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I worked briefly for a company that had a recent highly publicized failed government project (I'm sure you can probably guess). While I did not work on that particular project, I think all the bad press about this company negatively affects my resume. I was only at the company for about 6 months before I realized I needed to get out.

If I remove it from my resume, I may avoid having it tossed out prematurely, but I'll have to explain the missing 6 months eventually. Which option makes the best overall impression?

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Don't assume that the readers here are from your country. –  Jan Doggen Dec 4 '13 at 19:03
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I would not assume someone working at Company X was an idiot just because there was a media circus around some project at Company X that went badly, even if they DID work on a highly visible failed project. I would however think that a defensive person has something to hide. –  Warren P Dec 4 '13 at 19:10
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Also there's a good talk on failure here, nice perspective on the whole thing. –  JMK Dec 4 '13 at 19:39
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How large was the company? If you were a part of a very small company, that might make a difference. Was the problem related to your position? That would also change things. –  nycynik Dec 4 '13 at 20:17
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Windows 8 isn't all that bad. –  BigHomie Dec 5 '13 at 16:06

10 Answers 10

up vote 135 down vote accepted

Recruiters don't assume that everyone associated with a 'failed project' is incompetent. I very much doubt that your resume will be tossed out because this company name appears on your resume. If you were actually involved with this project then you can expect questions at an interview about your role. You might get general questions about why the project failed, so be prepared for them.

If you leave this work off your resume, that leaves a six month gap in your work record. You will probably be asked about that gap, in which case you will have to lie (which I strongly don't recommend) or own up to the association. I very much doubt that either of those scenarios will be better for you than putting the work on the resume in the first place.

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****comments removed**** Please avoid extended discussion in the comments. It's okay to express disagreement, but please use our site's Water Cooler chat room for extended back and forth discussion. –  jmort253 Dec 6 '13 at 3:11

If I remove it from my resume, I may avoid having it tossed out prematurely, but I'll have to explain the missing 6 months eventually. Which option makes the best overall impression?

I've never rejected a resume or interviewee based on working for a company that was a public failure. As far as I know, none of my friends who are hiring managers have ever rejected an interviewee for this reason, either. I can't imagine ever rejecting for that cause, unless I somehow believed the individual was directly responsible for the failure.

I've worked at many companies that no longer exist. As far as I can tell, their demise has never been held against me when I was seeking employment.

On the other hand, if I spot a lie on a resume I'll immediately put it in the "reject" pile. And if I detect an omission or inconsistency on a resume, a huge red flag is raised in my mind - one that isn't easily explained away.

For me, this is a no-brainer. Leave the company on your resume. Be prepared to discuss the company (with a laugh) during an interview.

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Further, while I've never tossed a resume for being at the wrong company, I have tossed resumes for "been out of work too long". 6 months wouldn't trigger that for me, but it may for others. –  Monica Cellio Dec 4 '13 at 16:42
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... unless I somehow believed the individual was directly responsible for the failure - don't discount the value of failing on the road to success. I wouldn't reject someone because of past failure, if they openly acknowledge it and articulate convincingly where they went wrong and what they should have done instead -- au contraire! –  Roy Tinker Dec 4 '13 at 17:28
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If you're in a tech field (engineering, design) there's such high demand for those roles that I highly doubt you'd get rejected on that basis — I make hiring decisions and I'd never throw out an otherwise interesting resume because of 6 months at a dodgy company. Actually, the fact that you spent only 6 months there speaks in your favor! Unless you were one of the senior decisionmakers on that project I wouldn't hold you responsible, and even if you were I'd care more about whether you learned from your mistakes. –  Ellen B Dec 4 '13 at 20:19
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This answer is completely useless. "I'm a nice hiring manager (protecting my organization from bad apples, be damned), so just behave as if everyone is like me. Good luck!" Just count how many times "I" and "me" occurs. –  Kaz Dec 5 '13 at 22:09

I worked briefly for a company that had a recent highly publicized failed government project (I'm sure you can probably guess). While I did not work on that particular project, [should I remove this experience from my resume?]

Great question. And my answer is:

Categorically 'No'.

Here's why:

  • When a recruiter screens candidate resumes for a potential fit, he/she is scanning for keyword technology matches and requisite levels of education and experience. Recruiters typically do not filter out candidates with experience at companies with sullied reputations. [And if they do, then they are foolish.]
  • When a hiring manager interviews a candidate, he/she wants to know: Can this candidate help my team complete work and solve problems? Any hiring manager with a modicum of common sense knows that office politics and poor executive decision making can cause a project to fail. Such factors have nothing to do with a particular candidate's utility to his/her next company.
  • Experience on a failed project can often help a worker make informed decisions when he/she faces similar problems in the future.
  • During the interview process, a good hiring manager should be able to discern if a candidate: 1) Had anything to do with the problems on the failed project; and 2) Learned anything from the experience.

Hope this helps!

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In short, if every programmer who worked on a failed project or a lousy company was blackballed, there'd be no one left to hire.

Be forthright and honest about you, your role, and your skills and you will probably not have an issue.

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Hey KevDog, despite your answer being up voted, we're accumulating a lot of answers on this question, which could kick it into community wiki mode. Would you mind expanding on your answer with an edit to adhere to our site's back it up rule, either with facts, references, experiences that happened to you personally, or even just elaborating with why and how. When we must remove posts, we generally target posts that don't meet that guideline in cases where we must prune. Thank you. –  jmort253 Dec 6 '13 at 2:45
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I kept this short on purpose. This is a case where why and how are fairly clear, I think. A short, clear answer is better than one that is essentially padded. The fact that it is being upvoted should be sign enough of quality. If not, that's your call. –  KevDog Dec 6 '13 at 23:40

Honestly, why would any hiring official that you would want to work for assume that a big disaster was your fault just because you happened to work at the company at the time of the failure. And really after about two months no one will even remember what company this was. A six-month gap is a far bigger problem to explain. Plus you can't use any of the new experience you actually got at that job to sell yourself.

Getting caught in a lie about what you were doing during those six months would be a deal breaker. It is a small world in many professions, it is entirely possible a hiring official might know someone who worked there at the same time or may have worked there in the past himself and find out you are lying about that time. Sometimes even good people get involved in failed projects, so what.

Why would anyone care unless you have nothing but failed projects on your resume and only poorly thought-of employers. A pattern of failures is more important than only one company that had a failed project. Really if you are not getting interviews from your resume, this one company is probably not the reason. I would look at how well you are selling yourself rather than some outside negative force.

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The fact is that if you're not coming from a company where there was a public disaster, there is no such suspicion. There is a possibility of suspicion here. You could have had something to do with that project. People who reject resumes from a big pile use heuristics, not deductive logic. Although with passage of time few will remember, the question is what to do in your resume now, while the recent events are fresh. –  Kaz Dec 4 '13 at 19:31
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Yes and anyone who would reject you solely becasue you worked for such a company is someone you would not want to work for anyway. So keeping it in is a win all the way around. –  HLGEM Dec 4 '13 at 19:39
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But you do not necessarily work for that person! If you are hired there, you might not actually work with the person who tossed the resumes of others. And anyway, there is nothing wrong with that person. I'm not an idiot, or hard to work with, yet I'd tend to toss the resume. You're not hurting anyone by tossing their application; just protecting your interests. If you have 50 applications for one job, you must necessarily toss 49, and you cannot worry too much about which combinations of 49 make you an asshole more than others. –  Kaz Dec 4 '13 at 20:06

I hire based on honesty, competency, and clarity of communication -- in that order. While I can appreciate the deliberation this raises in you, any distortion of your history would negatively impact my perception.

Besides, consider the outcomes:

  • If you put it on there and I don't know about the debacle, no harm no foul.
  • If you put it on there and I do know about the failure, it would provide an interesting talking point for me -- I could understand your perception, and such perception might be valuable to me in my projects. Perhaps you could help my company avoid similar disasters.
  • If you don't put it on there, that opens a big can of worms through which you will have to dance.

In summary: put it on there. Use it to your benefit. Good luck!

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Actually having worked on failed projects (this seems not to be the case here) is often seen as a positive experience for following employers (well, maybe not so much for the head of such project).

The general idea is that any good candicate should learn from his errors, or the errors of others he have seen. If he is any good he should avoid doing the same kind of error in the future, and having seen other fail he will probably avoid being overconfident, which is dangerous.

Henceforth, you really shouldn't remove that experience from your resume, but be ready to speak about it, of what you believe were the root causes of the problems and also of what was done right and the intents of the people. Just avoid being too negative about it that is usually not well perceived by recruiters (despising other people, even after a failure is not an interesting quality in anyone).

On the other hand being good at failure analysis is a great quality for a candidate and it is luck to have such good subject likely to be discussed in an interview.

But of course it won't ever be the only subject and you will have to show your skills as in any other interview.

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I've worked for failed startups, but the projects were always technically great and are remembered fondly by everyone as awesome systems. In this situation, the techie has no problem; he did a great job, wasn't his fault. People in sales, marketing, senior VP's and so on have all the touch explaining to do, like "we tried to position ourselves at the worst possible moment during the economic crisis, just when IT departments were tightening their belts against the kind of spending as would be expended on our product ..." haha. –  Kaz Dec 5 '13 at 22:18

The omission will be noticeable and if you're found out, as you almost certainly will be, that's a huge black mark.

Don't underestimate the value of memorable résumé. Even an association with a famous disaster will keep your name in the hiring manager's mind. If you're bold, you can hang a lampshade on it:

Accomplishments
- led scrum-reorganization project
- diligently and successfully avoided association with Healthcare.gov
- finished second in company 10K run

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No. Even though there isn't actually an employment gap, removing the company would create the appearance of one, and this is worse than having a failed project on your resume.

What you can do to offset possible pain from this is to work on your story. How were you involved with this project? Did you see the failure coming? If so, why didn't you stop it? If not, why didn't you see it? Either way, what have you learned? What would you do differently next time? What wouldn't you do differently?

Recruiters see hundreds of successes every day: you need some, to be sure, but they're boring. A well-handled failure can make you interesting, and that can be its own kind of advantage. The trick is in showing that you did in fact handle it well.

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The folowing is purely my own thoughts, and does not reflect the position of my employer:

I wouldn't advise you what to do with your resume, it's up to you. Often people do have a long list of companies they worked with and that makes resume too long, so I don't see a big problem not mentioning some of jobs. However since you indicated this position that you carried is likely of interest to prospective employee, I can't ethically justify not mentioning it.

it's very individual as to what will each person think of your involvement in certain project. However, good companies tend to be picky, and it could take a single person out of whole team disliking you to be rejected. It's better to pass on several good candidates than to hire someone who ends up a bad fit. One a-hole could ruin the whole team dynamics. It's much easier to find a different candidate, than to fire somebody you already hired

I rarely do interviews, but if I did, then 6-month involvement in a knowingly dysfunctional and incompetent organization would actually be a red flag to me. Think about it yourself: say you interview someone who previously worked in TSA, would you hire him for work which requires initiative and independent thought?

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