Thursday, July 24, 2008

I'll Bet the Rose Still Doesn't Want to Be Called "Fred," No Matter How It Smells

I had a phone interview with a recruiter recently. Even though we'd had an e-mail dialogue beforehand, I still called her the wrong name. You'd think this would have been the kiss of death for my employment chances. But I quickly apologized and joked about what bad form it was and we moved on, and I'm fortunately scheduled to have an in-person interview with the organization next week.

I was quick to handle the gaffe because this sadly wasn't an isolated incident for me; I've had a lot of practice. For whatever reason, I'm just really bad with names. I even called Danelle by the wrong name on our first date, but somehow managed to overcome that faux pas, too.

It's sort of a weird flaw, because I otherwise have a pretty solid memory. I tend to waste the ability on stuff like sports trivia, '80s songs and movie casts, but it sometimes has more tangible benefits. Like helping the Colonie Central High School team retire as three-time undefeated champs on Answers Please. I was disappointed not to see that sweet trophy not still proudly displayed in the lobby when I went back for my 20th reunion, but that's another issue all together.

Back to the name thing -- I do fess up most of the time and try not to fall back on calling people things like "big guy" or "" I think for the most part people can tell when you have absolutely zero recollection of their name. They then get some perverse pleasure out of using yours repeatedly, just to twist the knife a bit. So I try to be up front as often as I can and just come clean with a simple, "I'm really sorry, but I can't remember your name." I've managed to convince myself that candor is better in that sort of already-awkward situation.

That card has no more than one use, though. And yes, there have been times when I've played it and then run into the person later and AGAIN blanked on their name. Then you really have no choice but to fake it and hope for the best. You can't go back to that well twice without looking like a completely insensitive jerk.

Similarly, there are the times when you've known a person too long or had too many interactions with them to confess to not knowing their name. It's not quite the same as having already admitted to them that you don't know it, because it never even crosses their minds that you might not. There was an executive at CBS4 who fell into this category for me. We worked on projects together for years, but enough time passed between each of our interactions that I could never remember her name the next time we saw each other.

Finally, there's an odd category of people who enter my life from time to time whose names I know, and I know I know them. But something inside me won't let me actually utter the name for fear of being wrong. We had an operations guy at the stadium like this. I'd see him, I'd know immediately what his name was, but I still had to sneak a peek at his security credential just to erase that little gnawing sliver of doubt.

I try to build a bank of karmic goodwill against this shortcoming by pre-emptively introducing other people. As in if I'm with Bill and Joe walks up, I'll quickly say something like, "Bill, you remember Joe, right?" Assuming everyone else shares the same affliction somehow makes mine more forgiveable.

I don't know if I'm going to get this position I'm interviewing for next week or not. But hopefully I won't skewer my chances by screwing up the hiring manager's name. I guess it's not like I'm going to ask her to marry me one day or anything, though...

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