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We can learn more from our failures than our successes


Posted on August 7, 2019
Keyboard that says "success failure"

Why you should create a failure résumé 

I can’t tell you the number of times I have told students that you really only learn from your failures. It doesn’t matter how many times we hear it, we are still afraid of failure and look at it as some deep measure of our value as human beings. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had a few conversations about failure. Joel Ruffin ('05), a vice president in the technology division at Goldman Sachs explained how Goldman wants to hear about their employees’ failure, that they value failure. Joel was one of about three people over the course of last few weeks who mentioned building a failure résumé.

So, why create a failure résumé?  In his New York Times article, entitled, “Do You Keep a Failure Résumé? Here’s Why You Should Start,”  Tim Herrera writes, "Whereas your normal résumé organizes your successes, accomplishments and your overall progress, your failure résumé tracks the times you didn’t quite hit the mark, along with what lessons you learned.” He adds, “Because you learn much more from failure than successes, and honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow – as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line.”

In developing a failure résumé, the intent is not simply to list the failures but to focus on what lessons you learned from those failures. For example, I dramatically quit my first job out of college. I wrote a scathing resignation letter, naively thinking it would have an impact, instead, I was called into the Chairman’s office. He asked me to sit down and calmly explained, that while I had some valid points in my letter, no one, because of how I presented it, would listen, and furthermore, I had burned many bridges, and he advised me not to do that in the future. I did not see it as a failure in the moment, but it was a glowing failure. So, how would I include this in a failure résumé?


Sample Failure Résumé

ABC Company

Kennebunk, Maine

December 1988

Resigned after six months of employment, by writing a resignation letter detailing a long list of company faults.

  • I let my ego get the better of me versus thinking more strategically
  • I let my frustrations boil over versus trying to deal with them in a more timely fashion with my supervisor
  • I let others feed into my frustration versus focusing on my work and my experience
  • I burned at least three bridges in this process

In taking an introspective look at that experience through a failure résumé, I can extract three key elements: I burned bridges, I let other people unduly influence me, and I was reactive instead of proactive.

Like your success résumé, a failure résumé should be added to whenever you have a failure. It allows you to see if there is a pattern over time, which provides you with a pathway for growth and development. Are you still not good with time management, such that you are repeatedly missing project deadlines? Do you continue to get too involved in office politics? Do you yell at your colleagues when you get stressed causing issues? You can’t address your own failures if you can’t see them, so be open to seeing your failures and commit to learning from them.


Anne Converse Willkomm

Assistant Clinical Professor

Department Head of Graduate Studies

Goodwin College of Professional Studies

Drexel University

Posted in professional-development-career-tips