Job Interview Question

Tell us about a failed project.

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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Tell us about a time when you failed.”  This is a big behavioral interview question.

Why do hiring managers want so badly to ask about your failures?  It’s because we’ve all failed at one time or another and how we deal with it and react to it says a lot about our character and our work ethic.   It gives them another perspective on how you deal with stressful situations, too.

Failures are difficult.  I’ve had a few of them myself.

Basically, how I feel about a failed project is this:  a failed project is never a complete failure because you should have learned something from it that will make you smarter the next time around.  As long as you don’t disappoint your customers and your superiors, then having a failure is not necessarily a negative.

In fact, failure can be good for us because it means that we’re moving forward, we’re trying.  A few lumps and bumps on the way are part of the learning process.

I like Michael Jordan’s quote:  “I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  Michael Jordan failed all over the place, but he’s also one of the most successful, most accomplished athletes in the world.

We learn a lot from our failures, and that’s what the interviewer wants to know that you know.   Did you take responsibility?  Did you take what you learned and apply it to being better than you were before?

Choose a failure that you learned something from that made you even better at what you do.

If it were me, I would choose a project that failed because of something like organization or time management rather than something that was a central skill I need for my job.  And I would choose something that happened a long time ago.  (Which gives me plenty of time to show that I didn’t make that mistake again.)

Give them the background of the story (what was the project, what was going on).  Tell them what the mistake was and why you made it.  And then tell them what you learned and what steps you took to make sure that it never happened again.  You failed, you learned, you improved.

I want everything in your interview to be as positive as you can make it, and that means your answer to the failure question, too.


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