What happens when you experience a professional failure? Here's how to determine if it needs to be on your resume and, if so, how to address it.
As much as you'd like to succeed professionally 100% of the time, it's just not possible. Everyone's bound to experience some degree of professional failure. It could be a slight hiccup — like a failed project or proposal. Or maybe it's larger in scale — a demotion, a job dismissal, or a failed startup.
Whatever it is, it doesn't mean your career is over. You simply need to learn from your failure. But as you're trying to move on, you'll quickly come to wonder: Should I put my failed business on my resume? Do I include my other career failures? If so, how do I address it?
Should you put your career failures on your resume?
Whether or not you choose to include your failures on your resume will depend on a lot of factors, but remember that it's ultimately your decision. There's no universal rule that forces you to advertise your every mistake — in fact, you probably shouldn't.
Before you decide, take some time to put your professional failure into perspective. In the moment, it's going to feel like a massive roadblock — one you'll never overcome. But once you create some distance, it'll feel less significant in the context of your entire career.
If the failure is a short-term blip in your career, you might not worry about including it on your resume. Instead, you'll simply have a short employment gap, which you can then address in your cover letter or during your interview if asked. A few examples of incidents like this include being let go after two months with a new company, taking six months to try freelancing full time, being demoted after three months in a new position, or getting hired at a startup that flops after you're there only four months.
If your failure is longer term or includes failed business ventures, then it's worth including on your resume. This can include anything from working at a company for six years before being let go or running a startup for four years before you ran out of funding. Whatever the case, you can't let this single failure define a long-term endeavor. After all, you've likely acquired new skills and gained a wealth of knowledge along the way.
How to include your professional failures on your resume
If you decide to include a failure on your resume, you'll want to be strategic about how you do so. Of course, you'll need to be honest, but as you take the time to process your experience, think about it in a positive light. Ask yourself what you learned, what new skills you acquired, and how you can use these experiences to excel in another position at another company.
If you want some help with this process, consider writing a “failure resume.” It's basically a resume — for your failures. Now, this isn't what you'll send to potential employers; this is just for you.
New York Times editor Tim Herrera is a big fan of failure resumes. He suggests: “...instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. Did you wait until the last minute to work on it? Were you too casual in your preparation? Were you simply out of your depth?”
Once you've taken the proper time to reflect, here are two more tips to keep in mind when adding a professional failure to your resume:
Avoid using the words “failure” or “mistake.” It's essential to position your failure as an experience of growth. Instead of dwelling on the negative, focus on the positive: what you learned and how it can help you in a future position. If you were fired, you don't have to explicitly state that in your resume — use these tips instead.
Offer more context in your supporting materials. Use your cover letter to better explain your failure, what it taught you, and how you're moving forward. No need to focus on it too much — you can address it more in the interview if asked. But still, your cover letter is a great place to explain what happened and how it benefited you.
No one likes failing, but once you take some time to process what happened, you'll be able to reflect on what you've learned and how it's helped you grow in your career.
You're under no obligation to list your failures on your resume. However, if you leave it off, expect hiring managers to ask about the employment gap. If you decide to include it, don't label it a failure — simply focus on what you learned and the new skills you acquired.
Need some help finessing your resume to showcase you in the best light? Start with a free resume review and go from there.