how to make a failure resume

Typically, we use a résumé to showcase the very best of our professional history. We use our résumé to show off our skills, we pepper it with appropriate action verbs to illustrate our contributions to past employers, and we attempt to paint a picture of ourselves within it to show just how perfect we are for the position with your company.

But because our résumés are meant to highlight our successes, they leave out a very important part of personal and professional growth: failure.

Failure is where change happens; Failure is where we learn life’s biggest lessons. It is in our failures that we experience the most growth. However, failure is also a source of embarrassment for many of us. We often take it to mean that we weren’t good enough or that we didn’t try hard enough. While that may have been true at the time, it’s not the end of the story.

On the contrary, failure provides a unique opportunity for us to learn and respond. When things go well or go right the first time, we lose the opportunity to take a new approach. We lose the chance to have a different experience or gain a new perspective.

Enter the failure résumé. What is it? Simply put, a failure résumé highlights all of your past failures and unsuccessful ventures. Glossing over your failed attempts at success will only hinder you more in the future.

Why you should make a failure résumé:

1. It will help you identify your weaknesses.

The pesky question we all dislike involves talking about our weaknesses. Interviewers are tired of hearing that your biggest weakness is your “dedication to work” because you “get so caught up in working hard that you forget to eat.” Your failure résumé will aid you in determining your genuine weaknesses and additionally how you can actively work to overcome them.

When you look at your past failures, a pattern will likely start to emerge. Maybe you’re a strong self-starter but often fail to finish many of the tasks you set out to complete. 

2. It will give you more examples.

One of the best ways to illustrate the things you’ve learned over your career is to provide examples. Looking at your professional history with a different perspective will help you remember things you’d forgotten about.

3. It will teach you about failure.

We see failure as something to be avoided, and though a successful outcome is the favorable one, it doesn’t mean you cannot embrace failure as an opportunity. Getting in the habit of reframing your failures will teach you how you can be successful in the future.

Failure Resume

How to create your failure résumé:

First of all, make a copy of your résumé.

Go through each position you’ve ever held, every school you’ve ever attended and make lists of things you wish had happened differently, things that didn’t pan out the way you intended, and things that didn’t have a favorable outcome.

It may be that you wish you had majored in Computer Science rather than Communications, or that you ended up with an ‘F’ in a math class that you never needed in the first place. Both of these things count as failures.

Take time to consider your shortcomings.

Maybe a project didn’t pan out because you rushed it, or perhaps you didn’t reach an important deadline.

Your failure résumé is just for you – no one else ever needs to see it. Be brutally honest and specific when considering where you fell short.

Put a positive spin on each of your failures.

After you have gone through and listed every failure you can reasonably think of, go back through and put a positive spin on each of your failures.

Here are a few examples:

1) “I wish I majored in Computer Science rather than Communications.” → “My Communications degree gave me a foundation for public relations. I can use this to show others how a degree in Computer Science  is useful.” 

2) “I earned an ‘F’ in math class because I wasn’t prepared for the material.” → “I wasn’t prepared for a class at this level. Next time I am unprepared for something, I will seek out ways (such as a tutor or a mentor) to make sure I understand the basics.”

3) “The first project I ever led failed because I didn’t communicate well enough.” → “My communication skills weren’t developed enough when I lead this project. I have since learned how to use the team calendar/management software to keep my team up-to-date and on task.”

4) “I didn’t turn a proposal in on time and my team lost a big contract.” →  “I will never procrastinate on a proposal again. I have learned how to set mini-deadlines for myself and complete my work at least a week prior to the due date.”

Success is important, but identifying your failures is arguably a more productive way to understand the ways you’ve grown in your career.

Have you ever made a failure résumé for yourself? What have you learned from your failures?