This is one of those questions that has become a rather ‘trendy’ question to be asked by interviewers. These types of questions are usually picked up on ‘interviewing seminars’ or ‘how to interview properly‘ courses.
Naturally, some interviewers will use them, and they are particularly awkward ones to deal with. However, my in-depth guide will help you by providing sample answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” so that you ace that interview the first time!
So, let’s get interviewing…
- Why Ask?
- Have You Ever Actually Failed?
- Identifying A Failure
- The Question Might Be A Carefully Concealed Character Check
- If You Feel You Have Made A Mistake
- Give A Concise Answer
- Stick To The Point And The Clock
- Humility Counts
- Avoiding Disasters
- Which Story To Tell?
- Deciding What To Tell Them
- Avoiding Disasters Revisited
- Be Professional
- Looking For More Career Info And Advice?
- Final Thoughts
This question is designed for one reason (apart from that is, from filling in some empty time on an interviewing course). And that is to try to intimidate the potential employee, to see if the interviewer can panic them into an answer that will make them look inefficient. Though why they would want to do that, and what purpose it would serve, is rather lost on me.
It certainly isn’t a tactic I ever used or would ever consider using when I’ve interviewed anyone. Nevertheless, some use it. And you will need to be prepared to give an answer that will satisfy the interviewer.
Have You Ever Actually Failed?
That is something that the wise ones in the seminar preparation office seemed to have forgotten to consider. There are quite a few people around that haven’t what you might call ‘failed.’ Depending on how you judge a failure, of course, which is another thing that seems to have escaped their logic.
I might have been tempted to answer “I haven’t, next question” if it had been asked of me. But that might not earn you too many brownie points, so best to avoid that answer. Nor is the answer “Can you explain failure please,” which is another option I might have used.
A little tricky…
The problem with answering this question at all is that there might not be a situation where you consider you have failed. In which case, the answer becomes a little tricky. But the last thing you want to do is to try and scratch around to find an answer for the sake of it.
Identifying A Failure
Not filling the photocopier up when it ran out of paper doesn’t qualify as a failure. The root of the answer lies in… did you ever made a mistake that cost your company money? Or maybe lost business which might be the same thing? Did you make a mistake internally that had ramifications in the department? Possibly dealt with a colleague in a way that caused internal dissent?
The Question Might Be A Carefully Concealed Character Check
The interviewer might be asking the question to see if you can be open and honest. Possibly they are looking to see if you’re going to make excuses and blame others for something you may have done.
Giving the answer, “well, there was this time, but it wasn’t my fault,” won’t do you any good. If there is something, then being open and honest about it will go in your favor, especially if you can come across that you have learned from your mistake.
If You Feel You Have Made A Mistake
It is best to confront it and accept that you were accountable for it. Don’t try and palm the blame off on someone else even if you think their input contributed to the situation. By accepting and admitting there was something that you could have done better shows, you have learned from the mistake.
Give A Concise Answer
Assuming there is an answer to give, keep it brief. One trait this will show up about you is your ability to communicate information concisely and clearly. They will not be expecting or wanting Edward Everett’s address from Gettysburg.
Perhaps that is an important issue that will form part of your success in dealing with this question. Companies like to employ people who can communicate. Now it isn’t something that everyone can do. And it does depend on the nature of the job you are applying for. But communication can be important, and this will be a chance to demonstrate you have that skill.
Stick To The Point And The Clock
Make sure you don’t digress into irrelevant areas. And keep the answer down to a minute maximum. Give them a bit of background about the situation, if you were working alone, the choices that you made, and the outcomes. Close by explaining how this has helped you since in your decision-making.
Making a mistake is not fun. That is something you can emphasize, but you have tried to take the positives out of it. That is something that will be a reasonable response.
And with regard to the last point, the fact that it has helped you since is not something to brag about. Employers would far rather you learned without making mistakes. But if and when you do, be humble about the results. No one likes anyone who blows their own trumpet in the wrong circumstances.
No need to go on too much about this, but in answering the question, you do need to avoid disasters. Let’s just make some brief summaries.
Be concise and brief
I have already mentioned this, but it is a very important issue. If you start rambling on, then that doesn’t portray you in a, particularly good light. And of course, the longer you go on, the bigger the chance you could put your foot right in it.
You have learned from the experience
Recapping on another previous point, it is always a good idea to infer what you have gained from the experience. Learning something that you can apply to the future is always a good thing. But as I also said, don’t blow the trumpet too loud.
Don’t blame others
If you have been involved in something that has gone wrong, accept your share of the blame. Even though you may feel it was more to do with others. Accept you were part of it, and don’t cast blame or responsibility elsewhere.
Don’t try and cover up your mistakes. If you have made one or a few, be honest enough to admit them. They are probably going to find out anyway. I will return to that later.
Which Story To Tell?
If you are in the position where you are deciding to discuss which failure to tell them about, you may have a problem. Don’t cherry-pick what you consider the least damaging. It could be better to get the ‘big one’ out of the way first.
Deciding What To Tell Them
As I said, if you have a range to choose from, then possibly there might be a problem. A colleague told me that they recommended not talking about a ‘big disaster.’ They said quite openly that if you have made a major mistake, then hide it away and don’t say anything.
There is no balancing act
You cannot adopt that policy when confronted with this question. Not if you want to maintain a sense of respect, that is.
Let me ask you a question
Was your mistake a serious one? One that possibly costs the company a lot of money, or business, or both? If so, do you not think that there is a chance that this interviewer might know about it already? Or if they don’t know now, don’t you think they will probably find out. And probably quite quickly once requests for references, etc., are flying about.
Avoiding Disasters Revisited
I mentioned in the brief notes on ‘Avoiding Disasters,’ to be honest, this might be the moment. If it costs you the job, then that will be how it is. If the new company finds out after, it may well cost you the job anyway.
If you are upfront and tell the truth, then you will at least come across as an honest employee. Companies like that. And it would be far better than being the deceitful version by trying to hide a serious mistake away.
That is one way to overcome obstacles. If you act professionally and you look it, it won’t do you any harm. A nice briefcase will always create a good impression; I recommend the Tassia Luxury Leather Executive Case Attache Briefcase, as does a nice pen such as the Parker IM Fountain Pen.
And arriving for your interview soaking wet might be deemed a ‘failure’ in your preparation, so get yourself a quality umbrella, such as the Lilyxin Premium Automatic Compact Umbrella Windproof.
Looking For More Career Info And Advice?
Well, firstly, you’ll never get that interview without an impressive resume. So, check out the excellent How to Write an Amazing IT Resume, Optimize Your Resume: DOs and DON’Ts the SamNova Way, the Resume Format Guide, English for Academic CVs, Resumes, and Online Profiles, Land Your Dream Job: Join the 2% Who Make it Past Resumé Screening, Resume Writing: 10 Ridiculously Simple Tips, as well as the Resume Formats book available in 2023.
In addition, if you’re using a Linkedin profile, then take a look at Marketing Yourself in the Age of Digital: CVs, Applications, Interviews, Social Media, LinkedIn, CVs, Resumes, and LinkedIn: A Guide to Professional English, and Expert Resumes and Linkedin Profiles for Managers & Executives.
We also found some great online interview guides such as INTERVIEW with DESIRE and GET HIRED!: How to Ace the Interview, Sell Yourself & Get Your Dream Job, Get That Job!: The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, Amazing Interview Answers: 44 Tough Job Interview Questions with 88 Winning Answers, How to Answer Interview Questions: 101 Tough Interview Questions, and the superb Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent all available today.
Everyone makes mistakes which some then term a failure. It is only a failure if you don’t learn from it. And then make the necessary changes so as to try not to repeat it. So the best way is to be upfront and honest with the hiring manager.
It is always essential to also look the part at an interview. Dress professionally and appropriately. Additionally, always remember to be polite and keep those answers concise and to the point.
All the very best with your Interview!