Should I Mention A Failed Startup On My Resume?

Written by Tyler Brodeur

Tyler, our lead job search coach is a former recruiter with expertise in several major industries. He has worked with some of the most renowned companies in the world and has interviewed over 20,000 candidates throughout his career. As a career coach, Tyler has helped many professionals identify and land ideal jobs. Tyler is an effective servant leader that is passionate about positively impacting as many lives as possible.

July 10, 2020


When you close a business, the main thought running through your head is, “I failed.”; yet, you learned many lessons along that way that many are scared to take the risk to learn.  For that reason, you should not shy away from mentioning your failed startup on your resume, but emphasize the small successes.

Failure only happens when you give up, right?  However, when you filed the documents to close your business, and you are sitting on your couch wondering how you could have done better, not giving up seems futile.  So, you take the next, plausible step to support yourself financially: you rewrite your resume.

If you think you are the only one who has felt this sense of defeat, you are not. Entrepreneurship is the constant challenge of making failure work for you.  However, the challenge can end in defeat, and you must find another business who could benefit from your acquired knowledge.

How could a failed startup be attractive to your potential employer? One of the main aspects you need to understand is that success does not happen without an understanding of failure, and sometimes, knowing the intricacies of failure can help prevent it from happening for your future employer.

This article is not meant to be an all-encompassing guide on how to present your failed startup on your resume, but rather, a jumpstart to give an entrepreneurial mind the basics to understand the beauty of failure.

failed startup business

Your Failed Startup Is Not The Only One

First, let’s read about some entrepreneurial minds who met the same fate as you, but found and chose a different direction in which their minds could excel.  If any of these people inspire you to forgive yourself and hope, please read more about them.  The small details of their lives could be the direction you need.

  • Ariana Huffington: This Huffington Post editor didn’t start out with a billion views a year in 2005. In fact, many critics dismissed The HP as a poor-quality paper.  However, Ariana did not let that stop her.  She knew when to duck and when to dive, and those choices made The HP the success that it is today.
  • Warren Buffet: This Harvard reject knew that his life wasn’t going to go as planned, but he also knew that a thousand paths exist to the same place. Eventually, he was mentored by two expert investors who taught him enough to make Berkshire Hathaway the giant it is today.
  • Steve Jobs: If you think about the billion-dollar company Apple, you think about Steve Jobs. However, Jobs was ahead of his time when he first created Apple, and that caused him not to sell a lot of units.  However, if that was the end of Steve’s story, then you would not know about Apple today.
  • Bill Gates: Microsoft was not Bill’s first business. Do you know what was?  If you said, “Traf-O-Data”, you are correct.  If you did not, take a lesson from Bill: The first failure isn’t always the last, and can give you insight into the path to success.
  • Colonel Sanders: You have had KFC chicken, just be honest. Do you know how many startups would love the notoriety that KFC has?  Did you know that KFC would not have that fame if it gave up after its 999th rejection?  Sometimes, failure is destined to teach us other ways for success.

How To Prepare Your Resume to Present Your Failed Startup

entrepreneur mind resume

When failure happens, your business can still be useful to you.  For instance, you can highlight certain aspects on your resume to improve your reputation by following these four guidelines:

Look Over Your Business Plan To Remember What You Did 

Listen, as I said before, that first day that you decided to be an entrepreneur, you took a step that more than 90% of Americans never took.  You turned something that made you happy into a business that could legally function.

You are looking a business plan that will not be used again, but this valuable tool can help you immensely with your resume.  Look through it and see how it guided your successful decisions.  You may have forgotten what you did well when your mind was so consumed with your failures.

failed start up in your resume

Write Down The Lessons You Learned From Your Failed Startup

Successful companies need you because you have a unique perspective on future challenges they may have.  They know that success is in the details and that while they are calculating how to succeed, they also need to calculate how to prevent or lessen failure.

As I said in the introduction, those who have not experienced failure do not truly know the details of failure and could get sidetracked if they do not head off the effects of such as soon as possible.  People who have not gone though the failures you have could theorize all day on how to overcome them, but you know the details that would affect their plans.

Writing down your failures, and the steps you took, could be the reason your salary is worth every penny.

Think of Positive Terms to Describe Your Failures

To this point, you have analyzed your successes and failures, but have you thought about how you want to present them?

Telling others about successes within an overall failure can be tricky because some people want to see the big picture.  Remember this: not every business is the same, and the lessons your learned from your successes could help another business.  Find how the lessons of your successes could help your employer.

Telling others about your weaknesses is a challenge, but a good one.  You took a risk that others did not take and you know some of the consequences.  When your boss stands up in a meeting and asks, “Should we take this route?”, you can confidently say, “I am not advising for or against this, but I know some of the challenges, and you need to decide if you are prepared to meet them.”

In both situations, understanding how to word your successes and failures in a way that shows that they were not the last action you took in that direction, such as learning lessons to help others, can make your skills look like a necessity for your potential employer.

failed startup

Categorize Your Skills As Managerial, Ambitious, or Environmental

Let’s be honest: no one has succeeded without the help of someone else.  If you earned one dollar, it was because someone decided you were worth one dollar; if you found one dollar, it was because someone thought that dollar was not important enough to hold on tighter.

This task is meant to show you how to better present your skills when writing your resume.  Generally, your potential employer wants to know about three areas of leadership skills that were the result of your actions:

Type Question to Help With Understanding Explanation
Managerial How did you help others succeed under you? Employers love when you take responsibility for projects and people in a way that those who manage you know that they have someone to go to influence a team and those who you manage know that they have someone who has a plan and knows how to accomplish it.
Ambitious When did you step in yourself to make sure a task was completed? Sure, a good manager never needs to do a task himself, but welcome to the real world. Employers appreciate when the job is done, and you need to show that when necessary, you can assume a role within the group to finish it.
Environmental When did you recognize that factors were out of your control, but you still worked within them? With the managerial skillset, you realize that the people under you were the catalyst for the success, and with ambition, you recognize that your direct actions made a project a success. With environmental skills, you recognize that people outside your influence were the catalyst to your success.


To better explain, imagine your team has been contracted to build an app.  Your managerial skills would include directing your team on specific tasks they can start to vamp up this project. Your ambitious skills could be meeting with the client to sign the contract, and your environmental skills could be doing such a great job that other potential clients who use the app want to hire you.

When you have categorized all of your skills, make sure that at least one from each category show up on your resume.  That way, you can show your ability to work within many social factors of success, even if your startup failed as a whole.

Go Write Your Resume

writing failed start up in your resume

Remember this: when all is said and done, you did alright.  You may have come across factors that were out of your control and were not able to master them, but you know much more than you did if you are never taking the chance.  During the time of your entrepreneurship, you trained your mind to lead and to make hard decisions; make sure you reflect that in your resume.  If you are still unsure what to mention Prevision Personnel offers a full range of premium resume writing services that you can’t find anywhere else.  Order any of our packages and our coaches will be happy to help you mention your startup experience in the best way possible.

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