Interviewing: Moving Through Failure

We are told not to dwell on failure. But, in order to master the lessons that live there, it simply the appropriate thing to do. We've all experienced failures or setbacks in our work lives. Presentations that didn't shift viewpoints, working relationships that have soured, worthy ideas that never seemed to get the attention that they deserved. These experiences demand a moment of pause to process. You should make an attempt to reflect back with clarity - not remorse - and decide what could have been done differently to impact the eventual outcome.

Contemplating failure can be challenging. Of course, we all would prefer not to relive the trauma (wincing as you think of how things went so very wrong) - and time may need to pass before you have the courage to take a more balanced look. However, reflecting on the failure can be a path to gain permission to move through it. Salvaging the lessons from the situation can be an important step - and once we extract the wisdom that lives there, failure can propel us forward. As you move on with your career, you can pay "homage" to that failure, by setting a strategy to avoid the same mistake.

Questions to explore:

  • What was your responsibility in the situation? Assigning blame is not a constructive exercise - but assigning responsibility can be. What was your role in the situation? For example, did you miss an important cue or misinterpret information? Did you lose patience?
  • What external factors were operating? You should be honest with yourself about a failure, but mindful that some components may have been out of your control. Was timing an issue? Were there unexpected events that affected the outcome?
  • What can you do differently going forward? What can you do to prevent a repeat performance? Is it a skill deficit? Building alliances? List these and set a plan in motion.

An example: At one time, I worked as an internal researcher for a large organization. I was responsible for a key customer research project. After reviewing the yearly numbers, I became extremely alarmed that if strategy wasn't altered, we were bound to lose customers. I reported this information to leadership - and they were visibly shaken - but they did not shift strategy. They felt confident that they had things under control. I suspected that they didn't fully realize the levity of the situation, and unfortunatley as the year progressed, sizable customer losses followed. Ultimately, I hadn't convinced them to take action. The onus was on me. A clear failure on my part - as it was my primary role to counsel them.

I do realize that I was not in control of their chosen course of action. However, moving forward, I always make one last effort to change opinions, by meeting separately with individual stakeholders. Only, at that point am I fully satisfied that I have done my part - my "homage" to the original failure.

What have you learned from your career missteps? How did it change your strategy going forward? I would love to hear your story.

By: Dr. Marla Gottschalk