Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Making a First Impression

April 2004.

I was waiting very patiently in the very warm reception area of the main office of a new tech start-up firm near San Mateo, California. I had been living in the Bay Area for a few years now, getting by on some contract jobs that paid very well. But the span of unemployment between the previous two contract jobs was uncomfortably long reaching a point where I had to take an interim telephonic customer service job that was essentially a more professional version of “would you like fries with that?” (Just replace “fries” with “free credit card balance transfer with 0% APR”.) So when a new contract assignment came through, I had resolved to start looking for full-time employment before that contract ended. This San Mateo firm was looking for a Marketing Coordinator, and this was one of the few available “Marketing” job openings in Silicon Valley that didn’t seem like a glorified Sales job, so I had high expectations for this interview.

I shifted in my chair. I can feel drops of sweat rolling down my side under my suit, more from the office heat than nervousness but the sweating was making me more uneasy with each passing moment.

 “Ex… um… Mr. Yukinori?”

I stood up and turned my head toward the distinct Californian accent struggling to pronounce my name, and was surprised to see a petite Japanese-American woman approaching me. Everything about her denoted the word “businesswoman” grey business suit, silk stockings, low heels. Her long dark hair was tied back at the nape of her neck with a simple clasp. The only exception to her professional look was her necklace, a cobalt blue sea glass pendant dangling from a braided black leather rope.

“Mr. Yukinori?” the woman asked tentatively, and in a slightly accusing manner. I was staring at the pendant, and she thought I was looking at something else.

“Oh, sorry.” I stammered, immediately looking up into the woman’s eyes rich chocolate-brown eyes that were very intent on mine. “I couldn’t help but notice your necklace. Okinawan?”

She smiled. “You have a good eye. A gift from my grandparents. That’s where they lived.” She held out her hand and introduced herself, then vocalized her pleasant surprise that I knew how to shake a woman’s hand “properly.” She (and I) had my British education to thank for that.

The tension of the previous moment now evaporated, the woman led me to her office for the job interview. “Have you been to Okinawa?”

“A few times, on family vacations,” I said. “I spent most of my youth trips to Japan in Kokubunji...”

“Koku…?” She obviously didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Sorry. It’s right outside Tokyo.” I was speaking to her as if she had been from Japan herself, I should have realized from her accent that that wasn’t the case.

“I see you are quite the world traveler,” she said, perusing my educational and work history on my résumé. “How lucky. The farthest I’ve been from here is Colorado.” She paused. “So why don’t you connect some dots for me, and explain how some of your past work ties into what we do.”

For the next 45 minutes we had a fairly pleasant yet professional discussion about the marketing and advertising work I had done over the past decade (she did eye me askance as I showed her the advert comps for “Cell-Koh-Koh’s”  NCOFTyM product, asking me if I was “essentially selling a refrigerator to an Eskimo”), as well as what the Marketing Coordinator position would have entailed (and I was right, it wasn’t a “glorified Sales job”). We both agreed that I would be a good candidate for the position, but there would have to be a “finalist round” of interviews at the executive level first.

We ended the interview with the business card exchange ritual. She seemed touched as I presented my card with both hands and a slight bow (a common Asian practice), which I’m sure helped make up for the fact that my Kinko’s-manufactured cards couldn’t hold a candle to hers, which were expensively produced with raised lettering on eggshell-white stock. The name of the organization and the woman’s first name took prominence conveying a friendly personality to this otherwise professional organization.

Another “proper” handshake and goodbye later, I was walking back to my car feeling very confident. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that there would be no second interview for me... at least not with the organization. And I was completely unaware that I had actually just left the most important first interview in my life.

I started the car and looked at the business card one last time before I slipped it into my wallet.

Namiko. What a pretty name,” I thought.

To be continued.

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