When you go to a job interview, you’re very likely to be asked questions like, “tell me about a time when you failed.”
In this article, we will walk you through why interviewers ask about this topic, how to respond to the question “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”, and how to avoid the traps and mistakes that can cost you the job offer.
First and probably most important, stay clam. Take a deep breath and say something like, “Wow, that’s a great question.” I’ll have to think about that for a second.” Then, think for a moment and follow these steps.
Tips for answering “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed” Question
1.Pick a Real Failure
The first step is to choose a failure. Don’t try to get out of this by bringing up that time you got a B in a college class. You’re not fooling anyone. At the same time, you’ll probably want to avoid any colossal failures related to the type of work you’re applying for.
If the interviewer specifically requests something related to work, try to tell a story about something that happened a long time ago. Choose a story in which something significant did not go as planned due to your personal actions (or lack of actions).
It’s important to note that I said “something” rather than “everything”—the reason people frequently get this question wrong is that they’re looking for a situation in which everything went wrong. It only takes one thing to go wrong for your solution to work.
2.Define Failure in Your Own Words
You don’t need to talk about some massive failure in which everything goes catastrophically and comically wrong because you’re going to explain why you thought this situation was a failure.
After you’ve decided on your story, define failure in a way that fits it. Once you’ve defined failure, your story doesn’t have to be about an obvious failure; it just has to be about whatever you define failure to be.
3.Tell Your Story
Tell the story you chose now that you’ve established how you evaluate failure. Spend as little time as possible setting the scene and as much time as possible getting to the punch line.
Interviewers aren’t asking this question to make you squirm; they want to know how you deal with setbacks, so get to the part where you’re dealing with the failure as soon as possible.
Begin with the situation and explain why it was difficult. Then go into detail about what you did to try to fix it. Because this is about failure, you will most likely fail or be only partially successful. That’s all right. Do not try to hide the fact that not everything went as planned.
It’s impossible to perform well in an interview if the interviewer doesn’t believe what you’re saying, so don’t sugarcoat things.
4.Share What You Learned
Finally, at the end of your response, after you’ve relayed the truly awful outcome of your storey, you get to the good stuff. You want to finish with your lessons learned.
Discuss why you believe things went wrong, what you would have done differently in hindsight, and, of course, what you intend to do in the future.
Sample Answer to “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”
Sample Answer #1
In my previous company, I was managing a project for one of our biggest clients, and I was so eager to please them that I told them we could finish the project in two weeks.” This seemed doable to me, but it ended up taking three weeks, and they were not happy.
Looking back, I realized I should have been more conservative in my estimate to the client. I realized that if you’re clear about the timeline in advance, a client won’t be upset, but they will be disappointed if you promise something and then don’t deliver.
So I took this experience and applied it to become a lot better at managing client expectations during projects I manage. For example, on the following project with a different client, I told them it would take four weeks and we completed it in three. This made them very happy.
Sample Answer #2
At my previous job, our CEO gave me the opportunity to interview and hire entry-level employees for our team. I chose to hire someone who appeared to have a lot of potential but also had some “red flags,” or things that made me nervous. It turned out to be a huge mistake.
They had a bad attitude and dragged the team down to the point where my CEO had to fire them. I learned to be more cautious and not rush my decisions, as well as to consult with others on my team who have more experience if I’m unsure about something.
I also realized the significance of each hiring decision, which helped me become a better manager in the last few years of my career. I’ve hired eight new people since then and have never had a bad experience like this again. But it was a valuable lesson for me to learn so early in my career.
Sample Answer #3
When I first started the job, I was constantly falling behind on work due to procrastination.”
This had an impact on my work because I was not meeting production standards, making things more difficult for my team as a whole. After talking with my boss, I realized that my procrastination was a symptom of my lack of confidence in my abilities in my role.
When my manager and I discovered this, we decided it would be best if I shadowed other team members to observe how they work and ask questions. I’ve been with the company for two years, no longer procrastinate, and review training materials on a regular basis to stay current on my job functions.