Career missteps got you down? Reframe what you think about failure—instead of seeing it as a major faux pas, view it as a vital opportunity for growth.
That’s the philosophy of Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com, of one of the largest travel e-commerce companies in the world. In fact, she says accepting that it’s okay to fail is one of the most important pieces in order to fast- track success.
In this exclusive interview, she explains, “When I started at Booking, I had a role model who taught me it was okay to fail and that’s when you really learn and you get better.” Because of that, she says, you innovate much faster, build trust and confidence to try a lot of new things.
“A long time ago, we had to build interfaces to connect with other companies and I thought that was a great idea. The company had to pay a lot of money to build it and basically launched it, but our whole operating system almost broke. So, we couldn’t continue it. In the end, I had to go on the train to Paris to explain that I had spent millions.”
During the moment, you don’t feel great about it, but afterwards, the rewards can be tremendous. Tans figured out how to integrate better with companies, which eventually helped, the Dutch startup that initially launched in 1996, to find a model to scale all over the world.
The CEO adds, “You get out of that stronger.”
In actuality, she was grateful the system almost broke early on, and that it happened when it did, so she was able to figure out how to scale the business forward rather than potentially failing on a much larger scale when stakes were even higher. By learning what broke and knowing how it needed to be changed, the company eventually made more money and got even more customers.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to hide failures during job interviews since employers like Booking.com look to see how you have bounced back.
“When did they fail?” she asks. “It’s always a good question, so you can truly see how people react and what they’ve done. If they say no, it’s probably not a right fit. When you start very young and you start to work, you’re going to fail. That’s how you learn.”
Next up, Tans asks job seekers how they grew. “Instead of what they do, I ask more specifically around the red line of their career and what specific choices they made and why. It speaks to more of what they need to develop and why they need to do it.”
She adds, “I don’t think there’s ever a wrong answer as long as people are willing to learn, share. You’re never done learning.”
So, if you’re looking to get a foot into the door at Booking.com to join the ranks of more than 15,000 employees in 204 offices worldwide, Tans says cultural fit counts. “It’s one of the main elements we are looking at. Experience or what they’ve done, you can get all that from the resume. You don’t need to spend much time. We check around empowerment—do they like to work independently?”
That’s why they also center questions around culture. “It’s the most important part of so many successes at Booking. People can stay true to themselves, which is very important here because it’s a growing company, but we have a very clear mission—people keep staying true to that and our customers. They get a lot of freedom within that to innovate, the environment is all these little startups. It’s great to see so many people building their successes here. Technology’s great, but you can only be as good in technology as your people are.”