Navigating the Question of Failure in a Tech Transfer Interview

I saw an article this morning on social media advising job seekers on how to admit failure. The author suggested that if you did it well, it could score you points with the interviewer. This made me think about the tech transfer interview.

How many departments in award-winning technology research organizations want to hear about failure?

The answer depends on the type.

Can Admitting Failure Help in a Tech Transfer Interview?


Candidates should never lie during an interview. If someone asks if you’ve ever failed on the job, answer truthfully. However, save the sordid details for your best friend. There is acceptable and questionable failure when scrutinizing a job applicant.


Acceptable Failure in Technology Transfer

The kind of “failure” technology transfer departments would embrace would be creative leadership or entrepreneurial failures (the kind that only happen once and don’t cost your employer hundreds of thousands of dollars). Most TTOs are looking for leaders. People who understand start-ups and risks. They’re not looking for timid, paper-pushing personalities. They want someone who can review the research protocol available to him/her and make an educated decision about which one will be most valuable to the organization.

Sometimes that means failing. Sometimes the research falls short of expectations. Sometimes companies “go a different way.”

These types of “failures” are expected when you’re involved in groundbreaking work.


Questionable Failure in Technology Transfer

The kind of technology transfer failure that is not acceptable are failures caused by a lack of attention to detail or organization, such as an error in a patent or mixing up particulars on an agreement. Failure to connect to your stakeholders and build relationships with key people in the industry are not well regarded. Failure to work as a team will limit your career potential in this field.

No one is perfect and employers understand this. Often they ask difficult, uncomfortable questions to see how you think on your feet. If you’re able to answer them honestly, build rapport with the interviewer, and establish yourself as a dynamic leader willing to admit reasonable failure and what you learned from it, you’ll be having the sort of open discourse that is prized among entrepreneurs.

Leave a Comment