Interview Tips: How To Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Failed on the Job”

There are many questions that candidates dread. But talking about failures is definitely at the top of the list. After all, how are you supposed to discuss your biggest career mistake without painting yourself in a bad light? At Morgan Hunter, we know it’s possible to answer this question and still impress the hiring manager. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to answer this tricky interview question:

Don’t lie or exaggerate.

It’s tempting to make up a situation or focus on a minor area that doesn’t sound so bad. However, if you bring up that time you were five minutes late to a meeting, for instance, the hiring manager isn’t going to take you seriously. They want to hear about a real situation where you failed and what you did about it. So be honest and pick a scenario where you messed up, but truly learned from it.

Do redefine the question.

The hiring manager is asking you about a time you failed. That doesn’t necessarily mean a time you failed your boss or employer; it could also be a timed you failed yourself. For instance, perhaps you had a certain career goal you didn’t meet. Or maybe you didn’t stick to your usually high standards due to a tight turnaround. Whatever the case, you can talk about your expectations for your own work and career, and ways you didn’t measure up.

Don’t focus too much on what happened.

When a hiring manager asks you this question, you don’t need to launch into a long-winded story for the next five minutes. Instead, be concise and simply explain what happened and why it was challenging for you. Remember, if it seems like you’re lying or sugarcoating the situation, the hiring manager will notice. So be as transparent as you can.

Do focus on what you learned.

At the end of the day, the hiring manager wants to know how you deal with setbacks in your career. So if you give them an authentic situation and explain what you learned from it, you’ll go a long way in impressing them and hopefully getting a call back for a second interview or even the offer. That’s why it’s important to talk not only about the lessons, but also what you would have done differently and what you will do in a similar situation in the future.

Talking about failure is difficult, even for the most experienced candidate. But by following the steps above, you can better prepare and answer this question with ease and grace.

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