My biggest interview failure

A good attitude can change any situation

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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.

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