Steve Jobs really hit the nail on the head during his 2005 Stanford University commencement address when he said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”
With this observation, Jobs meant we can only truly understand how our experiences have shaped our lives by looking back at our successes and, just as importantly, our failures.
Your failures — and your willingness to learn and grow from them — have the capacity to boost your positive attributes in unsuspecting ways. Here are some characteristics that failures can shape, and why companies are quick to snatch up interns and young careerists who possess them:
“I have failed. Here’s what I learned from it…” is a statement that doesn’t come easily to many. If a company wants to innovate, they might be hiring interns or new employees to help with the task. They will absolutely need people who acknowledge that they are willing to take risks that might end in temporary defeat.
Never underestimate someone with a degree from the school of hard knocks. If you’ve overcome adversity, you know how to dust yourself off and give it another go. If a business hires someone who’s never failed, there’s no way to know that he won’t freeze in the face of failure. Employers desire people (whether it is a full-time staff member or a first-time intern) who are willing and able to try and try again.
Allow the knowledge you gain from your mistakes to give you confidence. At the very least, you know what not to do next time. This will strengthen your capacity to make decisions — a very desirable quality in a new hire.
Confidence also helps you be proactive, and employers love a self-starter who isn’t afraid to figure things out along the way. Gaining these traits from an internship – which is based entirely on learning experiences – will put you ahead of other candidates when it’s job search time.
Curiosity is what makes people pick apart their failures to see what went wrong and what they can learn. It’s a key trait of good problem solvers — people every company needs. Knowing this before you apply for a job will benefit you. When interns-turned-potential employees are asked what they would have done differently, most say they would have avoided the failure altogether by doing the “right” things.
A curious problem solver, on the other hand, sets himself apart by balancing what he would have done differently with what was truly unavoidable. Trust me: Being able to make this distinction will impress your supervisor or future employer.
Every person (including interns) in an organization helps define the culture: positively, negatively, or simply by reinforcing it. If companies really want an innovative culture, they need employees who have experienced failure and are willing to take risks. Thus, they need a culture that tolerates failure. Innovation is only encouraged if the company culture accepts failure as a natural part of the process.
Our failures add to the richness of our lives. At the very least, they are the stuff of fetching anecdotes. At their best, they turn into something more tangible for your future career. If you’re not failing once in a while, you’re playing it too safe — and that rarely leads to success. Smart companies will hire interns who’ve been knocked down and gotten back up again.
Use your time at an internship to do your best, but also to reflect on any mistakes you have made. Rather than hide your failures, flaunt the lessons you’ve learned from them. Your future will benefit… and hiring managers will know you’ve got these five traits up your sleeve, and you’ll be exactly who they want for the job.
About the Author: Matt Hunt has spent the better part of the last decade leading innovation for a Fortune 50 retailer and is now a professional writer, speaker, consultant, and founder of Stanford and Griggs, LLC. With over 20 years of business and technology experience, he has demonstrated excellence in business strategy, innovation, and leadership development with large companies, small companies, and nonprofit organizations. Follow Matt on his blog, MattHunt.co, or connect with him on Twitter and Google+.