Learning from Failure

Failure.

It’s never fun, but failure can be one of your greatest teachers. During my junior year of college, this lesson struck me right in the face.

I really wanted to get an internship. I was studying mechanical engineering, and I knew I needed to have an internship on my resume if I wanted a good job after graduation.

I polished up my elevator pitch, dished out some resumes at the fall career fair, and to my surprise five companies invited me to interview with them. I was thrilled.

I went to the first interview, and the next day was told that I didn’t get the job. I interviewed with the second company. Same thing. And so on for the third, fourth, and fifth companies. In a two-week period, I was rejected by five different companies.

Obviously disappointed, I started sending out resumes online. Eventually I was able to get interviews with two more companies.

This time, I wanted to be prepared.

I got a new haircut. I tried a different suit. I even thought through some of the questions I thought they might ask me (I had just gone through five interviews so I was becoming familiar with the process).

But the results were the same. I received rejections number six and seven.

By this point, I was distraught. I was used to putting in the work, and succeeding. This failure thing was kinda new to me.

 

Luckily, the first semester ended and I had some time to regroup before winter career fair.

Over the break, I really got to work. I was determined to get an internship. I did some in-depth research into companies I thought I might want to work for, and I wrote out detailed answers to fifty of the most common interview questions. I even scheduled a time with the school counseling department to make sure my resume was in tip-top shape. This time, I felt like I was ready to go.

I went through the winter career fair, and received three more invitations to interview. I was confident entering the conversations, and I left feeling great. I knew I had given it my best shot.

But the results were the same.

Now ten consecutive companies had told me that my resume was good enough to consider me, but I wasn’t good enough at interviewing to actually deserve a job. Think about that. Literally ten different companies. That hurt.

One rejection might be a bad day. Two or three might be an unlucky week. But ten? An unlucky year? No. That was on me. I must have been doing something wrong.

Around the same time, I had a stroke of luck. One of the companies I had talked with months ago made a last-minute decision to hire a few extra interns. They happened to pull my resume, and after a quick Skype call offered me the position.

After I miraculously was able to find an internship, I vowed that I would never have another experience like what I had gone through during the interview process. I had to be better next year or I would be stuck doing something I didn’t want after graduation.

 

I started by calling some of the people I had interviewed with, and asking for feedback. I heard some interesting comments.

“We were impressed by you as an individual, but it just didn’t seem like the right fit for our company.”

“Great resume, but your answers to our questions weren’t quite developed enough.”

“For us, it came down to one thing. You didn’t show the same level of passion that we saw in the other candidates. We want people who are excited to work for our company.”

This last comment really stuck with me. It came from a company I had always wanted to work for: Boeing.

Not only were they telling me that I didn’t deserve my dream job, but they were saying it was because I didn’t seem to want it bad enough. But there was nothing I had wanted more. What was I doing wrong that kept my passion from getting across?

I finally started piecing together the different comments, and a pattern emerged. All of these problems came from a single shortcoming on my end. My communication skills were horrible.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skills or passion to work for these companies. I just lacked ability to effectively get these points across.

So the next summer, I took it upon myself to do whatever it took to improve my communication skills. I joined a group called Toastmasters and went to weekly meetings to work on my presentation and communication skills. I took online courses to improve the tone of my voice. I started writing a journal to practice getting my thoughts in order. I read several books on effective communication.

I was relentless in my pursuit of improvement.

 

When I returned to school in the fall, it was game time. I went to the same career fair, and I actually talked with many of the same companies that had rejected me the year before.

But this time it was different. I was able to earn an offer at Boeing for my dream job, along with just about any other job offer I pursued.

The craziest part was that my failure was actually the best part of my sales pitch this time around. I was able to come back to Boeing, and tell them about my shortcomings last year. And how I did everything in my power to learn from my mistakes.

That, along with my improved ability to get my points across, was what got me the job. If I hadn’t struggled the previous year, who knows if I ever would have had the opportunity to work at Boeing.

 

Failure is a part of life. If you’re working hard and pushing yourself, you’re going to have many failures. That’s guaranteed.

The key is how you respond to this failure.

Do you just accept your limitations? Do you blame others? Or do you do something about it?

Failure can be your greatest teacher. It gives you the opportunity to rise up when others crumble. But you have to be willing to accept your shortcoming and do what it takes to improve.

Exercise

Now I want you to think about your own life.

What’s the most recent failure you’ve had? Think about school, sports, family, etc. There has to be something you’ve failed at.

In the comments section, explain how you failed and how you can use this experience to improve.

-Brandon