My company just canceled the project I was working on because they were dissatisfied with how it was going. I was quite disappointed with it because I thought the project was going well and I had already explained the limitations that the software would have due to the time constraints. I have decided that I will now look for a new job, but I am worried the project ending badly may give me some difficulties. Any advice on how I can minimise the difficulties this causes me without being dishonest?

  • 14
    Nothing bad with saying the project was cancelled by management. Just don't talk bad about anybody.
    – user1249
    Jan 15, 2011 at 11:44
  • You may want advice on dealing with failure: programmers.stackexchange.com/q/23075/7167
    – Gary
    Jan 15, 2011 at 18:20

7 Answers 7


Never be dishonest.

If your interviewer asks you for references, give him/her what she/he asks for. Not doing so is suspicious.

If she/he asks about that project specifically, tell him/her the truth, and please don't talk bad about your previous employer. Your interviewer will not appreciate that very much.

Don't be worry:

  • interviewers don't call references very often.
  • when they call, very few previous employers will talk bad about you. It's just not an appropriate behavior for many of them.
  • most interviewer won't ask about references at all!

Good luck

  • Besides, even if they do call your references, it's usually well after the point that they've actually made a decision. Calling references is just to make sure you're not some extreme anti-social or something. Jan 15, 2011 at 11:15
  • 2
    In certain countries (Canada for sure) it is illegal for any previous employer to say anything bad about the candidate. It's been the subject of many defamation of character suits. Jan 15, 2011 at 16:34
  • 1
    @SnOrfus: Curious, what defines bad? Is it wrong for previous employers say the candidate didn't communicate well with other employees, even if it was true?
    – Jeremy
    Jan 15, 2011 at 16:44
  • Jeremy: In such a country, the employers could say: "Most of our employees didn't communicate well with Mr. Doe", so per se they say nothing about the candidate, but everybody know what they mean.
    – user281377
    Jan 15, 2011 at 18:11
  • 2
    +1 for not bad-mouthing your previous employer - always very bad form
    – Gary
    Jan 15, 2011 at 18:15

Be honest.

Explain that the project was cancelled and why it was cancelled. You say that the company was "dissatisfied" with how it was going. You need (to provide) more information, was it the speed of progress, the performance of the product, its direction?

  • I was the sole developer on the project, so naturally a lot of the blame will fall on me. I am definitely deserving of some, but I also believe that on the whole, the project was going quite well and didn't need to be canceled
    – user13332
    Jan 15, 2011 at 11:20
  • @Anonymous - I removed that part because it wasn't particularly helpful. As long as you are honest and performed well there shouldn't be a problem. Projects fail all the time - businesses recognise this.
    – ChrisF
    Jan 15, 2011 at 11:22
  • @Anonymous, the fact that you were the sole developer is actually important and you should have mentioned this in your question because it brings more focus on you as an individual. Perhaps you would care to elaborate a bit on the reasoning for the project being cancelled? Unrealistic goals? Failure to communicate? Something else?
    – user1249
    Jan 15, 2011 at 23:49

Good. You now have your feet on the ground and are a really programmer.

Projects go poorly all the time. It's usually got little to do with the developer. Any manager that you would want to work for should understand this. Any manager that doesn't understand this is probably setting themselves up for failure. Remember that interviews go both ways.

I've actually been part of a project where one of the main things I wanted to hear from candidates was that they had been on a project that went badly/failed. It was a critical project and I knew it was one where optimism could get the better of us.


Failure is always an option

Anyone who says otherwise will do the following things:

  1. Over commit
  2. Fail to let you know they over committed
  3. Force you to work lots of unpaid overtime when their over commitment catches up to them

Which puts you right back where you started.


You want to be able to show what you learned from the experience. This might take some work on your part, because mostly right now it doesn't READ like you learned anything. It seems like you disagree with the decision to pull the plug, you don't understand it, thought everything was fine, etc.

To turn this into a positive on your resume, you're going to need to do some soul searching and some examination of the situation from a point of view other than your own. That'll be good for you in the long term anyway--you'll be making yourself a more valuable and desirable employee as you do this thinking.


I have decided that I will now look for a new job

1. Have you been fired?
2. Was your job for this project only?

If so, then go ahead look for a new job, and look as if nothing happenend, because believe me(and I have no real job experience), projects go kaput all the time.

However, if you still have that job, why don't you stick around if the environment is still friendly? If it was an important project, the management would be trying something on similar lines, and your experience on this project will come handy.

I'll give you a mantra:

Failures are not my fault alone!

(take all the credit possibly possible for a successful project(in the right spirit!)Lighten up!)

There are some better quotes like Failures are the stepping whatever to success, but who cares!

  • Just having made the decision to start looking is important. Not having been fired is just allowing you to be picky.
    – user1249
    Jan 15, 2011 at 23:50
  • 1
    1. I still have the job. 2. I've been working for the company for about a year
    – user13332
    Jan 16, 2011 at 3:25

Some things to keep in mind...

-Roughly 80% of IT projects fail based on the criteria of coming in under budget, being on time, and adequately covering the initial scope. (obviously that figure is an estimation & debatable, but probably accurate)

-Most employers will only state facts & not say anything negative in a reference call; mostly for the purpose of limiting legal liability. I've seen this primarily in large companies, its smaller ones who you should worry about (specifically because they might not be considering legal ramifications.

In using them as a reference, forget about the project. What will they say about you as an employee? Are you competent? Work well with others? Take initiative & responsibility? Are you reliable? If you have those type of characteristics then forget the project, that's the stuff they care most about


I wouldn't worry it...

Projects go wrong for various reasons all the time. Unless you were the manager and your failure was very high profile (eg. Developing an automated ticketing system for your city's mass transit system and your failure was plastered all over the newspapers), future employers will probably never hear of it.

There are two reasons for this: 1) Legal ramifications, as others have already said, but also 2) People don't like to speak ill of others in a professional setting. Most people just don't like being negative about others behind their back because it feels bitchy and backstabby*. Even if a manager or team leader wasn't very happy with you professionally, they will tend to talk about your good points, or at least be relatively neutral when being referenced.

(* If you had a serious personal clash with them, then there's a higher chance that they might drop some negative hints and vibes about you. But not using people you had bad chemistry with as a reference is just common sense. :))