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Handling failure

Blogger's note: I wrote this last year but never posted it. It's still pertinent; so enjoy.



The past few days I have been thinking about failure. Not personal failure but professional failure. It occurred to me that while organizations are very good at highlighting success and awards, very few highlight how they handle failure. And even fewer job applicants are interested in knowing how a future employer handles failure. I have been conducting interviews for 5-7 years now and I have yet to have a job applicant ask me about my failures or my employer's failures. I think this is a very important issue. Because, let's face it, success is very easy to handle. Failure, by contrast, shows you way more about a person's/an organization's character.

If you are about to join a new organization, ask them what happens when they encounter failure. Do the managers look for scapegoats? Do the employees shift blame? Do managers and employees focus on solving the problem, learning from it and moving on? I think we can guess what bad organizations do; good organizations focus on solving problems while great organizations, in my opinion, not only focus on solving problems but also cycle back to learn from their problems.

So when you get to the interview portion where the interviewer says "Do you have any questions for me?", ask how s/he handles failure personally and how their organization/division/team handles failure. Like all interview responses, you can expect to get bullshit and PR speak. But hidden in the bullshit will be indicators that'll clue you into how the organization operates. If nothing else, I bet they'll remember you. And that's half the battle in winning at interviewing.

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