The Apple Store Job Fair eBook

A preview of my newest essay ebook, “The Apple Store Job Fair: Don’t Drink The Water, Don’t Use The Restroom,” that is now available.

AFTER BEING OUT OF WORK for a year-and-a-half since losing my help desk support job on Friday the 13th in February 2009, an Apple recruiter offered me a one-on-one job interview at the Apple Store job fair being held at the main campus in Cupertino, CA, later that week. Having worked at a number of high-profile Fortune 500 companies—Fujitsu, Sony, Intuit, Google and eBay—over the years, I desperately wanted to add Apple to my resume as it has surpassed Google as being THE PLACE to work at in Silicon Valley.

Except for one small problem: I had no retail experience.

The recruiter reassured me over the phone that a lack of retail experience wasn’t a problem. Many people got hired from a wide variety of backgrounds to become Creatives, Geniuses and Specialists to work at the Apple Store throughout the world. Someone with no traditional retail experience was preferable to someone who had to unlearn everything they know about retailing. Every new employee receives extensive training before being allowed to work at an Apple Store. Extensive training. The magic words I wanted to hear from any recruiter.

As the Great Recession begun in 2008, many employers lay off workers and hoarded cash as consumer demand dwindled away. The first thing to go—if the business hasn’t jettisoned it years before at the behest of Wall Street—was the training budget. If your job skills aren’t current and don’t fit the job description precisely (i.e., five years in a new technology that came out six months ago), don’t expect to get the job. If you need any training whatsoever to get up to speed on your first day (i.e., asking directions to the restroom), don’t expect to get the job. If you’re out of work for longer than a month, don’t expect to get the job.

Although I owned a first-generation black MacBook from 2006 at home, I had no troubleshooting experience with the Mac in general. The Mac OS X operating system worked so perfectly with the MacBook hardware that I stopped using my Windows Vista PC for everything except high-end video games. Using a Mac meant I didn’t have to become a Mac technician to learn how to use it well, unlike Windows where I did become a PC technician. The Mac worked and worked quite well for what I needed it to do. The idea of troubleshooting the Mac was almost incomprehensible to me.

The corporate environment was a different story. A co-worker would informally train me on the Mac computer, which often meant deleting a corrupted System Preferences file that prevented iTunes from working. (Most companies prohibited users from storing gigabytes of personal music and videos on their work computers, but PC technicians will often look the other way if a hard drive backup wasn’t needed.) Two weeks later I would get laid off from that job, as if I broke an unspoken rule that prevents an experienced PC technician from moving into the light.

A smattering of Mac experience on my resume amounted to nothing useful over the years. No matter how carefully I worded my resume and pitched my Mac experience to recruiters, many hiring managers in the follow-up interviews were often disappointed that I didn’t have the guru-level Mac experience that they were looking for. Never mind that neither the recruiter nor the job description mentioned anything about having guru-level Mac experience, especially for the less than guru-level pay rate being offered. If you’re applying for technical jobs directly at Apple, guru-level Mac experience is a requirement whether or not it’s in the job description.

Recruiters often make unwarranted assumptions about my resume, hoping that I’m a better candidate than what my resume actually suggests. Since I used to work at Japanese companies like Fujitsu and Sony, most recruiters assumed that I spoke fluent Japanese. One recruiter went so far as to arrange a phone interview with someone in Tokyo to test my ability to speak Japanese. Although I don’t speak in either conversational or anime Japanese, I’m well verse in navigating the cultural differences between East and West.

A newly appointed vice president from Japan took over the testing group of the WorldsAway virtual world division at Fujitsu. A Westernized Japanese who spoke fluent English and comfortable with talking to Americans, he took us out to lunch at the Jade Cathay Chinese restaurant on North 1st Street in San Jose, ordering the same hot-and-spicy dish for everyone. I ate everything on my plate as not to offend my host who sat right next to me, although I had no clue as to what I was eating. (My taste for Chinese food these days is steam rice and orange chicken at Panda Express.) The lunch weighed heavily in our stomachs after we came back to the office, like a bad omen of things to come.

He expressed disappointment that none of us were mainframe programmers, the division he previously led that needed more mainframe programmers than virtual world testers, and recounted his glory days of battling IBM for mainframe superiority. This struck the testing group as anachronistic thinking in the rising era of the Internet in the late 1990’s, when Netscape and Microsoft were still fighting for web browser supremacy that was far from over. But Fujitsu was a big company with so many divisions still fighting the last technology war while surrendering the future.

After the vice president declined to renew the contract for my six-month internship, my coworkers gave me a farewell party at the same restaurant. A bittersweet moment when someone wondered out aloud if farewell parties were the future of the division. The answer came a month later. Two-thirds of the division was laid off without warning and security guards escorted everyone out of the building. No farewell parties for them—or for those who stayed.

As for the WorldsAway virtual world, it became the Dreamscape virtual world at Vzones []. After looking through the website, the underlying technology haven’t changed in the last 15 years.

Recruiters stopped calling me about the Japanese-speaking positions after Fujitsu and Sony fell off my resume as I acquired new work experience at other Fortune 500 companies. I sometimes wonder if I should remove all my less than guru-level Mac experience from resume to avoid doing the dog-and-pony interviews for Mac jobs that I wouldn’t get anyway.

The Apple recruiter reassured me again that my technical background—five years as a help desk support technician and six years as a video game tester, including three years as a lead video game tester with responsibility for ten titles—made me a perfect fit at the Apple Store. What he didn’t tell me was not to drink the water or use the restroom.