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If You Haven't Failed, You Haven't Tried

Job Interview - Ask the candidate about past failures
Who will be your next hire?

When hiring for any position, chances are that you’ll hear plenty of reasons why past success qualifies certain applicants above their peers. Résumés and interviews are full of impactful statistics, shiny awards, and powerful references illustrating all the reasons someone might be right for the job.

But how often does the subject of failure-based learning come to light? Are your organization’s potential hires comfortable acknowledging failures throughout their professional careers and how those have helped them evolve into better producers, managers or leaders?

Finding the right person for the job can be tough, but candidates who speak openly to their failures have significantly more to offer than those who merely boast their successes. Here’s why.


Accountability Creates Leaders

Michael Jordan, at the pinnacle of his success, put failure in its proper context with his most famous quote:

I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Jordan is just one of many elite athletes to speak on the subject of productive failure; of pushing boundaries and expanding comfort zones to the point of repetitive failure, all in the pursuit of success. The formula works in business just as it did for Jordan on the court. The relentless pursuit of improvement and success will always be met with failure along the way. These are the candidates you want — the ones that can talk about their battle scars and not their medals.


Real Experience Only Comes by Failing

Failure isn’t an excuse to be unsuccessful; rather it is the building block on which all future success is achieved. This is where the quality of your hires creates its greatest impact — how well do they address and learn from their past mistakes? As author Mark Twain once accurately said:

“Good judgement is the result of experience, and experience the result of bad judgement.”

It should therefore raise a mental alarm when potential hires claim to have immense experience but fail to own up to any instances of poor judgement.

When hiring talent, many companies claim they’re looking for someone with an “ownership mindset”. In practice, ownership and accountability are demonstrated through a profound understanding of “good” failure, and how it relates to high-performance standards.


Pain + Reflection = Progress

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio writes extensively on the subject of learning through failure, boiling it down to its foundational principles with this simple equation: Pain, is often experienced during failure and almost always is very difficult to embrace. Reflection and understanding of the causes of the failure always result in making personal progress, hence, the knowledge of how to avoid that specific failure again.

What’s more, it results in more radical, more effective progress than those who never experience failure in the first place.

Ask yourself then: Who will make a greater impact on your company - the interviewee who progresses in understanding and improving each time they fail, or the one who prefers to focus only on their "alleged brilliance"?

The more a person introspects and understands the causes of their failures, the more insights they gain — and the better they’ll be able to approach similar circumstances next time around. This ability to learn from positive failure is the very processing mechanism by which a potential hire will cope with unexpected challenges encountered on the job and is precisely the quality you should seek in each new hire to maintain rapid progression and growth throughout your organization.


Making the Right Hire

The end goal of any new hire is to add value to the organization. Throughout the screening process, pay close attention to the stories the candidates share and what qualities they appear to demonstrate. Those who focus on genuine individual accountability and experience, who can recognize and admit mistakes, speak freely and uninhibitedly to their battle scars, and can articulate how they stepped forward and learned from these experiences because of those failures are truly valuable, these candidates should be the next-generation of your firm.

Join the Conversation - What Failures have you experienced and what have you learned from them throughout your career?

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