Thursday, he received a positive response from one of the applications, with an interview scheduled for the following Monday. No word on the Executive Assistant position. He tried to stay positive and finished the day with two car sales. It was amazing what a little advertising followed up with good sales technique could accomplish. The next morning, he received a decline notice on the other local position. That meant he was 50/50 on the two he’d had replies from, but no word on the one that intrigued him. It was hard not to feel down and like maybe he wasn’t up to the task, but he got back to looking for used vehicle inventory. A little before five o’clock he got an email with a positive response on the position that, to his surprise, he’d found himself most excited about. Maybe he could salvage this summer and get started on a real career after all. He had an interview the following Wednesday.
Dan tried to hook him up with a date that weekend, and he went along with it. He remembered the girl from high school. Dan had always thought she was good looking, and in Bailey’s estimation she was, but she scored low on the intelligence scale, and seemed to be perfectly content staying right here in her hometown and accepting whatever kind of life worked out for her. Bailey went home thinking that was pretty much the opposite of what he wanted in his next relationship. But then he found himself unable to answer the question: what was it he wanted in his next relationship?
He’d lived through six months since Morgana decided he wasn’t making the grade and ended their relationship. The further away from the breakup he’d gotten the more he could accept that a lot of what she had said about him was probably true. She said he’d grown distant and seemed to have trouble making decisions outside of his schoolwork. She’d often come in and find him staring off into space. She said he had no motivation. It was like they were moving into their own worlds, and while she wanted an active social life he was less and less interested. She complained he was spending too much time on Facebook with his classmates, time he could have spent with her. Back then he hadn’t had time to sort it all out. He had classes to attend and grades to get. Sex had seemed to be reduced to when their separate worlds occasionally came together.
After the breakup he’d forced himself to go on one date, but it was pretty much a bust. He felt like he was comparing the girl to his ex all night long and wondering if he could measure up since he hadn’t been able to meet Morgana’s expectations. The biggest surprise of all was the two times he was approached by other business majors that he’d gotten to know in his Facebook group and was asked out on dates. Somehow, he’d completely missed that they were gay, but he wasn’t put off by it, and hadn’t realized they were “dates.” After all, his dad had been gay… or at least he’d always said so, but there had been never anything gay to see. No dates, no relationships, no gay anything. So, it seemed theoretical in Bailey’s mind. However, he’d been taught that being gay was just on the normal spectrum of human sexuality.
Both of those dates went well. He’d gotten along with the guys, they had enjoyed the time together, even if he hadn’t been attracted to them. But then at some point he’d had to explain that he wasn’t gay but that he was really complimented and enjoying the time together. And, of course, there were no more dates after that. They remained Facebook friends, but that was all.
The first interview was for a local steel fabricator, and the position was assistant to the comptroller. He felt uncomfortable from the start when most of the questions were about the number of accounting courses he’d taken and why he hadn’t majored in accounting instead of business management. He knew why—he wanted to do more than count numbers all day long. It was also clear that there were other candidates with accounting degrees, so he left knowing not that it was a long shot, but a no shot. As he drove home, he told himself this was exactly why he didn’t want to stay and wanted to leave. He’d been down enough last year and had to get beyond that. He didn’t need a tedious dead-end job to give him a paycheck and make him feel worse about himself.
Tuesday, he kept telling himself that Monday’s outcome wasn’t a failure, but a mismatch of skills, just like he’d recently told Annabelle about selling cars versus running an auto repair shop. Dan called that evening to wish him well, and over dinner Annabelle and Flynn gave him a nonstop pep talk. It was almost too much, but he knew it was well intended and that they wanted the best for him, so he went along with it.
When he pulled up in front of the address he’d been provided, he observed a new two-story wing with a main entrance that connected from an obviously older and larger main building. Behind that building he could see a construction crane moving steel beams and a lot full of other construction equipment and material. Clearly there was enough prosperity in this business to warrant some kind of expansion. He was early, and after checking in with the receptionist he sat in one of the comfortable chairs in the lobby. After ten minutes he observed another man who looked to be in his late twenties exit the elevator accompanied by an older lady. She escorted the man to the front door, and while he watched them shake hands, he heard her thank him for his time and tell him that they would be making a decision by the end of the week.
Bailey looked away so as not to be caught listening in on their conversation, but when the motion of the older lady moved from the front door, he glanced toward her. She walked across the lobby to the receptionist and exchanged a few words, then turned toward him. He met her eyes and stood to greet her as she approached with a hand outstretched.
“Mr. McKenzie. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I understand you were early.”
He smiled at her and heard his dad’s voice in his head about the early bird catching the worm. “Yes, ma’am. Isn’t there some saying about timeliness is next to godliness?”
She smiled back. “My name is Alicia, and ma’am was my grandmother. And you are correct about punctuality. It continues to amaze me how many people don’t understand that being late shows a lack of respect for the person being met as well as for the meeting or the organization.”
Bailey still had a smile on his face and said, “You’re not telling me that some interview candidates are late, are you?”
“Sadly, I am, but I’ve noted you were here ten minutes early, and Mr. Chambers will be pleased to learn that as well. He’s our new CEO, and I presume you understand that the position you’re interviewing for is as his assistant?”
“I do. It was quite clear in the list of responsibilities in the job description.”
“And you don’t have a concern about a position like this? The responsibility that goes along with being the assistant of the Chief Executive Officer?”
She’d waved her arm toward the elevator, and they began to walk that way. “Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had some concern about it, but I started out as assistant when I was twelve, so I’ve got years of experience.”
She waved him into the elevators as she said, “Do tell.”
Bailey felt momentarily embarrassed about saying too much, but heard his dad’s voice say, ‘tell it like it is,’ so he answered, “My dad had a used car lot in Auburn, and I started helping him out when I was twelve. He taught me how to sell cars and how to purchase inventory.” He glanced at her and saw she was listening closely, so he added, “I sold my first car when I was twelve.”
She stared at him. “Is that a fact?”
“Well, yes,” he replied. “I mean, I sold the customer on the car, but my dad had to close the deal and do the paperwork and the loan because… well, I was only twelve.”
The elevator dinged and the doors opened, and Alicia waved her arm to the right. “Am I to assume from that experience that you can sell ice to Eskimos?”
“That’s not what I’m trying to imply. You asked about being an assistant to the boss. That’s what I was. That’s all I was. But it included some selling and my earliest memory of being my dad’s assistant back then was selling that first car. Well, helping to sell that first car.”
Alicia pushed open the door into a suite of offices and said, “I will say I haven’t heard that claim before as a candidate’s earliest business experience.” She smiled and her eyes twinkled as she said, “Have a seat here for a minute and I’ll let Mr. Chambers know you’re here.”
Bailey sat and hoped he hadn’t said too much. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. He looked around and admired the architecture and design in this section of the new wing of the building. It was clean and modern with lots of glass and an open feeling. It looked only a year or two old, judging by how crisp and sharp the furnishings appeared. He was starting to assess the offices and cubicles when he saw Alicia approach and say, “Mr. Chambers is ready for you. Right this way.”
She walked him across the waiting area and into the corner office which had a desk and a good-sized conference table. On one side of the table sat a man with moderate length black hair who looked to be over six feet tall, and who appeared to be in very good condition.
The man stood as Alicia said, “This is Bailey McKenzie,” and then he replied, “Thank you, Alicia.” He was at least six foot three, two inches taller than Bailey. As Alicia turned to leave, he shook Bailey’s hand and said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Everett Chambers.” He pointed at a chair across from his at the conference table and added, “Have a seat.”
Bailey sat and watched for a minute as Everett looked over his application again and then the man’s hazel eyes looked at him and said, “So, you sold your first car when you were twelve years old.”
After a moment of shock, Bailey smiled and said, “I don’t remember including that on the application. But Alicia was asking me how I felt about the job I’m here to interview for, about being concerned or intimidated about being an assistant to the boss, and I told her I started being my dad’s assistant when I was twelve. That was when I sold my first car.”
He saw a smile form on Everett’s face and heard him say, “Tell me about that.”
So, he did, just as he’d told Alicia. Now, though, Everett had lots of questions about the jobs he’d done, how he managed assisting his dad and going to school. That led to his extracurricular activities in high school, then his university decision, his choice of a major and when he asked about work experience Bailey explained how he’d sold cars and also held down a part time job each summer that gave him business experience.
Everett had been making notes and looked up and said, “So, this job is full time and if you’re the candidate we hire, how is your dad going to get by losing his assistant?”
Bailey swallowed and then said, “That’s not… I mean it’s not a concern. My dad died of a heart attack right when I started college. His used car business had an auto repair shop on it and the mechanic took over the business, and I’ve worked for her each summer.”
“Really? A woman mechanic? In central New York?”
“I guess it’s not common, but my dad knew what he was good at and what he wasn’t, and he hired a good mechanic. He didn’t care if it was a woman. I told her just a couple of weeks ago that he understood core competencies.”
“Well, Bailey, I’m sorry to hear your dad died young. That must have been traumatic. But it’s commendable that you kept working there, kind of maintaining the continuity.” He paused and then said, “I will say that most young people your age don’t talk about core competencies. Now, let’s talk about the job responsibilities and how your education and skills match up with the requirements.”
The rest of the interview was more of a discussion, led by Everett who was very good at open-ended questions. They covered his course work, then dove down into his Excel capabilities, where Bailey got to explain his familiarity with more advanced functions like concatenation and creating graphs. That led to questions about advanced functions, which allowed him to describe projects he’d done using macros and pivot tables. They spent quite a bit of time on his PowerPoint capabilities like building slide decks and importing financial data and video, because as Everett explained he would depend on his assistant to create many of his presentations to senior staff and to the corporate board.
When Everett seemed satisfied in his technical abilities, he said, “How would you say you’re prepared to handle special projects and interact with other company executives?”
“I guess I’d have to know more about the project and what the executives needed, but I’m pretty good at delivering on time and it takes a pretty big requirement to intimidate me.”
“Why am I not surprised to hear you say that, since you sold your first car at twelve?” Everett grinned as he said that, then glanced at the clock on his wall and added, “We’ve got to wrap it up. Well, Bailey, I’m impressed at the experience you have. One of the other candidates is around thirty and you seem to have as much capability even if not employment experience. At any rate, I’ve got two more interviews to do today, so we need to conclude. Thank you for the time and the engaging conversation. Alicia will be in touch with you in the next day or two about our decision.”
Bailey drove home feeling very positive about the vibe, the subjects they’d discussed and the personal connection he felt with Everett Chambers. He second guessed himself, but ended up deciding he’d done as well as he could.
As expected, Annabelle started quizzing him immediately after she got home, and that was the main dinner topic. Dan had a date, but that was the first thing out of his mouth when they met up the next evening. That and why he didn’t have a date? His answer of not being ready was starting to feel lame even to him. However, he’d had a great day selling cars, and turned the conversation to that subject.
Monday, he received an email informing him he was being asked back for a second interview the next day. When he arrived, he saw the other candidate he’d seen at the first interview in the parking lot getting into his car. If he was back for a second interview, the field had narrowed, but was it just him and one other candidate? Alicia answered that question straight away, telling Bailey in the elevator that he was one of two being asked back.
“This is a first for me, you know. Is the second interview to cover material that was missed the first time?”
She smiled at him and replied, “Usually it’s more like a sanity check, to make sure that your first impressions were correct. This is an important hire for Mr. Chambers, and we discussed all the candidates after last week’s interviews, but he wants to be sure. You should feel good about being one of the two asked back.”
He assured her he was, and she led him to Everett’s office where she showed him in and Everett pointed at the same chair as before and said,” Thanks for coming back. Take a seat.” Bailey was struck that he was being thanked for returning, when they were doing the hiring, not him!
Everett had a few questions on a list that mainly further explored subjects they’d discussed in the first interview. Then Everett set the list down, leaned back in his chair and looked directly at Bailey and said, “Now, I want to know about you. What do you want to do in your life? Where do you want to go? What do you want to accomplish? And, while you’re at it, tell me why you should get this job.”
Bailey started answering, and felt like he stumbled at first, but then realized it was because he’d been asked to answer questions about himself personally. Those were areas he usually avoided or limited to a set of standard answers. He decided quickly that if he got the job then Everett was going to find out some of this stuff sooner or later, so he should be open. Not too open, but open enough. He felt like he could trust Everett.
He described going to high school in Auburn and struggling with coming home after he graduated from university, and that he wanted something bigger for his life than Auburn seemed able to provide. When asked about interviewing on campus during his senior year and why he hadn’t taken any of those jobs, he found himself explaining about having to tie up loose ends, like his dad’s house, and being there for Annabelle during the summer when most cars were sold.
Everett seemed to appreciate the answer, but said, “Couldn’t you have helped Annabelle find a replacement for you and hired a real estate broker to sell your house. I was promoted into this job from another of our companies on the west coast. I had to rely on real estate brokers. You didn’t have to physically be in Auburn to sell the house, did you?”
He paused, being forced to consciously confront that reality for the first time and explain it. “I had a tough year. I broke up with my girlfriend at Christmas. We’d been together almost four years. It was a lot of effort to focus and get through school and graduate. I just felt I had to come back and tie up loose ends, you know, take care of business before I could move on. Does that make sense?”
“It does. It’s your life, and only you can make the best decision for you and your life. I’m curious because it seems to me that most people wanting to move on from the town they grew up in would have looked for and taken a job without returning. But you’re you, and they’re your decisions. Seems to me there’s more to this story. Still, what matters, though, is that I’m hiring for this position, and I want the best candidate. And I don’t want to do it again in three or six months. This town is only fifteen miles away from Auburn. Why would you want to work here if you don’t want to stay there?”
Bailey paused again, then said, “Well, this is this and that’s that. I mean, that probably sounds stupid, and yeah, it’s another town and it’s not far away, but it’s not the town I grew up in. And this is a completely different business than I knew about growing up there. I mean the biggest employer is the state prison and my other interview last week was with a steel fabricator. This company makes medical equipment. It’s part of a multi-national corporation. That’s a completely different situation, and I’m excited about it. To be honest, more excited than I first thought I would be. I was impressed after the first interview, and I want to work for you. I told you that I worked for my dad till I graduated from high school. I promise you that if you hire me, I won’t be leaving anytime soon.”
Everett was quiet, watching Bailey. He clearly was thinking, and finally Bailey softly said, “Is that a good enough answer?”
Everett smiled. “It is for me. The net of the job, Bailey, is that I’m the new CEO here and I’ll be on the road and out of this office half the time. I need someone to help me succeed at my job and keep it together when I’m not here. That’s where the coordination with other execs and the communication skills come in. I can find a lot of people to help me prepare financial reports and build slide decks. But it’s finding someone I can trust and who has their shit together, who can take the long view and keep the ship on course when I’m not here that matters most.”
Bailey swallowed hard. This wasn’t what he expected to hear at all. It was too candid. Too honest. Too personal. He didn’t say anything, though, just waited.
Everett never broke eye contact with him, and then he said, “You’ve got the job if you want it. There’s something about you I really like and trust. You may not have years of experience, but there’s something about you, like you’ve got an old soul! I’ll let you sort the hiring paperwork out with Alicia and Human Resources. Can you start next week? That would be Tuesday after the July 4th weekend?”
Alicia had smiled knowingly when Everett walked Bailey to her desk and said, “He’s accepted the position. Will you walk him through the HR hiring process?” Then he turned to Bailey and extended his hand. “I’ll see you next week. I’m glad you’re available that soon and don’t have to give two weeks’ notice. Alicia will get you sorted with HR, and there’ll be a new hire orientation on your first day, then we’ll get to work. Sound like a plan?”
Bailey nodded and replied, “Sounds like a great plan to me.” Everett turned and walked away, and Bailey looked at Alicia. She was still smiling. “I knew you’d be the one he hired. You got him with selling your first car at age twelve.”
“God, I hope I don’t let him down.”
“You won’t. I’m pretty sure you won’t. Now, come on and I’ll take you down to HR and we’ll get the new hire paperwork completed. It won’t take long.
On the drive home he found himself alternating between being thrilled with what had happened and the new job he had, and wondering why in hell he’d done this since it tied him down fifteen miles from Auburn. As if that wasn’t enough, he’d promised Everett he wouldn’t bail out and that he’d be in for the long run. What he’d committed to was almost the exact opposite of what he’d told himself he was going to do when he came home for the summer.
He was cooking dinner when Annabelle came in. “Well?” She sounded excited for him.
He turned trying to suppress the grin. “Well, I have till Saturday to find you a car salesperson.”
Annabelle’s face broke into a huge grin, and she almost jumped up and down. “You did it! You got the job. And it’s a good one too! You’re going to go places, Bail. Your dad would be so proud of you.”
Bailey smiled back. “He would be, and I’m pretty happy too. Now I’ve got to figure out how not to screw it up.”
“You’ll do fine. Don’t you worry about that. Will you put an ad in the paper tomorrow and do one of those online job opening listings for me? I don’t know how to do them. I want you to take this job and be a huge success, but I also don’t want to lose the busy season for car sales.”
“I’ll do it first thing, and I’ll screen and interview the candidates for you, so you don’t have to do all that up front stuff, if you want.”
“Perfect. Now, this calls for a glass of wine. Have we got any good stuff, or just the box wine?”
They were sipping wine and waiting for Flynn when Annabelle said, “Have you told Dan?”
“No, he won’t be home from work before Flynn gets here. I’ll call him after dinner.”
Dinner turned into a celebration of sorts, and then Dan was elated when he learned the news. “Great news. My best friend is not bailing out and leaving the area. So, I have to ask, now that you’re gainfully employed, do you want to look at that apartment? You don’t want to keep living with Annabelle and Flynn, do you? It’s kind of like living with your parents, you know.”
Bailey paused, being forced to think through a second implication about getting hired. He’d committed to the job and to Everett and to seeing it through. That didn’t mean just working in the area, it also meant living here too. “I hadn’t gotten to that yet, still riding high on getting the job. I guess you’re right, though. I need my own place if this is long term. Is that apartment still available?”
“I’ll let you know in three minutes.” The line went dead. Three minutes later his phone rang, and it was Dan. “I talked to my buddy, and he called his uncle and it’s still available, but a couple of people are looking at it. He says we should book it down there first thing tomorrow morning, if you’re serious.”
“I guess I have to be serious, don’t I?”
“Geez, Bailey, you make it sound like a death sentence. It’s fucking renting an apartment, so you have a decent place to live while you make a success of your new job.”
“Right. Sorry. It’s just that I’m only starting to get used to the change in plans. Will you go down with me in the morning since it’s your friend’s uncle?”
Dan said he could get into work late, and by noon Bailey was the proud possessor of a one-bedroom apartment. It had appliances, but was unfurnished, so the next morning he planned on buying a couch and a TV, a kitchen table with chairs and a bed and dresser. Those were the bare necessities, but it was enough to get started.
Friday afternoon the furniture was delivered, and it dawned on him that a few more things were needed. Like bedding, towels, pots and pans, etc. He put that off till Saturday since he had a salesperson interview to do in the afternoon. He’d already had one, and the guy had been a flake, which was somehow no surprise. It was used cars, after all.
The person that arrived in the afternoon walked stiffly, and that made Bailey wonder. He appeared to be in his forties and dressed well. Bailey greeted him and started interviewing him for the job. It felt odd to be interviewing someone almost twice his age, but he soon found out the man defied appearances. He’s been a long-distance truck driver for twenty years. Two years previously he’d had an accident on the job that fractured his pelvis and required a hip replacement. That ended up putting him on disability. Now he was back to functional according to his physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon. “So, I need a job since I can’t go back to driving trucks, and I figure one selling cars and trucks is right up my alley.”
“How’s that,” Bailey asked, “since you drove big rigs?”
“Oh, I should explain. I restored cars on the side. I’ve kept two of them, but the rest I’ve restored and then sold. See that blue GTO in the parking lot?” The man pointed to a shiny and nicely restored 1967 Pontiac. “That’s one of the two I kept, and my favorite. Anyway, I restored them and then sold them. So, half of what I did was sell cars.”
“But they were pretty special cars, not like run of the mill items we have here?”
“They were mainly muscle cars, but also older classics. But still, selling cars is selling cars. You want to have a decent product, and then match the features of the car with the desires and needs of the customer. Besides, I was hoping I could put one or two of my restored cars on the lot each year. That’s better than using Craigslist, and might bring a different kind of customer onto the lot.”
They talked a while longer and Bailey said, “Have you got a problem working for a woman?”
The man looked at him with a wry smile. “I work for one at home.”
Bailey smiled back and said, “I don’t own the lot, I work for the mechanic who owns the lot and the auto repair business in the rest of the building. I’m working here this summer to help her out and I start a new full-time job on Monday. Let’s go and I’ll introduce you to her. She may think this is an interesting deal.”
Annabelle did and by the end of the day she had a new car salesperson. Bailey agreed to spend Saturday and Sunday morning showing him the basics of the used car business operation, and then went shopping in the afternoon. By Sunday evening he’d moved into his new apartment and was sleeping on clean sheets. He had a free day on Monday for the 4th and was ready to start a new job the next day.