A failed startup on your resume won’t stigmatize you. In Silicon Valley and other tech hubs, a notable failure is something of a badge of honor—it shows you transformed a concept into reality, and hopefully learned something along the way. While some pundits have taken issue
with how readily Silicon Valley has embraced the “fail fast, fail often” ethos, it’s good to know that your career will (usually) emerge unscathed from the wreckage of something that seemed like a great idea at the time. That being said, you still need to work on spinning your startup’s failure as a positive. Here’s how.
A Learning Experience
Working for a startup inevitably involves long hours, multiple roles, and more latitude to get things done than one would find at a large tech company. “That’s a selling point on the resume,” said Dan Olsen, lean startup and UX consultant for Olsen Solutions. “You have more skin in the game, and you need to bring that up.” A tech professional with one or two failed startups in their past is someone with quite a bit of experience in multiple aspects of business; make sure your resume reflects the breadth of your experience.
Get Over It
A majority of startups will fail. In a job interview, don’t focus on that failure; rather, drill down into what you did for the startup on a day-to-day basis. Olsen’s advice: Emphasize the hard and soft skills you used on the job: “A company might fail, but a strong developer who can code well will always be in demand.”
Think Business Results
Even if your startup failed in the end, you probably accomplished some meaningful milestones. Cite those on your resume and in your job interviews. “There are tangible results, even when a project fails,” Olsen said. “Point to business results whenever you can.” Maybe you led a team of 12 developers to build a vital feature, for example, or developed a key partnership.
Prepare for Questions
Before the job interview, prepare a concise and solid explanation for why the startup failed, emphasizing any lessons you might have taken from the experience. Rehearse the explanation before you walk through the door of your prospective employer.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Just because the company failed doesn’t mean you failed in your role at the company, and that’s what you’ll need to emphasize in the interview. Bob Hadick, president of Russ Hadick & Associates, said job candidates don’t understand that, and often sell themselves short as a result: “It’s a risk to work for a new company, but it shows you are entrepreneurial and hard working.” Consider the experience a positive and not a negative one, he added. “You were developing something brand new, taking ownership, and taking the initiative.”
From Founder to Employee
If you’re a founder looking to work for another tech firm after your startup failed, you’ll certainly have a story to tell. Your prospective employer is likely to wonder whether or not their company is merely a short stopover before you move on to create the next big thing. You’ll need to sell them on the fact that you’re looking for a sizeable role in an established company—and if you can do that, they’ll likely perceive you as someone with a lot to offer. “They’ll be attracted to your ability to wear a lot of hats, especially your ability to deal with customers, handle production, raise cash, or recruit a team,” Hadick said.