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Why you should share all your failures in a rejection résumé

Compiling a list of rejections might seem demoralizing, but it can actually lead to new opportunities, suggests author Eli Joseph.

Why you should share all your failures in a rejection résumé
[Photo: Kiyoshi Hijiki/Getty Images]

We all fail, and failure can result in some of the greatest lessons. But would you share those failures with potential employers? Most of us would give that idea a hard pass, but Eli Joseph, author of The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career Through Failure, suggests that you do just that by writing a “rejection resume.”

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“Most people tell themselves not to think about the negative things in life,” says Joseph. “When we talk about Elon Musk and other successful people, we talk about the ways they’ve succeeded. But they’ve all had failures, too. It’s okay to fail. You can learn from your mistakes and rebound.”

Joseph has had his share of rejections. Between 2014 and 2019, he submitted more than 1,200 applications to various schools, courses, colleges, and jobs. He says the hundreds of rejections helped make him who he is today, which includes being a faculty member at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies—a school that rejected his application as a student. Realizing that his failures lead to successes, Joseph decided to document them and make them public by posting a rejection résumé on LinkedIn.

“Rejection and failure are never perfect, but they are perfectly aligned with your story,” he says.

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How to Write a Rejection Résumé

From the time you started applying to colleges, you’ve likely had some successes and failures. Joseph suggests jotting them down and creating a résumé from it.

“Start just like a regular résumé,” says Joseph. “State your objectives or your purpose. Write down how many courses you failed, how many schools rejected you, how many times you were fired from a job, and how many jobs you didn’t get. Then, lo and behold, you will have a good solid résumé of your trials and tribulations.”

Joseph formatted his like a traditional résumé, breaking rejections into “Education,” “Experience,” and “Engagement, Honors, and Awards.” For example, he shares that he submitted 652 applications to JP Morgan Chase, had three interviews, and zero job offers. He also applied to speak at five TED events and was denied every time. Today, he is a TED member and he spoke at TEDxSyracuseUniversity in 2018.

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How to Use It

Your rejection résumé can be a compass when plan A doesn’t work. “When you jot it down and have documented proof that your original plans don’t work, you can cultivate some alternatives,” says Joseph. “You may decide being an employee for certain jobs or organizations is not working out. Or you may want to become an entrepreneur. Try to decipher what you could have done differently.”

While you can keep this information to yourself, Joseph challenges people to share their rejection résumé by posting it on LinkedIn as a unique way to build a network and potentially field new job offers.

“When people post their struggles, it often resonates with a lot of others,” he says. “It says, ‘Here are the jobs and organizations that have rejected me, but I’m still here. I’m still optimistic about my future.’ If your connections or followers on LinkedIn relate to your story, perhaps it may go viral. You could have offers coming from the same organizations that have rejected you.”

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You can also contrast your rejection résumé with your actual résumé to show your resilience. “When I showed my rejection résumé, my goal wasn’t to put a bad taste on the organizations, like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. I had applied to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs so many times, and I’d been rejected. This isn’t pointing a finger. It’s saying, ‘It’s okay to fail. Keep trying.'”

Sharing your failures can also be helpful for other people and their path to finding success. “I get feedback from others who have failed, trying to do similar things to what I tried,” says Joseph. “When they see my struggles and how many times I failed, it feels reassuring to them. And when they look at the positive and good in my profile today, it can serve as inspiration. Use failures as navigation. Stay the course. Things will get better.”

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