How to Respond to “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”

It’s becoming a more common interview request, so you better have an answer when the hiring manager asks to hear about a time you failed.  How do you answer honestly without scaring away a potential employer?

This is a tricky situation. You’re there trying to impress them, but you have to discuss a time you failed. Here’s how you’re going to answer this and answer it well:

Pick a Real Failure

First of all, hiring managers know when someone is lying or stretching the truth. Don’t try. Pick something and not a failure about that one time you succeeded – but only barely! If the interviewer is asking for something related to your industry, be sure to choose a story from a while ago. Choose a time when only one thing went wrong, not everything.

  • Don’t start this off as though you make tons of mistakes. “Oh, I make lots!” is probably the worst way to start this, even if you’re trying to sound humble. Think about it and then tell your story.
  • Don’t choose a story about an error that cost the company a lot of money. Choose something that wouldn’t get you fired. This is still a job interview.
  • Don’t choose a story that makes you sound careless. Choose a one-time failure that you have moved past.

 

Define Why It Was a Failure

You don’t need a massive end-of-the-world kind of failure, but you do need one where you can define why it was a failure. Whether it didn’t meet your expectations or a goal that wasn’t met, make sure you clarify why you chose this failure. Make sure you pick a failure that you’ve since solved.

 

Tell Your Story- But Be Brief

You are trying to ace this job interview, correct? So don’t elaborate on and on about how horribly everything went. Keep it short and snappy. Start with the situation, explain why it was a challenge, tell what you did to try and fix it. Don’t cover up the fact that things didn’t go as planned, but do get to the punchline quickly. Keep this story a maximum of three minutes.

  • If it takes longer then 3 minutes to tell your story, you’ve lost your audience.

 

Explain What You Learned and How You Solved the Issue

You’re not going to fail like that again, right? Of course not! You’ve learned from this failure! Talk about why you think things went badly, what you could have done differently in hindsight, and what you’ll do next time going forward. Discuss the solution and explain how that mistake won’t happen again.

  • Be sure to give a real example of how you solved this going forward. 

Interviewers ask this question to figure out several things: your self-awareness and your ability to bounce back from failure. Everyone fails at some point or another. Making a mistake is a part of life, but it can also be a learning experience. If you can explain how you learned from past failures, you can show that you can adapt. That’s what your interviewer is actually asking about. If you use these steps to answer this question about a time you’ve failed, you’ll have the best interview answer that makes that interviewer want to hire you.

 

Check out our other answers for common interview questions:

How To Answer “How Do You Deal With Stressful Situations”

How to Answer “Why Do You Want To Work Here?”

Answer the Interview Question “How Would You Feel About Reporting To a Person Younger Than You?”

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?”

 

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