The stars had aligned: a Temporary Assistant (TA) position was advertised in a unit where I had previously worked at as a consultant. I knew I was a strong candidate, who filled pretty much all the requirements for that 9-month staff contract. I had done excellent work for them in the past, and knew everybody in the team, except the new boss.
I was excited with the prospect of making the transition from sporadic consultancy gigs to glorious full-time UN staff member. In fact, I had already began fantasizing about my new office and how I would decorate it...
I was so sure I would get the job, that I didn't even bother preparing for the interview, which I thought was going to be only an informal chat anyway. Little did I expect to be sitting in an interview from hell, being bombarded left and right with tough questions. I was especially surprised when asked, "What kind of job do you see yourself doing in 5 or 10 years?"
I looked at my interviewer for a few seconds in utter disbelief. How could he ask me something so ridiculous when I was obviously desperate trying to get my foot in the door of the UN system? I must have translated this thought into a more diplomatic response, which pretty much meant that I saw myself working at UNICEF in the long run, no matter what kind of job I had. Not satisfied, he continued fishing out for specifics of the posts I wanted to have, when, where, why...
Not surprisingly, I didn't get the job in the end (although I was soon vindicated because the person who eventually got hired sucked big time). But this was an increadible eye-opener for me. Yes, preparing for job interviews was a clear lesson learned. But most importantly I came to see that I was so busy trying to get a job that I never gave it too much thought about building a career.
Of course you never really know where you will be in 5 or 10 years... but you need to be aware of your professional profile - your likes, dislikes, your abilities, your weaknesses. Being aware of these things will help you be more selective in your job hunting. At the same time, it'll help ensure a good match between work and doing what you love (and are good at).
This brings me to an important career advice I've learned from this experience: even when you (think you) have limited options, be picky, follow a common thread, and close a few doors.