Failure Résumés—A Training Guide for Success

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    “Failure is not an option.”

    Who says your failures can’t lead to success? Employers it seems.

    We are fond of saying, “Failure is not an option.” And “when it’s rough, the tough get going.” That may be a positive result of the United States’ unemployment situation and a lagging economy.

    Today’s unemployed may have failed in nailing a specific job or holding on to one in hard economic times, but they are learning fast from previous mistakes and have an attitude more in tune with success than failure. If they don’t get a job, they’ll make one. Highly successful start-ups are one result. And leaders who think finding alternative options and problem-solving are sometimes one and the same.

    That raises an interesting question. What might happen if you were to submit a list of your failures and what you learned from them as a résumé?

    How many people do we know who made it “big,” after years of failure? Today, fewer people may be unemployed statistically because rather than be unemployed, they kept plugging away at re-designing themselves to fit in, but since that didn’t appear to be happening, they had to do something on their own. So they created.

    You hear it all the time. Statistics show we can be expected to have 11 to 13 different careers in a lifetime. That tells me times have changed. Do employers really think a job hunter will be with the company for 30 years with an eye toward retirement? If they do, they’re out of touch. Especially when it comes to employing the millennials in the workforce today; a long-term commitment, tied to one place, is not the life for a millennial. In fact, most millennials would probably prefer to be unemployed than work for a company that puts itself first.

    Listing major accomplishments has been the format for effective résumé for a long time, and companies still ask for the obvious position-related experience.

    That’s not the norm in the Silicon Valley and other high technology centers where creativity and failure is used to evaluate candidates for new jobs.

    Companies and organizations are forever complaining they can’t find innovative workers with problem-solving abilities. However, the real problem is that companies aren’t hiring employees or even training employees in most cases to be innovative; instead, they hire people, using the same barometer and that barometer has changed.

    Can we predict an applicant’s future performance based on the failure résumé? Probably not. The applicant will have, however, demonstrated a pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit, a form of leadership, in overcoming the odds with persistence. In computer science, “persistence” is a characteristic, outliving the process that created it. In humans that persistence seems more a sort of perpetual motion, once thought to be impossible. Survival. Not survival of the fittest, but survival nonetheless.

    Albert Einstein-1921

    The idea of using a “failure resume” is intriguing to contemplate. So intriguing, in fact, it could and should become the way we look at ourselves and others. After all, scientists overcome many failed experiments to form a new theory, discover a novel idea, or develop a unique product. Artistic professionals, albeit in art, music, or theatre, withstand many failures or rejections of their work before they become successful. It is about creativity or talent, doggedness, and, most of all, learning from mistakes. As a society, we try to learn from our mistakes often over and over again.

    HR’s idea of having a “proven track record” should change, but only in the way we look at people who learn from their mistakes and go on to have successes based on what they learn.

    We all learn best by doing. Isn’t that what apprenticeships were for in the 16th through 19th century? To allow apprentices to learn the trade, expecting they would make minor mistakes under the guidance of a seasoned mentor, but that they would learn from their mistakes.

    Experience is still what we need in business or any organization. The hiring system needs to be more welcoming as far as candidate failures. Negative candidate behaviors such as stealing from the company, abusing their position or treating their workers inappropriately are still not forgivable. But some failures, any failure at all really, is used to narrow the pool of otherwise qualified candidates.

    Some management and leadership experts, including university professors, now suggest we look at an applicant’s failures and the result. A few universities and colleges are developing this approach, but change is hard across the board. Many corporations, still wired to the market approach to business, adhere to that tradition and do not develop creativity and problem-solving within; if the market dips for their products they often look to buy thriving innovative start-ups, absorbing their creative personnel. In general, you might say, that creativity and unproven problem-solving is not embraced; although if you look closely, the most successful CEOs are innovative in their thinking and leadership. Companies will often hire from that proven traditional “success” pool—hence the increasingly large salaries. Perhaps, they should do otherwise, finding creativity outside among the “losers” who aren’t really “losers.” These are dedicated professionals who have redirected their creative energies out of frustration with the status quo.

    If they accept this notion, how do companies and organizations go about updating their system? Change doesn’t happen overnight either, so they should start small. Hiring creative managers (maybe even developing a creative manager position for the company) would be a good start. They should also begin by taking the same risk creative people do, trying on a number of options. That means hiring former failures and trainers to maintain that sharp, creative edge. There’s no other way to find a Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and more recently Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They all have a wealth of ideas and a willingness toward innovation in common. And the determination to continue until they created a novel occurrence in the form of a product or idea. Of course, they all failed miserably at first.

    But the business communities aren’t the only ones ignoring creativity as a means to success. So are the schools with their “right and wrong” testing. As a college professor, I offer my students a chance to fail an assignment and then succeed at it; I want students learn from their mistakes and correct them. It has always made sense. If in education, why not in training? Why not train a creativity manager for a company or organization? Or, become one yourself.

    Be sure to use a “failure resume.” Why not a resume that lists failures and corrective actions (and the bigger picture: what was learned)? List your biggest failures versus achievements. Then, ask yourself, what you learned from those failures. Did those failures, in any way, help you with your achievements–what you are most proud of?

    If we don’t learn from our mistakes…

    Is it time for a failure to resume?

    Yes, according to David and Tom Kelley in their article, “To Find Your Success, Write Your First Failure Resume,” reprinted in FastCopy, an online magazine focused on leadership. This isn’t a new idea. Failure theory has been around since the days of the caveman when it made sense to keep trying to improve their present grasp on rudimentary tool-making—the technology of the day. Officially, it’s been around in scientific journals since at least the 1870s. You could say it’s paid its dues and earned its place.

    Fifteen years into the new millennial era, we are still in the Technology Age–a fertile world for innovation. Even the idea of left brain/right brain determination of creative ability has changed. Current views favor the notion that both parts of the brain contribute plenty, depending on the individual and the type of activity, i.e., artist versus engineer. Creativity flourishes in the face of adversity.

    Just as it’s healthy by psychological standards to accept your failures, accept change, adapt, and move on, all the while learning from those failures. Failure and our adaptability define us.

    Check out these related links. See “A Resume of My Failures,” and “How ‘Failure Resumes’ Can Boost Leadership Development.” You may also be interested in “Einstein’s Big Brain” and Steve Martin’s play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

    Of course, that’s not the end of the story…only the beginning.

    Happy Training.

    By the way, this is not all I do. I believe in connections. Information and communication are applicable in training and development as well as education. If you are interested in my approach here or in other offerings on the site, you might also be interested in my book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. “Cave” and “Man” are separate on purpose. The “cave” is simply where we train. I promise there will be an II and III based on my articles here. If you like what you see here, I have a blog site, Shaw’s Reality, where I look at the world’s reality from a variety of perspectives. I have also published a young adult science fiction dystopian novel, In Makr’s Shadow.

    By all means, though, check out The Free Management Library’s complete training section.