Last week I took part in the Cambridge Libraries Conference 2017 where I sat on a panel discussing failure. This is something we don't discuss enough as a profession, probably because it's always a little embarrassing to admit that you've failed at something, but I think it's an important topic to cover.
It's inevitable that you will fail at something at some point in your career, whether this be a job application, project or an interview. If you don't then I would seriously begin to question what has been going on behind the scenes! With this in mind it's only sensible to prepare for it so you can deal with it when it comes. This is particularly true if you are dealing with professional failure. People have long memories and if you handle things badly it could reflect poorly on you for some time and damage future chances.
I was tasked with talking about failure in job interviews. Given my struggles to get a full time job I thought I was quite qualified to take part! I've applied for multiple jobs across Cambridge libraries over the last few years (including jobs that I was already doing on a temporary or part time basis). For one role I applied seven times before I was finally successful! I learnt a lot about applications, interviews and rejections over the course of this process. Below are some of the points I raised and I hope the tips will be helpful.
- It's normal and completely acceptable to feel rubbish if you don't get the job you apply for. If you're not a bit upset then this tells you something about how much you really wanted the job. It's important to acknowledge these feelings and self-medicate with chocolate/wine/Netflix as appropriate. What you mustn't do is allow this part to drag on too long and take over.
- Think about it this way - failure is a by-product of innovation and trying new things. This is something that I heard at IFLA and it's stuck with me. New professionals and those who are really active in the profession are likely to fail more as they get involved in more things and there is nothing wrong with this - it's just about experimenting and finding things out. What your mother told you was true - how do you know you don't like something until you've tried it?
- When you get rejected for a job it's a good idea to ask for feedback. It takes guts as no one really likes having their failures discussed face to face but it's worth doing as you can find out how to improve for the next time. You might even find out that you were the second choice for the role. Whether that makes you feel better or worse is open to interpretation...
- Turn failure into a learning opportunity. If you get the feedback that you lack a particular skill then you know what to work on for next time. Was your interview or application bad? Then try to develop these skills. A lot of this is just trial and error and you will get to grips with it over time. Try getting hold of the job specification for your dream role and develop the skills they are looking for. That way when it comes along you will be prepared.
- Learn to move on. Sometimes no matter what you do there is someone more qualified who will get the job. Does this hurt - yes. Can you do much about it - no. So move on. One of my biggest professional regrets is not moving on from that role I applied for seven times sooner. I got so fixated on trying to prove to myself and others that I could get the job that I ignored other opportunities trying to get a job that I was almost done with it as soon as I got it. It all worked out well in the end but sometimes I think I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.
This is just one experience and point of view of failure. If anyone has any other experiences they would like to share then please let me know in the comments section. If nothing else we can all have a group hug and commiserate together!