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I Wanted to Visit San Francisco on Someone Else's Dime. I Ended Up With the Perfect Job. Here's what I learned from interviewing for a job I didn't really want -- but I got the gig, and it launched my career.

By Carol Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Robert Alexander | Getty Images

While I have written quite a bit about my first job as an investment banking analyst, not many people know about the story behind how I got that job. Here's my story and some important lessons learned from the job that I didn't really want for the right reasons.

When I was in college, I took on quite a bit of debt. My father had taught me early on that debt was purely a financing tool, so I knew that I needed to get the best job that I could to pay down that debt quickly. That led me to a few options, including management consulting and investment banking. Because I wasn't someone who liked to go deep into one subject (I was a bit more "A.D.D."-prone), I chose investment banking.

Related: So, You Want to Be a What?

I submitted my resume on campus to the best investment banks around at the time, as well as some of the well-known and regarded boutique i-banks. One thing that I learned as I was going through this process is that if you made it past the first rounds of interviews, the companies would bring you out -- at their expense -- to their offices for a final round interview.

Then, my light bulb moment happened.

I had never been to San Francisco. My blue-collar family didn't really take many vacations, and I really wanted to see the city. So, I figured that if I could get an interview in San Francisco, I could check it out on somebody else's dime (before you "outrage" on the ethics of this, keep reading).

I submitted my resume to a boutique in San Francisco called Montgomery Securities, who selected me for an interview on campus. My plan was set into action until I had an issue come up.

I had a scheduling conflict on the same day that my investment banking interview was scheduled for. I was so determined to get that free trip that I had the nerve to call up the recruiter and explain that I had to miss my investment banking interview to -- and I am not making this up -- compete in a beauty pageant (Miss Illinois -- that's a story for another day, so just roll with me here).

As you might imagine, the recruiter was highly confused, as "investment banking" and "beauty pageant" aren't often uttered in the same sentence. I asked if there was an alternative way I could interview -- perhaps meeting a banker on the East Coast on another date. After much pleading (and perhaps some amusement over the thought of a pageant contestant turned investment banker), the recruiter ended up telling me that he'd consider and to call him back in a few days.

Related: 5 Ways Varied Job Experience Helps Your Career

I repeated the cycle of calling, pleading and being told to call back. After about 17 times, the recruiter said, "You are the most persistent *#@!*&$#% I have ever met. Fine, you can meet a banker in New York City."

After asking him if the firm could reimburse my train ticket to New York (I really had no shame), I locked in my interview.

The interview was a huge success and ultimately, I got my free trip to San Francisco.

Since the firm had been generous enough to do this, I took the interview process seriously, even though I really wasn't considering a West Coast relocation, especially when so much of investment banking was concentrated on the East Coast.

But something happened. While I didn't love the city that much (just being honest), I adored the firm and the people I met. They were young, aggressive and many were former athletes. It was a meritocracy, meaning, they cared more about performance than age, title or politics. And, at the end of my "free" trip, I realized that this presented an amazing opportunity for me to start my career.

I turned down some of the bigger-name investment banks and accepted my offer to work at Montgomery Securities in February of 1995 (with a July start date). It was the best decision that I could have made, giving me a ton of experience, working with fabulous and talented individuals and providing a platform for me to succeed.

I share this story, because it presents some time-tested learning opportunities.

1. If you really want something, be relentless.

While my motivation wasn't originally pure, I really wanted that trip to San Francisco. Being willing to follow up over and over again got me both what I wanted -- and also what I needed!

2. Always give your best.

You never know who might be watching your work or behavior and what that might lead to. I could have not taken the interview opportunity seriously, because I thought I wasn't interested. I would have seriously missed out on a tremendous platform had I not showed up with 100 percent -- even though it wasn't my intended goal.

3. Keep an open mind.

The path to what you want to have happen isn't always linear. As other opportunities present themselves along the way, don't ignore or dismiss them just because it's not the path that you expected. If you don't have an open mind, you just might miss out on something life-changing!

Related: Meet the Startup That Wants to Bring 'Sanity' to the Job Hunt

4. Do what is right for you.

While many of my classmates suggested that I pass on the offer from Montgomery and instead take an offer from a bulge-bracket firm or other more "prestigious" firm, I knew that I would thrive in a meritocracy. I did -- and I advanced much more rapidly than I likely would have at a "fancier" company.

Carol Roth

Entrepreneur and author

Carol Roth is an on-air contributor for CNBC, a “recovering” investment banker, entrepreneur and best-selling author. She makes people think, makes them laugh and makes them money. Her accomplishments have ranged from her commentary on multimedia; to the seat she formerly held on the board of directors of a public company; to her role as an advisor on the raising of capital, M&A, joint ventures and licensing transactions. Roth splits her time between Chicago and New York City.

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