If you want your business or your career to be a big success, rather than focusing only on the positive, you should also look closely at your failures. In fact, you should write those failures up 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 straightforward to create, as he explains in his book. Ask yourself the same questions you’d answer in a traditional resume–but in reverse. Instead of saying where you graduated from, list the schools you applied to but didn’t get into, or the ones you dropped out of, or the courses you failed. Instead of listing the jobs you succeeded at, describe the ones you were fired from, the projects that crashed and burned, and the biggest mistakes you made. The result will be a brief 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’s the purpose of the rejection resume? “Most people do not like to talk about their failures and how many organizations rejected them or how many venture capitalists rejected their proposals,” Joseph explains. “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’re building a business, you can write down, ‘I failed today at this task, and it was partially detrimental for now, but I’ve learned from my mistake.’ And look around as you go along.” 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 in the future.
2. It can let you see how far you’ve come.
Anytime is a great time to create a rejection resume, Joseph says, but it’s an especially useful thing to do if you’ve suffered a disheartening setback. “It’s the one that stings a little bit, and you know, that’s what we need to harp on and focus on. So we can bookmark that time that we felt down from a particular failure, but we’ve rebounded.”
His comment makes me think about my attempt, decades ago, to work as a business reporter for a daily newspaper, the only job from which I’ve ever been fired. I hated the job and was actually delighted to leave it, but it also felt like a colossal failure. With hindsight I can see that it was completely the wrong fit for me and how losing that job was in many ways a piece of very good 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.”
This is why, he says, if you share 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 do speaking engagements and keynotes tend to reel the audience in through their personal endeavors and how they’ve overcome failure.” The rejection resume can help you organize that information so you can help others learn from your experiences, he said.
There’s a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or tip. (Interested in joining? Here’s more information and an invitation to an extended free trial.) Many are entrepreneurs or business leaders and many have told me about how even devastating failures have helped lead them build bigger, more meaningful successes. Seeing your failures as something to be commemorated in a rejection resume can be a great start.