How to structure a resume after startup failure?


I'm in the frustrating position of looking for a job after spending two years building a start-up that has faced terminal challenges. My problem is that my start-up had little to do with my prior professional experience where I worked as a sales engineer and industrial electrician.

I decided to act on an idea for a startup that I had sat on for years. Unfortunately, I ran into the not so unusual circumstances of not enough capital, financial or human to get it going, and I made the decision that I have given it everything I've got...literally.

So I am struggling with decisions regarding shaping my resume. I am pursuing jobs related to my technical and project management experience. I am using typical resume formatting and the first thing listed is my start-up, but I have no idea how to make that relevant to my job search in engineering and project management. I don't know if I should even be looking to get back there. I'm very frustrated on which direction to go, and how to even put it together in an attractive resume.

Is there a way to pull all my experience together into a resume that is marketable?

Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Jobs Failure

asked Jun 24 '11 at 03:13
56 points
  • Seems off-topic since it only mentions a startup in passing - the question is really about a resume to get a job. That is off-topic here I think. – Tim J 13 years ago
  • Here's a discussion thread from a few months ago on how to incorporate start-up experience on a resume. Hope this helps []( I think you raise some great points as not all of us are serial entrepreneurs and folding the startup experience back into your career narrative can be tricky. – Nicko 13 years ago
  • That seems very relevant to me. Everyone here who is considering starting a startup is having thoughts about what if it fails... how to go back to corporate life. – Alain Raynaud 13 years ago
  • I edited it to try to make it more startup focused. I think this information can be useful. – Zuly Gonzalez 13 years ago
  • Could you please provide nearer information about yourself, like, your age, what did you start, where – Herr K 13 years ago
  • @Herr I'm 41. My start-up was/is a demographically focused city guide related to their cultural interests. Nothing to do with my "professional experience" aside from the fact that when I was Sales Engineer, I made a presentation to the company executive team that the money they were paying a web developer and marketer was money wasted. I showed them in black & white why it was wasted and what I could do turn it around...and I did, to the point that one the account managers once told me he would not have been selling anything if I had not initiated those web marketing & SEO efforts. – Howard 13 years ago

3 Answers


I noticed that you first talk about your professional experience as a "sales engineer and industrial electrician", but then you refer to it as "technical and project management experience". Those are all different fields, and I'm not sure how Project Management fits into this. This gives the impression that you are all over the place, and I think some clarification here would be helpful.

My Advice 1) Tie everything back to project management: As I said, it's unclear to me how project management fits into your work history, or your future goals. But if you did work as a PM, and you are interested in pursuing that again, I think it should be fairly easy to tie your startup experience to project management.

Project management is a big field that covers many aspects, and I think running a startup requires a lot of the same skills that a PM needs - managing resources, scheduling, budgeting, customer support, documentation, etc. Explain how running your startup helped you improve these skills.

2) Create multiple versions of your resume: I think it's good that you have experience in various fields, as you can leverage what you've learned in one area and apply to another. You can bring a different perspective to things because of your insight into other fields. That said, when you apply for a job I don't think you want to appear as a "jack of all trades". You want to show and prove that you are a master at whatever job it is that you are applying for. If you are applying for a sales position, you want to highlight your expertise in sales. If you are applying for an engineering position you want to highlight your experience in engineering.

Taking that into account, my suggestion would be to create multiple versions of your resume. You want to include all of your experience on each version, but you want to modify each one to focus on the area that the job you are applying for requires. The reason you want to include everything is because a gap in work history looks terrible on a resume .

As an example, let's say you are applying for a sales position. Include both your corporate experience as well as your startup experience. The work you did in your corporate sales position will be easy - include all of that. Now for your startup, you probably didn't have the official title of "sales" - you probably used something like CEO or founder. But that doesn't mean you didn't do any sales work. I'm sure that like most startup founders, you did it all. So under your startup work history make sure to highlight what you did in relation to the sales part of your startup.

3) Demonstrate lessons learned from your failures: Your startup failed, so what? We all have many failures under our belt. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. The worst thing you can do is blame something else for your failures. Take ownership of them - ultimately they were your decisions, so you are at least partly to blame. Explain what you have learned from your mistakes, what you would do differently, and how those mistakes influence the decisions you make from now on.

4) Have your resume reviewed by others: Ask friends and family to review your resume. A lot of times when we are so close to something we tend to overlook the obvious. Also look for local organizations that do resume reviews. Possibly a local university, or even your local SCORE chapter.

answered Jun 26 '11 at 01:20
Zuly Gonzalez
9,194 points
  • Hello Zuly,Thank you so much for your input and advice. If I can ask re: #3, would those lessons be something I put on the resume? I'm sure I'll get questions about it in interviews. For instance, one of the most important lessons I think I've learned is the importance of your start-up team really buying in. Too often the people that I had seemed to be hanging around waiting to see what would happen and enjoyed having superfluous titles more than they were committed to helping the endeavor succeed. – Howard 13 years ago
  • +1 for "Demonstrate lessons learned from your failures" – Laundro Mat 13 years ago
  • @Howard: Yes, definitely your time to shine will be during the interview, but you have to make your resume compelling enough to get invited to the interview. I suggest you tie as many of those lessons learned into your resume as possible. Taking the example you cited, you could talk about your experience recruiting employees, your experience in team building, your experience in motivating employees, and your leadership. Hope that helps. – Zuly Gonzalez 13 years ago


I agree with Zuly, you mentioned 3 different titles in your question and this is not good when looking for a job.

Create a resume that focus on the position you want to be hired for. Also, I recommend you look at some meetups and/or user groups for people specializing on any of the fields that you have experience with, there are always people looking for help at this events and there is nothing better than actually selling yourself in person, it sure beats a resume!

Lastly, have you considered working for a startup? your prior experience in your startup might prove to be very valuable to another startup, not many people are cut to work in a startup environment and you have already proved that you have that entrepreneurial mind and can handle all of the ups and downs in a startup.

Good luck!

answered Jun 26 '11 at 01:55
4,815 points
  • Thank you Ricardo for your input. Regarding the 3 different titles, Project Managment is something I did in all my positions, although it was never a title I had. – Howard 13 years ago


Although i am a person, who would never give up under any circumstances, i would definitely put my startup on the resume too.

IMHO, the main-point in applying for a job is the experience and the skill you bring to that particular position. So it would be a good sign, that you can "show-off" something, rather than, nothing at all.

answered Jun 27 '11 at 21:03
Herr K
292 points

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