Career, Work

Getting to Know Myself from My First (Failed) Job Interview

A black notebook with a piece of lined paper on top of it that has "Failure?" written on it

Was my first job interview a failure, or an opportunity for career exploration?

When I was legally allowed to work and ready to become a contributing member of society, I applied to be camp counselor for a kids’ summer camp. Although I was practically a child myself and the only knowledge I had of summer camps came from an old Scooby Doo episode about a haunted campsite, I was offered an interview.

When I stepped into the interviewer’s office, he jumped up from his chair and pointed at me. “Is it really you?” he asked, in awe. “Are you the genius who put down Microsoft Word as her special skill? I’ve never met anyone so qualified and so accomplished. You are now the CEO of the summer camp. Wait, scratch that. I now dub you CEO of summer itself.”

Needless to say, my first interview for that summer camp job did not go quite as smoothly as this scenario (I never heard back from the interviewer), but it did teach me a few lessons about myself and my career aspirations, as well as the surprising benefits of failure. Of course, my experience also taught me about the dos and don’ts of interviewing (come prepared, know about the company, rehearse questions beforehand, etcetera—you’ve heard these all before), but the most valuable lessons I took away from the experience were about myself and my career explorations.

My main mistake was applying for a job I was not passionate about. I was going through the motions and applying to any place that was hiring, just as every other kid in school was doing, without considering my skill set or real interests—something we’ve all been guilty of doing before, and something some students might still be guilty of doing after graduation. When I didn’t hear back from the interviewer, I was not disappointed, nor did I spew the expected self-deprecating adolescent gripes; I was, surprisingly enough, flooded with relief.

And then I realized why: my passions did not manifest themselves in sweaty dodge-ball games or poorly sung cheers or any such summer camp activities, and perhaps that unconsciously led to me bombing the interview, too. I realized I preferred reading and writing, and thrived in environments where I had time to think and reflect. My failure made me realize that I would be tremendously unhappy working for any job that did not provide this outlet for contemplation, or a space to hone my real skills and interests. And so began my career exploration; I started an endless quest for relevant internships and jobs, many of which I managed to obtain (like this one). In the future, even if I decide to change careers, at least I will have this knowledge about myself. Had it not been for that failed interview, I might not have truly thought about and explored what was important to me until it was too late, and not sought out the valuable and enjoyable positions that I did. My failure, in retrospect, was my success.

That job interview, realistically, won’t be the only job interview I will bomb. As someone only starting her career, failure and rejection are to be expected—as is the case for most young professionals. But I greet my future obstacles with open arms, ready to embrace new lessons and awakenings. Who knows where my next failure will take my career exploration journey?