Using current failure for future success

Q: I went for two interviews for a senior position recently. I was down to the last three, and the second interview was very gruelling. Unfortunately, I got word today that I didn’t get the job. Any lessons I should take from the experience? (Louise, email)

A: It’s an excellent question, and perhaps never more timely given the current high level of competition for jobs.

Too many people just walk away from an experience like that and learn little or nothing from it. We would advise you to write some notes under two headings: 1. Things I did well, and 2. Things I could have done better.

Make sure to compliment yourself for what you successfully achieved in the interview. Sample entries here might include: convinced them of my passion for the job, got across my qualifications and experience, and displayed the versatility and personal resourcefulness required to make the step-up to this position.

Under Things I could have done better, be very honest. If you felt you waffled too much, list it: if it’s a niggling you, chances are you may need to tighten up your communication style. If you felt you used bad examples to illustrate a point, note it too, and resolve to use better ones next time around.

If you felt you didn’t apply your experience to the job at hand, but talked too much about previous jobs, that should be recorded as well. Whatever you feel is relevant should be included in the debrief.

I would recommend keeping that information in a safe place – ideally, on your PC – so that it’s there for you when you go for your next interview.

I would recommend also that you contact the company, and ask for any feedback. They may not give it to you – some companies are notoriously shy about this, given the possibility of litigation. Assure them you want the information purely for self-development, not a court challenge.

If they give it to you, it’s a bonus: if not, at least they may remember you as the candidate who really wanted to learn. You’d never know when a job might come up in that company again.

Finally, I would drop a note to your contact person in the company, thanking them for the opportunity to challenge for the job, and wishing them – and the successful candidate – every good fortune in the future. You could say the whole process whetted your appetite to work for the company and you look forward to applying for future positions that may arise.

Dealing with a dream question

Q: Last week, I was asked in interview about my ‘dream job.’ It really threw me. I blurted out something about a job that would challenge me at various levels, but I wasn’t convincing. How could I have answered that question in a way that would have helped me get the job? (Tony, email)

A: I can imagine how a question like that would throw you off kilter.

If you feel comfortable using humour, you could say that you grew up wanting to be Ponch from CHIPS, or MacGyver, but didn’t have the points. That may raise a chuckle, and, trust us, if you’ve ever spent a full day interviewing people, you’re grateful for every chuckle.

If you’re not comfortable with humour, don’t try it. Either way, you will get to the point where you have to answer the question as best you can.

The bones of the answer you’ve outlined above sound pretty good to me. Ultimately, your dream job might well be the one that challenges you at various levels, as you say.

Show that you always want to be challenged in work, you want to achieve, and you want to do a good job.

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