Flunked! Bouncing Back from a Bomb

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“Trying is the first step toward failure.”
– Homer Simpson, to his son, Bart

In a twisted way, there is a kind of wisdom in the words above. Failure is a major part of the human experience, no matter who is doing the trying. No amount of intellectual ability, hard work or preparation will guarantee a successful conclusion to any undertaking. This might lead some people to the not-entirely-irrational (but nonetheless unconstructive and ineffectual) conclusion that they shouldn’t put forth real effort in anything because it might end up being an exercise in futility.


Speaking personally, I have fallen short in several different things over the years and for a number of reasons: lack of interest, not enough time, insufficient preparation or even a combination of these. And when that happens, it really stings. I also can say with a fair amount of certainty that I’ll fail at something again in the future. However, none of these failures will amount to my Waterloo if I respond to them with good measures of confidence, adaptation and greater wisdom derived from the experience.


Most information technology certifications involve some sort of evaluation of a candidate’s knowledge and skills. Many of these are extremely rigorous and rightfully so. Their value lies in their capacity to assess proficiency in a certain technology or job role, and they should thoroughly cover the subjects that those entail. Likewise, only those who are truly qualified ought to receive these credentials.


That said, it’s often hard for the unqualified candidates to swallow a flunked exam. And even though their lack of experience, knowledge or preparation would necessarily warrant failure, they shouldn’t think of their attempts at certification as fiascos. If you should ever fail an exam, don’t despair—take heart and apply the following recommendations to rebound into success:



  • Don’t let a single failure define you. As mentioned before, everyone fails at some point in their lives, even those we would consider to be accomplished. People don’t “become” failures, though, unless they choose to characterize themselves as such. After belly-flopping on an exam, don’t succumb to personal disparagement and pessimism. Stay positive, and remember that you’re a smart, capable person—you wouldn’t have even tried for the certification in the first place if you weren’t.
  • Properly assign blame for failure. After failing a certification test, you might be tempted to think that the exam was too difficult or that it assessed the wrong skills. That very well may be, and if that’s the case, then you should take up those concerns with the people who operate the credentialing program. But you have to be honest with yourself and earnestly evaluate your own qualifications and efforts. Did you study enough and use the right curricula? Do you really have the level of experience that this certification tests? If you can’t pinpoint and truthfully address the reasons why you failed, then your next attempt might produce a similar outcome. Keep in mind that this isn’t intended to be an exercise in self-flagellation—take it easy on yourself as you assess the “why” in all of this.
  • Learn from the past, but focus on the future. After determining the probable causes behind your disappointing performance, consider your lessons learned and move on. There’s no point in dwelling on the letdown, and too much concentration on it might produce a crisis in confidence long after the fact. Instead, internalize what you’ve learned about the exam content and your own traits and apply that toward your next certification attempt.
  • Network. There are plenty of people out there who have already traveled the road you’re on right now, and you’ll find them in your office, at industry conferences and in online discussion boards. Most of them are more than happy to share their wisdom for nothing more than a “thank you.” While you shouldn’t ask them about specific questions and answers—that would be cheating, of course—you might want to inquire about general test topics, study resources and training methodologies they used to great effect.
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