Job Interview Question

Tell me about a time when you failed.

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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The key to answering the failure question is that you can’t say you’ve never failed.  I know you probably really want to, because you don’t want to be seen in a bad light.  But you can’t.  And it’s OK.

Everybody fails.  If you’ve never failed, it means you’ve never taken a risk (which means you probably haven’t made much progress, either) or you’ve never made a big mistake (which is impossible).

I’ve failed lots of times in my career.  What’s important is that I learn from my failures and I don’t make the same mistakes again.  And that’s what’s important for you, too.

This is not like the weakness question.  A weakness is a flaw in yourself that could affect your work in the future.  A failure is a temporary event that doesn’t have to happen again, if you are humble enough to learn a lesson from it.

So first, you have to choose a failure, and second, you have to be able to articulate something you’ve learned from the mistake so you can transform it into a turnaround story with a happy ending.  Everybody loves comeback stories, right?

As in:  “Once I failed by missing a deadline for a project, but I reacted to that by taking a course to learn my Outlook program in greater detail so that I could use it to keep myself organized and always on time.  I’ve been much more productive since then, so I’m actually kind of glad that happened because I learned a lot from it and I am providing a greater benefit to my organization.”

Or, you could say:  “I am naturally optimistic, which is a great thing for my attitude and my ability to work with people, but once it caused me to overlook a possibility for a problem with my project that turned into an actual problem.  I learned from that that I can be optimistic, but I should always have a contingency plan in place.  And I do.  And actually, it allows me even more peace of mind because I know that I’ve always got a Plan B, just in case.”

Do you see?  You admit the failure, tell what you learned from it and what action you took to correct it or avoid it going forward, and show why it has made improvements in you and your work. And always bring it back to your selling points so you can continue to be strategic in your interview answers.

Someone who’s not afraid to admit they made a mistake and is obviously interested in improving themselves and their performance is always going to be attractive to an employer.


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