Talking about failure — Joyce’s Career Tip of the Week

Students are often confused when asked in an interview to “tell me about a time when you failed.” They ask me, “What do they want to know? What am I supposed to tell them? I don’t want anyone to think of me as a failure!”

Throughout history, philosophers and leaders have spoken about failure:

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”
— Confucius

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
— Winston Churchill

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
— Robert F. Kennedy

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
— Bill Gates

For academically strong students, the first failure is a shock. The feeling is devastating. A failure could be a test, a course, a plan, a project or even an entire semester. It is not easy to rationally analyze what went wrong, try a new approach (or many new approaches) and keep on going.

This is the story that recruiters want to hear!

Your future employer is not expecting you to work for years and never make a mistake or have a project fail. Failure, in one way or another, is inevitable. Recruiters and hiring managers know that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. They want to hear about the plan that did not work — how you reacted, what you learned and how you kept on going. “Tell me about a time you failed” is your opportunity to demonstrate resilience.

I am certainly not suggesting that you make failure your goal, but when it happens, embrace it!

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time, more intelligently.”
— Henry Ford


Joyce Donahue is a career counselor in the Fulton Schools Career Center.  She is a Certified Career Counselor.