How to Write a Failure Resume

How to Write a Failure Resume

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

Most resumes are designed to help you find a job, get a promotion or as part of a grant submission or other way to find money. Much like an academic CV, they enumerate your multiple accomplishments, track your professional progress and contributions and , typically, spin or conceal your failures. In the worst case, you lie about them. Here are some common ones and how to spot them.

There certainly is value in celebrating your successes and positive feedback. I mean, who doesn’t like a pat on the back or an attaboy? Do you have a personal highlight reel?

However, the flip side of the coin is you should do the same for your failures. You might want to start with that team you captained as a kid that didn’t win a game all season.

Flame outs are common, even to rising stars. Here are reasons and ways to prevent it.

Medical students and other overacheivers, for example, are not used to failure.

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity under conditions of uncertainty with the goal of creating user defined value through the deployment of innovation using a VAST business model. During my career, I have attempted to do that in many ways wearing many hats such as a small business owner (private pratice), a technopreneur (creating medical devices), an intrapreneur (trying to add value to my organization as an employee), a social entrepreneur (creating a non-profit), a service provider (working as a consultant and advisor), a physician investor (having a financial interest in companies and helping to raise money for them) and an edupreneur (creating academic programs, working with mededtech companies and serving on editorial boards and medical information sites.) Sometimes, I succeeded. Most of the time I’ve failed…in some instances, miserably.

I started 3 medical device companies and many other organizational initiatives. One is still sitting in IP purgatory. The others I buried long ago. Some actually saw the light of day and continue to scale.

We pulled the plug on a digital health company, Medvoy, I cofounded. Here’s what I learned.

Since entrepreneurship is 1) a high risk endeavor, 2) not formally taught in medical education programs and 3) learned from mistakes requiring skin in the game, a part of your resume should include your failures as well as your successes. It’s just more honest, exposes your vulnerabilities and builds trust.

Many people would ask why you need a failure resume to know your failures? The answer is when you know your failure as a setback in your life, it leave a great impact on your personal and professional life. In addition, it makes you more “human” since we all fail and paints a richer picture of your journey of who you and how you coped with adversity. It is a measure of resilience, grit and perseverance.

A hybrid success-failure resume is a combination of the 1)good, the bad, the ugly 2) lessons learned and 3) future plans

The Good: All the fluff, rewards and accomplishments in your present resume

The Bad: Minor setbacks, disappointments and failures such as jobs you didn’t get, applications rejected, promotions denied, papers or submissions trashed, lousy grades, substandard clinical or teaching evaluations or poor performance evaluations

The Ugly: These are more major setbacks like getting fired, disciplinary actions or suspensions, tanking your last three companies or being convicted of a felony

Lessons learned: This is where you give an honest answer instead of the BS you spout when asked, “What is your biggest weakness?”

Future plans: Explain how you took personal responsibility for your screw ups and why I should bet on you if I’m an investor looking for the right jockey or an employer lookng for talent.

It’s hardly news that business leaders work in increasingly uncertain environments, where failures are bound to be more common than successes. Yet if you ask executives how well, on a scale of one to 10, their organizations learn from failure, you’ll often get a sheepish “Two—or maybe three” in response. Such organizations are missing a big opportunity: Failure may be inevitable but, if managed well, can be very useful. A certain amount of failure can help you keep your options open, find out what doesn’t work, create the conditions to attract resources and attention, make room for new leaders, and develop intuition and skill.

The key to reaping these benefits is to foster “intelligent failure” throughout your organization. McGrath describes several principles that can help you put intelligent failure to work. You should decide what success and failure would look like before you start a project. Document your initial assumptions, test and revise them as you go, and convert them into knowledge. Fail fast—the longer something takes, the less you’ll learn—and fail cheaply, to contain your downside risk. Limit the number of uncertainties in new projects, and build a culture that tolerates, and sometimes even celebrates, failure. Finally, codify and share what you learn.

These principles won’t give you a means of avoiding all failures down the road—that’s simply not realistic. They will help you use small losses to attain bigger wins over time.

Another part of your failure resume should include gaps. What were you doing between January 2019 and March 2020 anyway? Here are some tips on how to tell your side of the story.

Maybe some day hiring managers will accept the answer, “I took a gap year to get my head screwed on”. But, for now, don’t count on it.

The renowned historian Arnold Toynbee famously quipped, “Nothing fails like success when you rely on it too much.” We may have entered a world in which nothing succeeds like failures, especially if you are honest about them. Indeed, the very last entry in Johannes Haushofer’s list of setbacks is what he called his Meta-Failure: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”

Here is what to do when your white coat gets the pink slip and some advice on explaining to the next person that you were let go.

Part of being an entrepreneur is knowing when to say no and when to pull the plug…and learn and take personal responsibility for your failure.

There is nothing wrong with giving up on a project or a dream. Stuff happens. Luck has a lot do with your success. The system is rigged.

To be happy, make it personal but don’t take it personally. Know when to quit something, Just don’t give up on yourself. The best time to fail fast and fail often is when you are young. Time is on your side, although , contrary to the saying, it won’t heal all wounds.. Take advantage of the time value of failure.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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About Arlen Meyers

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, an instructor at the University of Colorado-Denver Business School and cofounding President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org. Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ameyers/
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