So you come out of your interview, and you breathe a sigh of relief. But you can’t feel properly relaxed just yet. The panel told you that they will let you know the outcome within a few days. Now it’s a waiting game – and although there is nothing you can do to alter the result, you are going to feel anxious for the next few days. The best thing to do is to try and occupy yourself and take your mind off things.

Then, finally, the news comes through. You’ve failed. You feel hurt and disappointed, which is completely natural, but here’s what to do next so that you can learn from your defeat.

Firstly, don’t take it personally. The fact is that museum job vacancies are very oversubscribed, and attract many high-quality candidates. You have not lost out because the panel didn’t like you, or thought someone was ‘better’ than you in terms of their innate qualities and attributes. In all likelihood, the post was offered to someone who simply had more skills and more experience than yourself. Sure it sucks, and I know how much you wanted that job – but the thing you absolutely must not do is let your defeat dent your confidence, and slip into an intractable malaise. Here are some positive things you can do instead:

Descriptive image, a ship in distress
A ship in distress

Ask for Feedback

Really do. It’s the done thing – so don’t worry about seeming to be somehow presumptuous or cheeky. The feedback will also tend to be on the constructive side, so do not be scared of the criticism. In any case, it can be really useful to have an external viewer point out your weaknesses to you, which you can then work on as areas for improvement.

The feedback might also let you know what the successful candidate had which you didn’t – be it experience in particular areas of collections management, qualifications or subject specialist knowledge and expertise. Again, it’s all about identifying areas for improvement and trying to overcome your most important skills gaps.

Do not be bitter and bear grudges

I used to joke that any museum that had ever rejected me in anyway was on my ‘blacklist’. I haven’t been keeping up with that blacklist – and if I had, it would be very, very long by now. As I said above, failing at interview (or not being invited at all) can feel like a personal attack – but it really isn’t, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Don’t ever burn your bridges with organisations or with people – you never know what they might have on offer in the future.

I failed to be invited to interview when I applied to be a volunteer at the National Army Museum, which felt particularly disappointing. But I applied for another voluntary role there a few months later and got it – and what a role it was!

Similarly, my first paid role in the sector was as a Trainee Curatorial Assistant at Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive. Part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme, the scheme took in three tranches of trainees, each tranche for 15 months, over a four-year period. I had been interviewed for tranche two and didn’t get it – and felt truly gutted – but I re-applied for tranche three and have never looked back.

Assess your interview notes

Remember how I told you to take your notes with you into interview, as well as a pen? This wasn’t just so you could recall your pre-prepared answers to expected interview questions. It was also so that you had somewhere to write down any particularly interesting or difficult questions that the panel asked you – especially those ones for which you hadn’t prepared.

A top tip here – collate all of those tricky questions into one place. Work out answers to them, using the STAR technique etc. Regularly review this centralised document, so that it’s always fresh in your mind – and add to it after each interview you attend.

Engage with the panel over social media and Linked-In

This might seem a bit of a brazen move, but I think it is absolutely fine to treat each interview as an opportunity to build your professional network. Remember that you should have prepared lots of questions for the interview panel. That will let the whole process become something more discursive and less like an examination. You will have learnt sector-related things from the panel and they from you. The next step is to re-enforce those acquaintanceships with a little follow on Twitter or a little invite on Linked-In.

Decorative image, First World War soldiers fighting in a trench
Fall back, re-group and fight another day

Find out who got the job

While I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to ask for feedback from the panel, the sad truth is that they might not always give you quite as much detail as you might like about why they chose somebody else over you. Sometimes they might even just be lying to you. Here’s what to do:

Wait for a couple of months. Jobs with ‘immediate starts’ are very rare in the museum sector. And you’ll also have to wait for the victor to update their linked-in account. When they do (and you find it via some savvy googling), you can have a good riffle through their profile, and see what they have which you don’t. Sometimes too you can spot an inside job, where signs of personal connections between the victor and the hiring organisation or its staff might put the whiff of suspicion about nepotism in the air.

Be kind to yourself

I didn’t give you permission to sink into a prolonged period of self-pity, but it’s absolutely fine to be sad. Do something to cheer yourself up. Arrange to see a friend, head to the pub or the cinema, or treat yourself to some chocolate. You’ve been through a tough time.

Another suggestion I’ve heard from an old colleague is to maintain a ‘happy box’. Keep anything in there that might cheer you up. It could be pictures of family, friends or pets, prizes and certificates, print-outs of particularly glorious tweets, old love letters, mementoes from previous conquests, or a bag of emergency Percy Pigs. Whenever you feel those ol’ blues coming on down, just pull out the box for a bit of affirmation that you’re a good person, and reminder of every time you’ve had fun, achieved something brilliant, felt loved or got lucky.

Claim back your travel expenses

Not every place will oblige, but in my experience, something between a third and a half will oblige – but often the onus is on you to ask. Please do so – because who doesn’t like money?


2 thoughts on “Interviews: Part Five. Coping with failure

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