- Traditional résumés only contain our successes and achievements – but some experts recommend you also write a “failure résumé” to make note of your setbacks and shortcomings.
- By taking stock of your failures, you can learn from past mistakes and recognise that success isn’t easy.
- Some successful people keep failure résumés with sections about the jobs they didn’t get, awards they didn’t win, and dreams they failed to achieve.
People treat résumés a lot like social media – a place to feature one’s personal highlights, while glossing over the failures and bad memories.
But what if we included our failures on our résumés, too?
Experts have said it can be beneficial to write a “failure résumé” complete with all the jobs you didn’t get, awards you didn’t win, and accomplishments you missed out on over the years.
The idea, according to New York Times “Smarter Living” editor Tim Herrera, is that by taking stock of your professional failures, you can learn from your past mistakes and remind yourself that there’s no straight line to success.
University of Edinburgh lecturer Melanie Stefan started the trend in 2010 when she published her “CV of Failures” in an article for the journal Nature. Stefan wrote that by publicizing her shortcomings, she could help other people experiencing setbacks of their own.
“As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others,” Stefan wrote. “Often, other scientists’ careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected.”
On her failure-filled CV, Stefan listed prestigious universities she attended, but undercut them with notes like “only Ph.D. programme I was actually admitted to” and “applied for four fellowships, received only one.”
“If you dare – and can afford to – make it public,” Stefan wrote. “It will be six times as long as your normal CV. It will probably be utterly depressing at first sight. But it will remind you of the missing truths, some of the essential parts of what it means to be a scientist – and it might inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and start again.”
Johannes Haushofer, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, displays his “CV of Failures” on his personal website right under his traditional CV. Written in 2016, the document contains sections like “Degree programs I did not get into” and “Research funding I did not get.” There’s even a section for “meta-failures” that has one entry: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”
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“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible,” Haushofer wrote. “I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days.”
As the practice of keeping a failure résumé spreads, some experts are viewing it as a powerful tool for professional growth. The Stanford Technology Ventures Program, a center for entrepreneurship at Stanford University, wrote on its website that “failures increase the chance that you won’t make the same mistake again” and that they are “a sign that you have taken on challenges that expand your skills.”
The site reads:”A failure résumé is a quick way to demonstrate that failure is an important part of our learning process, especially when you’re stretching your abilities, doing things the first time, or taking risks. We hire people who have experience not just because of their successes but also because of their failures.
It continued: “Many successful people believe that if you aren’t failing sometimes then you aren’t taking enough risks. Additionally, it is pretty clear that the ratio of our successes and failure is pretty constant. So, if you want more successes, you are going to have to tolerate more failure along the way.”
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