My biggest interview failure

A good attitude can change any situation

Me, failing again

Let me start by saying that I’ve had many successful interviews. Ones where everyone is laughing so much it almost feels like a catch up with old friends. But things don’t always go so smoothly. I can still remember my biggest failure like it was yesterday.

It took place in London many years ago, after I graduated from law school. After seven years studying I was very keen to start using what I had learnt. I applied everywhere. All the law firms in London knew that I was looking for a job. A few weeks later I received a phone call from one based in Holborn. I could not contain my joy. As soon as I hung up the phone I called my friends, mum, the postman — everybody!

On the day of the interview I turned up to the law firm looking like a flower. I chatted with the receptionist and then waited to be called. After what felt like an age (but was probably five minutes) I was led through to a meeting room. When I entered I was greeted by a panel of three men and one woman. The grilling then commenced:

What qualifies you for this position? How do you respond under stress? Where do you see your career in five years? What decisions do you find difficult to make?

I am naturally a very confident interviewee so I was able to answer all of their questions and not get flustered. But even I wasn’t ready for the next question:

So, where did you learn Mandarin?

Being completely thrown, and partly mishearing the question, I answered: “Oh, I don’t like them.” I thought they were asking about the fruit! My mind raced — perhaps it was one of those weird Google interview questions, maybe we werestopping for a snack — I had no idea what was going on.

They looked at me in disbelief and asked me to repeat myself. It is only then that I found out that the role required fluency in Mandarin and knowledge of Chinese Corporate & Banking Law. We all burst out laughing. Clearly someone in HR had messed up to call a French national who studied in London for an interview.

I learnt two things from this failure:

  1. Research, research and research the company you are applying to and read the job description carefully if you get one; and
  2. A positive and confident attitude will get you out of many awkward situations. Instead of feeling embarrassed I made them laugh and joked about the mix up. I did not look at it as a waste of time.

The second point is very important. Because I impressed them with my positive attitude, one of the partner’s said he could recommend me for a role he knew of at another firm. I applied and got the job.

What was my biggest interview failure ended up being a success. I built and maintained so many friendships at that firm, many of which last to this day. Embrace failure, success is around the corner if you have the right attitude.

Success, Life Lessons, Inspiration, General, Career Advice, Advice

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