The most successful people I know are about 16 years old. One of them has failed multiple grades, the other is three grades below reading level. Both of them are growing up in circumstances that would make the best of us give up. Both of them, at one point or another, have been labeled by society as failures. But both of them understand something most of us never truly embrace: failure is not a permanent state of being, and neither is success.

Before joining the AlphaSights team, I was a Teach For America Corps Member. As a 9th Grade English teacher, I spent most of my time in Mississippi learning from my students. Here are a couple of the most valuable lessons they taught me, and how those lessons apply to AlphaSights candidates.

Lesson 1

It was Jamal’s third time in 9th grade, and everybody knew it. I would catch other students teasing him in the hallway, my colleagues would roll their eyes when his name came up, and even Jamal’s mother referred to him as a failure during a parent-teacher conference. It was true; Jamal had failed multiple times. But he knew something no one else seemed to: failing doesn’t make you a failure. Failing is an opportunity to learn how to succeed. Jamal jumped at his opportunity. Refusing to accept the label of failure, he mustered an internal strength everyone told him he didn’t possess, and earned his way to the 10th grade.

Lesson 2

ShaMeka entered my 9th grade English class reading on a 4th grade level. During the first month of school, we sat down together and set an ambitious goal: ShaMeka would increase her reading proficiency two grade levels over the next 10 months. She worked tirelessly, and when May rolled around, I was thrilled to announce she was reading on a 6th grade level. Instead of the joyous reaction I had expected, ShaMeka looked at me with her thinking face on in full-force. Quietly, she said, “that means, if I keep growing two levels every year, I can catch up by graduation. I can get to a 12th grade level.” ShaMeka had just accomplished something extraordinary. But she had already moved on, because she understood that accomplishing a goal is a measure of success, but it doesn’t make you successful. Constantly demanding more from yourself makes you successful. ShaMeka recently called to let me know that she is reading on a 7th grade level - but more importantly, she is closing in on 12th.

How to Make the Team

As a member of the People Operations Team, I am constantly thinking about how we can help our People - and through them, the firm - be more successful.

The first step toward this goal is finding the right People to join our team. As interviewers, one of the most important qualities we look for in a new teammate is the embodiment of what it truly means to be successful.

The ideal new teammate won’t come into an interview and attempt to hide past failures because, as Jamal taught us, to be successful is to embrace failure as temporary, learn from it, and move yourself in the right direction. Therefore, the ideal new teammate will explain how they’ve recognized something they could do better, reflected on how to do so, then got it done.

The ideal new teammate won’t come into an interview and recount how they’ve been successful because, as ShaMeka taught us, being successful has nothing to do with past achievement. Being successful is what happens between one achievement and the next. Therefore, the ideal new teammate will explain what they want to learn or accomplish next, and how AlphaSights fits into their plan to make it happen.

*Students' names have been changed to protect their privacy