No pain, no gain



Speaking wisely about project failure helps pave a path to a new job.


Q: I want to make a great impression in an upcoming interview for an internal role in a different department, but my current department has had major project failures this year. How can I best use the bad experience in the interview?

A: If the project failures have been high profile, the interviewers will be interested in learning more about them. Your response should be akin to how you answer the traditional interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Everyone knows people aren't perfect, and the same goes for projects.

First, when the question about failure arises, relax. Your answer can demonstrate you're ready for the position. I always look for project managers who have experienced failure. Without that learning experience, how can they ever be prepared for when it inevitably happens?

Actively demonstrating the lessons learned is a great way to talk about project failure—but do it professionally rather than emotionally. Avoid the blame game, because your interviewers are likely to know the employees involved. Instead, talk about people in more generic terms such as “the client,” “users” or “management.”

Then get more specific on project details, such as risk management issues or process problems that show the causes of the failures. And finally, describe what you did to right the ship—or portray what you would do to correct the same problems in the future.

Never guarantee similar issues won't happen again. The interviewer wants assurance that you can handle projects that are not all smooth sailing and that you can draw on your experiences to navigate choppy waters.

Q: I keep hearing about “talent management” in our organization. How does this impact me as a project manager?

A: Like many coined phrases, “talent management” covers a wide subject area with a single brushstroke. It takes into account succession, recruitment, retention, rewards and development.

Essentially, talent management means one of two things: An organization is anticipating what workers it will need and how it will meet that demand. Or, the company wants to ensure current employees are performing at optimum levels.


In one case I observed, the first step in applying talent management for project managers was to develop and publish a career path for practitioners. Capability- and knowledge-based assessments were then introduced so individuals could see their progression against their development plans.

This type of approach had advantages for the organization, helping it determine the project management capability available, identify training and development needs, and discover individuals with potential for promotion and more responsibility. This process also allowed for more targeted recruitment because the organization could better recognize skills gaps, and it could test potential employees and contractors against the skills framework.

This is just one example of how an organization implemented talent management practices, but one size doesn't fit all. Rest assured that “talent management” talk will eventually lead to improved career progression. PM


Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.




Related Content

  • PMI Case Study

    Fujitsu UK member content open

    This case study outlines the learning framework Fujitsu put in place to prepare project managers fully at the start of their careers.

  • Project Management Journal

    The Impact of Executive Coaching on Project Managers' Personal Competencies member content locked

    By Ballesteros-Sánchez, Luis | Ortiz-Marcos, Isabel | Rodríguez-Rivero, Rocío Personal competencies have been shown to be increasingly reliable predictors of successful project managers. This research studies whether executive coaching is effective in strengthening personal…

  • PM Network

    2018 Jobs Report member content open

    By Rockwood, Kate The outlook is better than it's been in years. The global economy is surging, boosting job markets across sectors and continents. The global GDP growth projection of 3.7 percent for this year…

  • PM Network

    Stop the turnover member content open

    By Kroll, Karen M. Employers take heed: as demand overtakes supply, project practitioners who aren't happy in their current positions will find plenty of opportunities to move on. This article discusses how…

  • PM Network

    5 signs that it's time to go member content open

    By Bertsche, Rachel A missed promotion, measly pay, a truly horrible boss: some signs make it easy for an employee to know it's time to leave a job. But sometimes the signals aren't so blatant--especially when it comes…