Let’s Talk about Failure

Tell me about a time you failed. What’s your biggest weakness? Talk about a time when your project didn’t go well.

These questions — and those like them — are often tricky. When we are interviewing, we are scared to reveal too much about our downsides. But the failure isn’t about you being imperfect. The hiring manager already knows you’re not perfect. You’re human, after all, and will make mistakes.

The only people who haven’t made mistakes are those who never try anything outside of their comfort zone.

An analogy here is helpful.

My family was checking in for a trail ride, while on vacation. The ranch hand asked us to rate our horseback riding experience levels. Our oldest son claimed to be an intermediate rider. While he’s only 13, his traditional summer camps have given him ample opportunity to ride. The ranch hand asked one simple follow-up question, “Have you ever fallen off a horse?” Nick laughed and said, “Oh, yeah!” By this simple admission of failure — of falling off and getting back on — he established himself as someone who just might be an intermediate level rider. You see, those who have never fallen off a horse clearly haven’t ridden much.

Don’t worry about admitting failure. Claim your mistakes and failures as evidence of great deeds tried and lessons learned.

Here’s how to answer.

Step 1: Choose something meaningful. The interview process is about getting to know you. Pick a time when something actually went wrong and something that was actually your fault.

Step 2: Talk about how you discovered your mistake. You’re demonstrating your techniques for both self-awareness and the monitoring of your work.

Step 3: Talk about the recovery. How you respond to failure and fix problems is essential. Failure will happen from time to time. You should demonstrate your ability to address the immediate issues and move forward.

Step 4: Talk about what you learned. Henry Ford wrote, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Describe what you learned about your industry, about leadership, about yourself and what you now do differently as a result of your mistake.

If you ride enough, you will fall off. You don’t need to be embarrassed about falling. Just keep riding!

Following Your Heart into Success

Like many veterans, I put on my first uniform as a teenager. My last job interview was at the pizza parlor next to my high school. In the Navy, my career path was handed to me, my jobs were given to me, the result of a Byzantine, bureaucratic process. My voice mattered very little in what I would be doing next.

During transition, the world was open to me. That’s exciting! The world is a great, big place and the options were wide, and varied. I could become anything I wanted. I could teach Shakespeare at a small mid-western college, be a country music DJ in Tennessee, I could do anything!

The possibilities were endless and overwhelming. And I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t get a job, scared that I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills, scared that I wouldn’t — that I couldn’t — be successful as a civilian. Fear entered my heart.

So, I took the first job that was offered that paid well. Fear ruled my heart. And it was a disaster. The company was a complete mismatch. The job was awful, and my boss lied to me. I didn’t even realize that there were people out there who would do that. He lied to me, and I left.

This next time, I took a job that I enjoyed, a job that I looked forward to every day. Well, maybe not every day — let’s say, most days. Success followed.

You can be successful too. Don’t be like me. Don’t let fear rule your heart, and force you to take a job because of the paycheck.

If you follow your heart, follow your passions, don’t give into the fear, you will be happy in your life and success will follow success.

And once you’ve landed, you need to turn around and bring your buddies along. We do this as a habit in the military. We don’t leave people behind.  When you reach your success, turn around and help those shipmates and battle buddies who follow you.