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Try Writing a Failure Resume

By Gerald Walsh ©

Most of us don’t bother to reflect on our past and how we became the person we are. Or, if we do, we fool ourselves by only focusing on the good parts of the story—not on the failures and setbacks we may have experienced over the years.

That’s why writing a “failure” resume can be helpful.

If you are like everyone else, your “regular” resume shows off your best side. That’s understandable.

But what about your failures?

If you are like most people, you keep them hidden because they are often a source of shame or embarrassment.

But like experience and education, haven’t failures played a role to getting you to where you are now?

Why not try a failure resume? (FYI – I’m not suggesting you use this to apply for jobs) Here’s what you do.

Make a copy of your regular resume and go through it, section by section, listing things that didn’t work out the way you had hoped, or things that did not have a favourable result.

Under Education, perhaps you:

- Applied but did not get into the school you wanted.

- Failed a course that prevented you from making the Dean’s list.

- Bombed a class presentation because you didn’t prepare properly.

Under Work Experience, perhaps you:

- Got fired once because you didn’t manage the relationship with your boss well.

- Lost a big sale because you didn’t return your telephone calls on a timely basis.

- Missed out on a great job opportunity because you blew the interview.

Focusing on your failures might make you feel bad at first. But instead of spending time on how you feel, take a step back and analyze what went wrong. Did you read a situation incorrectly? Did you not prepare fully? Were you avoiding conflict? Were you too arrogant?

Then ask yourself: “If I had the chance to do things over again, what would I do differently?”

The learning lies in your answers.

* * * * *

A final note: “Tell us your greatest failure and what you learned from that failure” is a common interview question. So, be prepared. Saying you’ve had no failures will not be well received because everyone will know you’re lying.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 30 year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.