Second Chances

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

This truism was, predictably, repeated during the WITI Summit. In my experience, it’s (fortunately) not entirely true.

When I was in college, my dad was covering my basic living expenses and my tuition was covered by scholarships. But I still needed a bit of walking-around money, so I sought flexible, part-time work, preferably something that did not involve long, late hours of being on my feet.

My major marketable skills at the time were reading, writing, and typing, so it made sense to interview with a small printing company in downtown Austin that was looking for someone to learn electronic typesetting and word processing. This was around 1983, when both of those activities involved clunky, expensive, dedicated machinery, and the rest of the printing work was done traditionally.

I interviewed with an office manager not much older than myself. I have no recollection of that interview, but it ended with a standard, noncommittal “We’ll let you know” – and then I didn’t hear from her for days. I knew I could do the job as she had described it, but I also had the uneasy feeling that I had not impressed her. Having spent my teenage years in boarding school in India, I had little experience of working, let alone interviewing.

Unsure of the etiquette of these situations, I finally called and asked her if a decision had been made.

“We’d like to look at some more candidates,” she laconically answered. It was clear that she did not have any other candidates to interview right then, but she didn’t want me even as an alternative to no one at all. At that point, I had nothing to lose.

“Look”, I said, “I’m really bad at interviewing, but I know I can do this job. Will you give me a chance?”

She did. And I was great. And they loved me. And what I learned there set me up for my later jobs in desktop publishing, then CD-R and technical documentation, and…

So, yes, first impressions are important. But a bad one doesn’t have to be your last chance, and if a hirer (or potential friend or mate) is willing to look past a less-than-optimal first impact, they might just find that that rough stone contained a diamond after all.

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