Career

I Landed My Dream Job Despite Failure

It’s hard when you don’t get what you want! But failure is a part of life, so use it to your advantage.

One of the most difficult job interview questions I’ve ever been asked is, “What is your greatest failure?” Um? My first response was to freeze and blink stupidly like a deer in headlights.

I was interviewing for a role as a writer on a travel magazine – a dream job at the time. I would be able to visit exciting places and write about my time there (for free!). I’d also have to move from Sydney to Melbourne, so there was a lot on the line. The interview went well, but I felt like it all came down to this final curly question. It stumped me. I asked for time to think (an underutilised strategy in job interviews).

Learning from mistakes

After a moment of thought, it occurred to me in this interview how relieved I was that I hadn’t studied law (for one, at that stage I probably would have been still studying). I was happy, healthy, and interviewing for a dream job that would let me travel and express myself creatively – and all because of one failure, so early in my life.

My answer the interviewer was accompanied by a smile: “In school I didn’t study hard enough to get into law, but that means I’m now doing what I actually want to do.”

I started the job a month later.

The interview, and the question, made me think back over what led me to that job. The key moment – the failure – that stood out to me was accidentally dodging the bullet of studying law.

I almost chose the wrong career

I had difficulty trying to choose a career. In high school I was a great all-rounder. I’d been told that if I worked hard I could take my pick of careers come the end of Year 12. Great, right? But to me, it felt like I was in a supermarket confronted by a hundred types of yoghurt – unlimited choice wasn’t super helpful. When choosing my uni preferences, I listed double law degrees at the top because that’s what you did, if you could.

During my HSC, though, I began to fall for my new career choice. I could totally be a lawyer! I’d won mock trial competitions. Easy. I started to see a future version of myself defending the innocent, shouting in a courtroom, my bank account stuffed with that sweet law-career salary. All I had to do was get the right marks.

Potential doesn’t always equal success

I didn’t work hard enough. My result at the end of Year 12 didn’t get me into a law degree, so I adjusted my career and salary expectations and settled for my third choice. It felt like I had won a consolation prize, derailed the plans for rest of my life, and wasted the opportunity I’d been given.

“I didn’t study hard enough to get into law, but that means I’m now doing what I actually want to do.”

I have friends from high school who did the work they needed to, and made it into law (hooray for them). Many were happy with their study choice, and some are still happy in their work today (while some hate law, oops).

I now know that if I’d made it into a law degree, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. I wouldn’t have had nearly the creative freedom or paths to expression that I find essential in my job. As this different person, would I be happy? Would I have found satisfaction in lawyery work? (That’s a legal term.) Would I have dropped out of uni? What would all this mean for who I am today?

Failure can be a blessing in disguise

All I can say is thank god I failed. In that alternate reality I dreamed up in Year 12, I didn’t see that I’d be miserable as a lawyer. I hadn’t learned that money should never be the primary consideration when choosing a job. It didn’t even occur to me that, as someone more comfortable behind a keyboard than a podium, the constant public speaking of a barrister would probably have terrified me.

If something goes wrong for you, don’t tear your hair out, throw yourself to the floor or wail loudly. Stop and think about why you failed and what it actually means for your future. I learnt that I have to work hard to earn what I want – and I’ve moved on to even better jobs since that role.

Remember, you’re not alone: We all fail from time to time, just like these 10 people who turned failure into massive success.


Mitch is the Editor of The Cusp. Find him on Twitter @MitchBrook and Instagram @Mitch_Brook.