Career Advice – How To Demonstrate Failure In A Positive Light

Feb 16 2011 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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Let’s face it, we’ve all failed at one point or another. How can you demonstrate your failure in a positive light to employers, so that it’s just as positive as your successes?

One of the best examples of failure comes from someone we only identify with success. That’s the reason this quote was so shocking but also so telling, about the man who spoke it.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

– Michael Jordan

How can candidates demonstrate failure in a positive light on their resume?

  • Disclose failure selectively: Disclose failure selectively to companies that are seeing innovation, after you’ve fully researched their problems, challenges, goals and roadblocks. When one of your targets has goals involving innovation, new ideas, risk taking or new products embrace your failure.
  • Turn failure into a positive: Turn failure into a positive, by giving a very brief description on your resume of what a failure taught you. Be prepared to elaborate in person to discuss the innovation and risks you took, what you did to assure yourself that it was an intelligent risk, why you failed (showing post failure introspection) and what you learned from the experience.
  • Discuss the right failures: Be selective in what you discuss. Just because you think a company is looking for candidates who have experienced failure, don’t make the mistake of listing every failure. More is not necessarily better, as it may unintentionally give the impression that you haven’t learned from past mistakes. Better to choose one really good one, and back it up with a solid story.

When companies need innovation, they look for someone who has not only succeeded, but who has also failed.

Many savvy hiring managers look to hire someone who has failed at a past job or project. You’ll seldom see failure as a formal job requirement (imagine the resumes that company would receive?), but it can be an unadvertised criteria that the hiring manager looks for.

I’ve heard more and more hiring managers relate that many secretly look for candidates who have failed at something. It’s counter intuitive and most candidates avoid discussing it (or including it on their resume) like the plague.

5 Reasons Employers Look For Failure:

  1. Failure demonstrates innovation: In order to innovate, you have to accept that your idea might fail.
  2. Failure demonstrates willingness to take risks: Employees who take intelligent risks create more value than employees who don’t take risks. That doesn’t mean to go base jumping off your building with a parachute or take reckless business risks. Businesses that don’t take risks don’t grow, and they need employees to help them decide which risks make sense.

  3. Failure is a huge learning experience: Failure means that you get to look back on it, and think “what could I have done to avoid this?”, “How could I have made this turn out better?” But you’ve learned on someone else’s payroll, and had a valuable learning experience on someone else’s budget.
  4. Failure teaches success: No one likes to fail … it might be one of the worst feelings out there. Humans naturally avoid failure – Humans who have already failed are better at avoiding failure a second time.
  5. Failure teaches faster and better reactions: Failure teaches us to “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”, because it hones our reactions. Experience with failure teaches an employee to fail fast and inexpensively.

Companies who seek to build innovation, VC backed firms, firms trying to develop new products, and firms in changing industries are more likely to seek a candidate who’s failed than say … a CPA firm. Not every company values failure equally, so know your target. Examples of companies that aren’t likely to be receptive to failure: Banks, government agencies, stable firms in non-changing industries, firms that have a pervasive Six-Sigma culture.

Ok, everybody out there that has hidden failures from employers, raise your hand …

Will you start to selectively show failure on your resume, or will you continue to … fail to fail?


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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