April 2016 Archives

Resumè of failure

There has been a Thing going through twitter lately, about a Princeton Prof who posted a resume of failures.

About that...

This is not a bad idea, especially for those of us in Ops or bucking for 'Senior' positions. Why? Because in my last job hunt, a very large percentage of interviewers asked a question like this:

Please describe your biggest personal failure, and what you learned from it?

That's a large scope. How to pick which one?

What was your biggest interpersonal failure, and how did you recover from it?

In a 15+ year career, figuring out which is 'biggest' is a challenge. But first, I need to remember what they are. For this one, I've been using events that happened around 2001; far enough back that they don't really apply to the person I am now. This is going to be a problem soon.

What was your biggest production-impacting failure, and how was the post-mortem process handled?

Oh, do I go for 'most embarrassing,' or, 'most educational'? I'd snark about 'so many choices', but my memory tends to wallpaper over the more embarassing fails in ways that make remembering them during an interview next to impossible. And in this case, the 'post-mortem process' bit at the end actually rules out my biggest production-impacting problem... there wasn't a post-mortem, other than knowing looks of, you're not going to do that again, right?

Please describe your biggest failure of working with management on something.

Working in service-organizations as long as I have, I have a lot of 'failure' here. Again, picking the right one to use in an interview is a problem.

You begin to see what I'm talking about here. If I had realized that my failures would be something I needed to both keep track of, and keep adequate notes on to refer back to them 3, 5, 9, 14 years down the line, I would have been much better prepared for these interviews. The interviewers are probing how I behave when Things Are Not Going Right, since that sheds far more light on a person than Things Are Going Perfectly projects.

A Resumè of Failure would have been an incredibly useful thing to have. Definitely do not post it online, since hiring managers are looking for rule-outs to thin the pile of applications. But keep it next to your copy of your resume, next to your References from Past Managers list.

What a lovely question.

From twitter:

The less activist question here is:

If people try to get me fired by smearing the company, will you defend me, or fire me?

They'll always say, 'defend', of course. They're trying to hire you, of course they'll tell you they will stand by you.

However, the people involved in the hiring process are very much not the same people dealing with the public image of the company in the media. At some point an executive will have to make a decision based on public perception and at-will work laws, and decide between "you're too much trouble to keep around. It's not personal, it's just business"  and "we stand by the rights of our employees to express personal opinions unrelated to their employer."

Knowing which way a company will jump is next to impossible to know without explicit position statements or evidence that they've dealt with that problem before. Asking this kind of question during the interview process is great for everyone; if they perceive you as potentially problematic, you won't continue to the next stage. Which is alright by you, since if they consider you a potential problem you don't want to work for them in the first place.