Careers

Jon Hamm says he learned everything he needed to know from blue-collar jobs

Award-winning actor Jon Hamm hasn't always been the toast of Tinseltown: He spent nearly half of his professional life in service and menial jobs in Missouri, where he grew up.

"Recently, I realized that I'd crossed an interesting threshold," he tells Davy Rothbart of Wealthsimple, an online investing service. "I've now — just recently — been working as an actor for longer than I worked as a waiter and bartender."

In his teens, Hamm started as a busboy and dishwasher at a Greek restaurant before working his way up to a waiter.

Yet the St. Louis native wouldn't change anything about his first blue-collar jobs, he says: "Working in a restaurant is a good life lesson for anybody. My friend used to say that no one should be able to work in Hollywood if they haven't worked in a restaurant."

Actor Jon Hamm
Frederick M. Brown | Getty Images
Actor Jon Hamm

Beyond learning how to cook and keep a clean kitchen, he picked up critical soft skills, such as "how to be nice to people and to ask for help when I need it," he says. "You quickly learn what a difference a little bit of kindness and common courtesy can make for people."

Hamm, who is best known for starring in "Mad Men" as Don Draper, says these soft skills are applicable to any career: "It's important to know how to treat people, and to learn how to respond when someone you're working with is having a bad day.

"Understanding other people's problems — that's the cornerstone of the service industry, and it's essential as an actor, or whatever field you're in."

Actor Jon Hamm, winner of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for 'Mad Men'
Actor Jon Hamm, winner of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for 'Mad Men'

Research backs him up. Studies show that soft skills — your ability to work well with others and communicate clearly — could increase your chances at landing a job. Bosses prefer candidates who they find likable and friendly, and managers pay close attention to communication skills when reviewing an employee.

But perhaps the most lasting lesson Hamm walked away with after waiting tables was about gleaning pleasure from doing things well. "I learned to love work and find meaning in it," he says. "To this day, I like going to work, clocking in and clocking out, the satisfaction of a job well done."

Don't miss: 6 blue-collar millionaires all made this one mental shift and How Jon Hamm developed his remarkably zen attitude towards money and success