Find your best failure.

_DSC0316_smallOne key to getting yourself a job interview is demonstrating the qualities you have—especially qualities like leadership, which many employers crave.

But, like many job search candidates, you might be wracking your brains to find the accomplishments in your career that bring those qualities to life.

Well, have you looked to your failures?

Yeah. It’s easy to look at successes. But failures, those moments you would rather forget happened, can provide some of the most powerful evidence of the qualities that make you a great fit for the job.

As a professional freelance writer of resumes, cover letters, and many other things, I have seen this first hand. I remember interviewing a very bright aerospace engineer. He had had a very successful career working for others. But he wanted to get into Harvard to learn the business side of things so he could start his own company. But Harvard, with its long tradition of producing bold business entrepreneurs, wanted candidates that would take charge and flourish.

And so, he needed to show in the admissions essay that he was such a person—that he was a leader. And he had no idea how.

So, he hired me. And I questioned him, asking him about key areas such as

  • “What’s the hardest challenge you’ve had to overcome?”
  • “What is the most difficult crisis you have ever faced? What did you do about it?”

I knew questions such as these would help him to start probing his background, and I followed them with other, more specific questions based on his answers.

And, well, what came out was this:

Once, he had led a team in designing and building an important system for a new prototype aircraft. With only about a week to go before the craft would be unveiled to the world in a big maiden flight, his team had wrapped up their job. All was ready.

Then, a part fell off the plane.

A part. His part. You see, the company had been running a test flight when a piece of the plane—the system he and his team had designed, had fallen off and clanged onto the runway like a rusted old muffler dropping from a junker.

Seven days before the plane’s unveiling and his team’s work sat useless on the tarmac. How humiliating is that?

But, he didn’t hide away or sulk; he called his team together and got them to work. He got them focused. He led them. After all, they had only seven days to find out what went wrong and fix it.

And, well, they did. I won’t go into detail how his team fixed the plane, but in his handling this failure that might have spelled disaster, my client had provided a true story that proved his bold leadership in a time when he could have folded.

And he did get into Harvard, by the way; I like to think that the essay I crafted for him based on that story helped to make that happen.

And, just like with that essay, you can weave stories into resumes and cover letters (and later, interviews) in powerful ways to demonstrate your own qualities as a job candidate.

So, the next time you find yourself staring at a job description that calls for things such as ‘leadership ability,’ ‘team management skills,’ and ‘creative thinking,’ ask yourself questions. Ask questions and think, “How did I handle it when things fell apart for me?” The answer just might be the story you need.


Ted Perrotti, Founder

Stories that Sell (


Keywords: resume writing, cover letter writing, job search, job interview preparation, career growth