Any time you have a job interview, you’re very likely to hear interview questions like, “tell me a time when you failed.” I’m going to walk you through why interviewers ask about this topic, the best way to answer questions about times when you failed, and how to avoid the traps and mistakes that can cost you the job offer. Then I’ll share word-for-word sample answers you can copy.
There arethree key things employers look for in every answer to this question, so let’s start with that…
How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed” (And Why Employers Ask This)
There are three key traits that employers are looking for when they ask this interview question, and your answer needs to address all three areas if you want to “wow” the hiring manager or recruiter.
1. Show that you’re accountable and upfront
Employers don’t want to hire someone who seems like they make excuses and always blame others for their mistake. This type of person doesn’t usually learn from their failures and mistakes and is difficult to work with overall. So don’t say something like, “Well, I was blamed for a mistake at work recently but it wasn’t my fault…”
When the employer asks about a time you failed or made a mistake, show them you take responsibility for mistakes instead of putting the blame on others. Own up to it, acknowledge that you could have done something better/differently, and be clear and direct when explaining. That’s the first key step. Don’t worry if you’re not sure exactly how this should sound. Coming up, I’ll share full sample answers.
2. Demonstrate that you learn from your mistakes and use the experience to get better
Everyone makes mistakes, but no hiring manager wants to hire somebody who’s going to keep repeating the same errors over and over. That drives them CRAZY. So make sure you show them what you learned from the experience and how you used it to improve. There’s one more key thing they might be looking for too…
3. Stay on track with your answer and tell a clear, concise story
Any time they ask a question that requires a story (which definitely includes a question like, “tell me about a time when you failed”), they’re looking to see whether you can tell a clear story and get from point A to point B without getting sidetracked. This is true of any behavioral question, in fact. If you can’t communicate clearly in a job interview, the interviewer will be concerned about your future communication skills on the job. So don’t let your interview answers ramble on for four minutes or go in a bunch of different directions. Keep it brief. Try to tell the story in chronological order, too, without having to go back and forward in time repeatedly.
In general, when answering a behavioral interview question, describe the situation you were in, the choice you made, and the outcome. Then you can spend 20-30 more seconds talking about how you used the experience to improve in the future.
One more tip when answering: you’ll always get bonus points if you sound humble, so try to do that as well
Try to sound like you appreciate the lesson you learned and are happy to have learned it (even though experiencing a failure is NOT fun at the time…) If you do those things, you’ll have a great answer that will impress the interviewer when they ask you to describe a time you failed. Now let’s look at some of the traps, mistakes, and errors that can get you rejected in an interviewwhen answering this question.
Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About a Time You Failed
First, don’t let your answer get disorganized or go on for two or three minutes. Remember to be concise and brief! I recommend keeping your response to around 30-60 seconds. Also, don’t make it sound like you learned nothing from the experience, and don’t blame others. Always be accountable for what you could have done differently in the failure.
Another big mistake: Not having an answer prepared and ready to go. Everyone fails, so don’t try to hide it or act like you have no failures. Prepare an example and be ready to talk about it. Also, avoid giving a story that makes you sound careless, or like someone who rushes through things and makes many mistakes in general. Hiring managers aren’t going to want to hire someone who seems like they rush and make mistakes frequently. It’s better to tell a story that shows a one-time mistake or error, rather than a pattern or repeating problem.
Finally, one other mistake you want to avoid:
I wouldn’t recommend talking about a huge disaster.If you made a massive mistake that cost a past company $2 million, I’d keep quiet and find a “less scary” story. So it’s a bit of a “balancing act”… Pick a real failure but don’t talk about a disaster that severely hurt your company. Those are the mistakes to avoid when answering, “tell me about a time when you failed.”
Next, let’s look at some sample answers so you can build confidence and practice.
Example Answers to “Tell Me a Time When You Failed”
Sample Answer #1:
“I was managing a project for one of our biggest clients in my previous company, and I was so eager to please them that I told them we could finish the project within 2 weeks. I thought this was doable, 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 a client isn’t going to be upset if you’re clear about the timeline in advance, but they are going to be disappointed if you promise something and then don’t deliver. So I took this experience and used it to become much better at managing the expectations of clients during projects I oversee. For example, on the next project with a different client, I told them it’d take four weeks and we finished in three. They were very happy about this.”
This example answer does a lot of the things we talked about earlier in the article. It tells a clear, concise story. It shows what you learned from the experience, and even ends with an example of exactly how you used this lesson to improve your abilities.
Let’s look at one more example answer now…
Sample Answer #2:
“In my last job, our CEO gave me a chance to interview and hire entry-level people for our team. I chose to hire someone who seemed to have a lot of potential but also had some “red flags” or things that worried me. It ended up being a big mistake. They had a poor attitude and dragged the team down until my CEO had to fire them. I learned to be more careful and not rush my decisions and to speak with others on my team who have more experience if I’m unsure of something. I also realized how important each hiring decision is, which made me a better manager in the last few years of my career. Since then, I’ve hired eight new people and never had a bad experience like this again. But it was a great lesson to learn early in my career.”
The Best Way to “Wow” the Interviewer at the End of Your Answer
When you finish telling them about a time you failed… don’t just talk about what you learned from it… show them a real example. Notice that both sample interview answers we just covered accomplish this. In the first example, the story is that you told the next client their project would take four weeks and you finished the project in three weeks, one week ahead of schedule. In the second example answer, the story is that you’ve hired eight more people since that failure, and each one has been a success.
It’s one thing to say you learned a lot from a failure, but an example or story is more powerful in demonstrating that you truly improved.
Answering “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” – Quick Instructions
- Talk about a real failure you’ve had, starting by describing the situation.
- Explain what happened clearly and quickly.
- Take responsibility and don’t make excuses for the failure.
- Show what you learned from the experience.
- Talk about how you’ve used the experience to become better at your job and avoid similar mistakes.
- Don’t talk about anything that was a disaster for your employer. Pick a real failure but not anything too costly.
- Don’t share any story that makes you sound careless in general. It’s better to share a one-time failure that you quickly learned from and moved past.
- Be brief and concise. Keep your answer to 2-3 minutes.
If you use these steps above to answer “tell me about a time when you failed,” you’ll have an impressive interview answer that makes employers want to hire you.
It all went wrong when I [describe the action you took] which I tried to solve by [add an action]. I had solved a similar problem in the past in this way, but this time I forgot to [insert the action that would have made a difference]. As a result, I did not meet the deadline.How do you answer Describe a time you failed to meet a deadline? ›
The best approach to answering this question:
Your best approach is to talk about a specific situation where you missed a deadline due to unforeseen or unplanned circumstances, yet take personal responsibility for the shortcoming and talk about what you are doing to keep it from happening again in the future.
Not meeting others' expectations. Missing a deadline. Taking on too much/over-promising. Failing an assignment.What is the best answer for biggest failure? ›
How to answer “What is your biggest failure?” Pick a real failure that happened in the workplace, specifically a failure related to the work you're doing now. Look for a story where something didn't go as planned. Choosing the right story is important, as you want to explain a situation where only one thing went wrong.What's your biggest failure interview question? ›
Answer the question “What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?” with a clear and concise story. Mention a time when you made a mistake at work, in school, or in your personal life. Explain where you went wrong and the results of your errors.How do you define failure interview answer? ›
"Failure is when I do not reach my goal." "I think to fail at something is making a mistake and not learning anything from it." "To me, failure means to have a goal and not do anything about it."
- Failures are pilliars of success. If I shall fail I will be relaxed and donot take tension because one can pass by being failure. ...
- If I will keep myself struggling I will be a successful person and never see behind what is wrong with me in past. ...
- I will succeed when I know what is failure and what success.
- Receiving poor or failing test grades.
- Not getting accepted into a degree or certification program.
- Interviewing for a position but not securing a job offer.
- Getting a bad performance review.
- Missing a deadline.
- Not making a team.
- Losing a client, sale, project or money.
- Give a Legitimate Example. The most important thing to remember when answering this question is that honesty is the best policy. ...
- Take Responsibility. ...
- Show What You Learned. ...
- Practice Your Answer.
- Accept How You Feel And Embrace Your Emotions. ...
- Remember That One Setback Doesn't Make You A Failure. ...
- Don't Use Excuses For A Failure. ...
- Motivate Yourself From Famous Failures. ...
- Moving Forward Is The Name Of The Game. ...
- Improve Your Self Esteem.