yourself.

Q. You write a lot about devising a “personal ops plan.” What is that, and how does it help in a job hunt?

A. Developing an ops plan means deciding ahead of time how you’re going to handle many possible situations, even unexpected ones. It’s repeatedly been shown in lots of different settings to be the best approach to controlling your own fate.

For a job interview, part of your ops plan should include gathering intelligence about the company where you’re applying. What does the company specialize in? Do they have a mission statement? What are their core values? Who is the CEO, and what is that person’s background? What type of people does the company usually hire for jobs like the one you’re pursuing?

This kind of preparation—as opposed to “winging it”—demonstrates enthusiasm, while also giving the impression that you know what you’re talking about. It also lets you tailor your answers to interview questions. Always remember, it’s great to highlight what you’re good at, but if you can talk about how your attributes and experience can contribute to the employer’s overall mission, you’ll be a far more appealing candidate.


Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?

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