Help, I’m changing my career! How assessing your resume of failures can help

by Jennifer Sigler | November 28, 2017 | Workhappy Blog

We’re changing the failure discourse one discussion at a time.

A resume is typically how we put our best foot forward — professionally speaking. “But what about when I’m changing my career,” you might ask? How do I leverage relevant skills and experience to navigate a successful transition.

Well, let’s start with your failures.

We know, we know. This is a contrarian point of view.

A well-written resume lists your educational background, relevant work experiences, major accomplishments achieved and any advanced skills you’ve developed.

A typical resume is everything we’ve done right up to this point in time.

Because who wants to point out what they’ve done wrong? The simple fact is we don’t like to talk about failure. At least — not using specifics and not in relation to ourselves. Great business resources such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company and the Wall Street Journal publish many useful pieces about failure in the abstract.

These articles discuss failure as a label — how we should own failure, use our failures as “learning opportunities” and “teachable moments.”

This is our comfort zone.

The road to success is not easy, no matter how easy it might look on the surface.

One year ago Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer recognized the importance of claiming — and sharing — his own failures to properly mentor students, and he promptly published his CV of Failures on Twitter for all to see.

He admits the idea is not his own (he took inspiration from Melanie Stefan) but no less added a refreshing voice to failure dialogue.

He begins:

“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives other 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. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”

Sections include “Degree programs I did not get into,” “Academic positions and fellowships I did not get,” and “Awards and scholarships I did not get.”

And then the good professor lays it all out on the page.

Changing My Career: A New Failure Discourse

It is this brand of honesty and vulnerability that failure discourse needs desperately. It is so easy to get caught in the race — to focus so intently upon success — that we forget about failure.

What is most compelling in Haushofer’s CV of Failures is what he lists under “Meta-Failures:” This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.

The truth is, even with all the discussion of failure we do have, we crave stories like this. We crave concrete examples from “real” people (not the mythic unicorns we build industry leaders and mentors up to be).

We yearn to understand the journey to people’s successes rather than the end goal.

It is with this that the WorkHappy Team engages in a new project — however slow-going it may be. On the road to career happiness, there are many moments of, well, unhappiness. And while we like to stay on the positive side of things most of the time, the flipside also deserves some much-needed (and clearly, much-desired) attention.

Enter: The Resume of Failures Project.

We all fail. It’s time to talk about it.

P.S. If you want to share your own “resume of failures” with us, we would love to hear from you!

Jennifer Sigler is a Senior Writer with The UpWrite Group. Send a message to to see how she can help enhance your corporate or personal brand.

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