You Should Speak About Your Failures In Job Interviews

I had a Skype interview for a senior role that a recruiter was helping me prep for and one of the questions she asked me was, “Tell me about a project you worked on that failed.” A typical interview response would be to spin a negative experience into a learning opportunity, which is how I crafted my response and the recruiter cut me off.

“Kimberly, you can’t be a Senior Project Manager and tell me you’ve never had a project that failed. Every good Senior resource has had a disastrous project.” I was dumbfounded. Of course I have had projects burn to the ground, but that’s not how I had been preparing myself for my upcoming job interviews. I had lists of my accomplishments and projects I was proud of, learning opportunities, things I’ve learned from learning with cross cultural teams and ways I’ve worked through conflicts but nothing readily available in my response catalogue for a project that completely failed. I had examples of how I turned around a project that was leaning towards the deep end, but I had to spend time thinking about a failed project I wanted to expand upon and share.

It’s difficult to be confident speaking about failure as a Project Manager especially because you’re supposed to be the person that saves the day. Your job is to set the team and project for success. Shake the notion that a failed project will ruin your reputation. In the end, it matters how you handle failure and project obstacles.

Here are a couple things I’ve picked up from failed projects and noting to myself that “I’ll definitely never do that again.”

Document your learnings

The way you’ve setup your most recent project is probably based on experience. You’ve learned from a past experience and you definitely won’t try the same thing again because something else worked way better. Document what you’ve learned in project debrief and share this with your wider team.

Communicate impact to your stakeholders

The saving grace I have with my projects is that I document everything. My advice to anyone starting out a new project is to circulate weekly updates, create an issues log and communicate impact as early and often as possible. You might sound like a broken record to some stakeholders, but as time consuming documentation may be it has always paid off for me in the long run. I received a phone call from a newbie in my old workplace that wanted to know the run down of a project I was working on before I resigned and I was easily able to navigate them to Confluence for all project details. He was able to find all details of the issues that popped up throughout the project, the date they occurred, who issues were escalated to and what the actions items were. Without this information there would be no record of the project lifeline and the actions I took.

A project that falls to the wayside will teach you more than you think. The next time you are preparing for a job interview, have a response prepared about a failed project you were apart of. The Muse  gives good pointers on how to talk about your project failures. Your failure makes you a better Project Manager.

Kimberly Misutka

Kimberly is a Digital Project Manager in Auckland, New Zealand. You can reach her through LinkedIn.