My Resumé of Failures

Flatlay in a cafe with a laptop annd food

In a fellowships interview, I was once asked to describe a time I failed. It was a standard question, and I launched into my usual response: “Well, I had to go through three training cycles before I was finally able to run a marathon…”

My interviewer cut me off. He didn’t want to hear about a failure that became a success. He wanted to know a time I really failed, totally blew it, and that was it. Just failure.

Caught off-guard, I had to fumble for a response.

Like many people, I’m not attuned to disclosing my “pure failures,” especially in a professional setting. We’re taught to emphasize our achievements, skills, and strengths. Even when we’re asked for the less-savory parts of our character (“What is your greatest weakness?”), we’re told to filter out the unappealing weaknesses (“I have a hot temper” or “I’m lazy”) and opt instead for a weakness that could also be seen as a strength (“I’m sometimes too detail-oriented that it slows me down”).

So, the first time I stumbled upon a resumé/CV of failures, I knew I wanted to make my own. Our tendency to selectively share success is equally prominent in social media, what many people like to call their “highlight reel.” I think it’s important to be reminded that our lives are far from our curated Instagram feeds, joyous Facebook photos with friends, and celebratory announcements on LinkedIn. Behind every success and happy moment, there’s a story of struggle.

The concept of the resumé of failures is attributed to Melanie Stefan at the University of Edinburgh. It was popularized by Johannes Haushofer from Princeton University, when his CV of failures when viral. The idea is simple: instead of listing your accomplishments, you list the things that didn’t go as well as you might’ve hoped.

I’m not a professor (perhaps something my parents would consider a failure haha), so I’ve decided to vary my resumé a little, adding a section for extracurriculars and lack of skills. Hopefully it’ll give you a good laugh and make you reflect on your own experiences.

My Resume / CV of Failures

My resume of failures

Why You Should Write Your Own Resumé of Failures

I think it’s pretty humbling to reflect on your failures, and it helps you understand how you can better handle disappointment in the future. Being upfront about these failures also lets other people know that they’re not the only ones facing challenges–because social media tends to be a place where to only announce successes, we sometimes get this false sense that everyone is doing better than we are.

If you want to make your own failure resumé, you can download a simple version mine from Google Docs and use it as a template (just click “File” in the top left, then “Download as” a Word document). If you want the stylized version, you can use mine as a template on Canva. If you want to see my “success”/real resumé, you can add me on LinkedIn.

And if you’re wondering how that fellowships interview ultimately went, let’s just say that it’s in the above resumé 🙂

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  1. Yo Lily, it’s Darya. I’d like to thank you for your honesty, your openness, and your embrace of the full life. I’ve never seen failure from you, on the outside: I had always compared my own failures to your visible and proud successes (2 majors? Major athletic accomplishments? Overall cheery personality and well-known on campus while maintaining an incredibly high amount of academic rigor and productivity? ###GOALS). You’re simply incredible for BOTH those successes and failures. Too much of this resume reminds me of my own (esp the digital media and awkwardness), and it hurts to look at and recognize yourself in someone else (hey, now I’d like to do my own and do the same self-reflective work).
    I’m not exactly sure what to say from here. I wish you hope. I wish you calm. I wish you a sense of peace with what has happened and a sense of purpose with what you have learned.
    I hope that your future failures hurt less.
    And I hope that your future glows more.

  2. Hey Lily! It’s Patrick W, don’t feel like commenting on facebook, but just wanted to let you know that this is beautiful and vulnerable and so valuable and precious and I needed to see this, because I’ve been feeling all kinds of ways in my preparation to apply for grad school. Much love and I LOVE reading all your blogs <3

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