I?ve been hiring for a couple positions, and as a result I have been reading a ton of resumesrecently. As a hiring manager I also have a boatload of recruiters connected to me on LinkedIn, so I see fair bit of their industry traffic. These two things coalesced this week as I had a number of recruiter contacts bemoaning the sorry state of the average tech resume at the same time I was seeing a lot of lackluster resumes.
So let?s talk about failure for a minute.
Everything old is new again
I recently attended a leadership event run by the ever-awesome Mind The Product team, and the biggest takeaway for me (and I think for them, too) was that we are largely all, all Product teams, fighting exactly the same fights.
We all have executives who still focus on output and teams scared to fail. We all have people hung up trying to find the right tool to fix a problem that hasn?t been fully understood. We all have the struggle of defining our culture rather than defaulting to the jumble of what everyone brought in from elsewhere. We all desperately attempt to get the user involved in the process but struggle to make it as valuable as we know it should be. We all want to be more data-centric but have trouble finding the right data.
We all know the better way to work and we are trying to get there. Failing that, we?re trying to get hired at the place where it?s better.
The problem is that neither of these can happen for the exact reason resumes suck: none of us were ever trained to mark our achievements in everyday life,and without that skill we can never properly function in that ideally successful team.
You have read my opening thesis!
My mommy says I?m special
The oft-maligned participation trophy was born of a movement that wanted to prevent kids from feeling bad about failing. It was also a way to take the aggressive drive to compete out and instead draw focus to the fun of the game. The side benefit was that it would create people who knew how to mark successes, no matter how small.
I submit to you that for all of us who trash-talk that practice we spend an inordinately large amount of time in the Product space training these exact three things without understanding that?s what we?re doing. So let?s do that.
1. It?s not whether you win or lose?
We want to eliminate the stigma of failure,weknowthat, because fear of failing drives people to do some incredibly stupid, unrealistic things. It limits what a team can accomplish because it restricts the range of motion not to what is a sure success but to whatever will fail the smallest, get us yelled at least. We want our teams to feel free to fail, fast and often, as a way to learn and grow. We?re all on board with this.
Millions, if not billions, of dollars have been spent publishing books, researching, training, and testing various ways to make managers stop punishing failure and employees to stop fearing that punishment. The stigma persists, however, because we don?t actually know how to make ourselves stop being upset when we fail or when someone fails us. Why?
Because we don?t actually believe in the journey.
?Men, I?ll be honest. Winning isn?t everything. Men, it?s the only thing!????Red Sanders
2. ?it?s how you play the game.
We spout things like ?focus on outcomes not output? and ?be stubborn in your vision but flexible in the details? to show that we are chasing meaning, not a mindless target. However, buried in these statements is exactly the point that we do focus on the goal instead of the journey.
We know we want our teams to focus on the journey because it is in the journey that we find the original target was errant and we find a more valuable opportunity to capitalize on.
But precious few of us have ever even known a person who worked at a place where that happened. The corruption of output-focused thinking persists because every MBA in America was told relentlessly that you have to drive people to a schedule with a rigorous plan if you want success. We are goal-oriented and we exclude all but the goal. Why?
Because we are well-trainedfault-finders.
No, I didn?t plan this to be this long and no I don?t intend to edit it?
I have to keep my feet on the ground!
Finally, we want people to learn to celebrate the small victories. If you only celebrate the end result you ensure there is never a sense of accomplishment, never a tangible thing to take pride in, never a source of motivation because therearealwaysmore goals.
But we are not wired that way. We have been trained our entire lives to see the track ahead that needs to be laid and to ignore what is already doneunlessthereisaflawin it. People are told to look ahead, not behind, becausethatwaswhatserviced industrial work. If you?re sitting on an assembly line you don?t have time for the things behind because there?s more coming down the line.
But this leads us to terminally limited thinking. If you can?t recognize success in all its forms then you never know how special you are, how important your accomplishments. You can never know your worth and demand it. You can never spread dissent against piss-poor leaders. You are held nicely under the thumb of the barbarian.
?Who?s the Master??
It isn?t easy but it?s simple
So how do we write a better resume, learn to appreciate the achievements, overthrow the established shackles, and teach our teams to enjoy the ride?
That?s not sexy, but it has teeth. We all have to practice noting wins, whether they are capital W (OKRs) or little w (remembered to wash my coffee cup). We have to make a habit of noting when a thing goes right, even when that thing is just that we got our pull request approved or we remembered to click save every half hour while writing that brochure.
A tool I find incredibly handy for this is the daily retrospective: a simple spreadsheet or tablet of paper with four columns: Wins, Losses, Lessons, and Actions (mine is at thebottomofthepost). Take 10?15 minutes at the end of the work day or before bed and write down every one you can think of. Hero level: write them down as they happen.
I do this in a Google Sheet because that way it is available on any device I can access, but maybe you prefer paper. I do this every day, and it has taught me in just a few months not only how to better see what I and my teams are capable of and express it, but how to enjoy our growth, how to enjoy the achievements unlocked. This is how we cast off the shackles of a broken philosophy and claim our self-esteem, our value, and our lives.
So, yeah, there is a place for participation trophies in the world and we need to appreciate that.
Here?s my template in the event it helpsthetwo peoplewhomadeitthisfar.
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