If you want your business or career to be a great success, instead of just focusing on the positive, you need to look closely at your failures as well. In fact, you should write down those failures and create a “rejection resume.” That advice comes from Eli Joseph, Ph.D., faculty member at Columbia University and Queens College and author of The Perfect Rejection Resume.
A rejection resume is easy to make, as he explains in his book. Ask yourself the same questions you would answer in a traditional resume, but in reverse. Instead of saying where you graduated, list the schools you applied to but didn’t enter, or the schools you dropped out of, or the courses you failed. Instead of listing the jobs you’ve succeeded in, describe the jobs you’ve been fired from, the projects that crashed and burned, and the biggest mistakes you’ve made. The result is a short document, a few pages long or maybe just one page, that contains a record of your biggest disappointments and the biggest mistakes you’ve made.
What is the purpose of the rejection resume? “Most people don’t like to talk about their failures and how many organizations have turned them down or how many venture capitalists have turned down their proposals,” explains Joseph. “So it’s just a conversation starter.” That is, it can help you start a conversation with yourself. “To say, hey I have this document, and I can take advantage of these lessons.”
Here are some ways a rejection resume can benefit you.
1. It can help you turn current failures into future successes.
“As you build a business, write down, ‘I failed at this task today, and it was partially disadvantageous for now, but I learned from my mistake.’ And look around you as you walk.” With this approach, the rejection resume can become a powerful motivational tool, he says, because if you look at your failure, you may be able to see the mistakes that led you there. And you can choose not to make those mistakes again in the future.
2. It can show you how far you’ve come.
Anytime is a great time to create a rejection resume, Joseph says, but it’s especially helpful if you’ve had a daunting setback. “It’s the one that stings a little bit, and you know, that’s what we need to hammer on and focus on. So we can bookmark that time that we felt through some kind of failure, but we’ve recovered.”
His comment reminds me of my attempt decades ago to work as a corporate reporter for a newspaper, the only job I’ve ever been fired from. I hated the job and was actually really happy to leave it, but it also felt like a colossal failure. In retrospect I can see that it didn’t suit me at all and that losing that job was in many ways a bit of luck.
3. It will help you connect with others.
“People always love a comeback story,” Joseph says. You may prefer to focus on your successes, but in fact you almost certainly have your own comeback story and your own history of failure before success, he says. “And people always love that. They love the underdog.”
Here’s why, he says, if you share any part of your rejection resume story on social media, it’s likely to get a lot of attention. “It’s a good marketing tool,” he says. “People who give speaking engagements and keynotes tend to bring in the audience through their personal efforts and how they have overcome failures.” The rejection resume can help you organize that information so you can help others learn from your experiences, he said.
There is a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text message from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or tip. (Interested in joining? Learn more and invite an extended free trial here.) Many are entrepreneurs or business leaders, and many have told me how even devastating failures have led to bigger, more meaningful successes. Seeing your failures as something to be remembered in a rejection resume can be a good place to start.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
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