Published Jan. 5, 2021
Interviewers use behavioral questions like “Tell me about a time you failed” to find out more about how a potential employee reacts to a negative situation. Your answers to this kind of question can unveil a lot about your character, ability, and willingness to learn.
Having an interviewer to ask you to talk through a negative experience can be daunting for most applicants. This entails describing a personal flaw or mistake without setting your interviewers off hiring you.
At MentorCruise, many mentors agree that by thinking through an instance of a past failure, you can transform a negative experience into a compelling story to impress your interviewer with your capability to grow and adapt humbly and honestly.
This article will describe the ideal approach to questions like this and show you how you can prepare the perfect response.
Hiring managers or recruiters ask questions like “Tell me about the time you failed” to show how you react to failure:
To better demonstrate what employees want when they ask this kind of behavioral question, we put together the following feedback from experts at the top of their fields to see what they want from interview questions like this.
This behavioral question aims to assess how a potential employee can surmount difficulties.
Employers don’t ask this question to place the candidate in an embarrassing situation. They want to get an idea of how well a potential employee can handle setbacks.
To answer this question:
When addressing this question, explain why you think things went wrong. Was there something you needed to have done? What will you be doing in the future?
According to Steve Pritchard, the Human Resource Consultant for Ben Sherman, you need to practice this question before going to the interview.
The more you blunder upon your response when this question comes up, the less authentic you seem. And the more likely you are to say the wrong things or waffle. Waffling makes your failure seem untrustworthy.
Discussing your past failures to an interviewer you aspire to impress is challenging. The secret to answering this question is to make sure you own it. Your failure shows a bit of your work experience, of course, namely the one you learned from. So, honestly narrate your failure to your interviewer. Just make sure you demonstrate that this failure was a learning experience and has pushed you to enhance your work ethic.
Also, make sure you outline the steps you took to improve and work on your failure. Your employers desire to know that you won’t make such a mistake again.
You want to respond in a way that expresses a willingness to take responsibility. And you need to show how this failure has made you a better employee or applicant.
To do so, follow this process.
1. Accept the failure using a superlative (first, biggest, last, least, and so on…). For example, “The greatest mistake I’ve ever made with a client was to approve a change in a project without waiting for the client’s written approval.” The superlative directs the interviewer on this singular mistake and emphasizes how it’s a one-off thing. If you say something like, “One mistake was…,” you’ll possibly get something like, “What was another…”
3. Describe the lesson you learned and how you guarantee it will never happen again.
Here’s a sample answer: “I learned that it’s compelling to have the client’s approval before any added expenses. In the future, I’ll draft it in a quick email and follow up with texts and phone calls until I get approval. I wouldn’t ever want to encounter that type of client and management wrath ever again.”
This step is the most essential. Nobody believes the person who declares, “It will not happen again.” They want to know the actions you have done to stop the mistake from happening again.
Before you barrel headlong into responding to this kind of question, you must think about the answer you’ll give and how that comes across. Pick your real failure carefully or run the risk of presenting yourself as irresponsible, risky, or flaky.
Your recruiter doesn’t need to learn about the time you unwittingly hurt a top client, resulting in them shifting their custom and losing your firm a lot of money in the process. So,
Once you’ve successfully landed on that relevant past failure, you can then prepare your answer.
Let’s move through a few steps that will assist you in answering the dreaded question, “Tell me about a time you failed.”
When picking a case of failure to discuss, think deeply about the failure’s consequence and whether it will raise your possibilities of winning the job. Some losses are better kept to ourselves. Choose a situation that highlights some of the essential qualities relevant to the job you are applying to.
Also, try to avoid examples that end in a skewed picture of the workplace or poor decision-making. Preferably, focus on stories that reveal you as a person who is self-aware, ready to take good counsel, and learn from mistakes.
Despite your level of preparation, this question may still take you by surprise. But, you can lessen the possibilities of this happening with practice. A great way to practice interview questions and answers is by roleplay.
Tell a friend and or family member to act as your interviewer and practice your answer. Pay attention to how concise and timely your answers are during practice.
Ensure that your rehearsals imitate the conditions of the actual interview as much as possible. Practice will build your confidence and make it simpler to recollect your stories and key points during the real interview.
It’s often hard to objectively appraise yourself when you fail. One way to get an honest appraisal of your weaknesses and how it added to the failure is to ask your co-workers. So you want to encourage a colleague to give their frank feedback over the event.
Go to someone whose role was affected by your wrong decision. They will reasonably give you honest, uncorrupted inputs. The co-worker wouldn’t only help you see things from a subjective viewpoint. By talking with them, you’ll equally gain insights that may help you at the interview.
Once you land at an answer, you’ll need to structure it in a way that concisely tells your story. A powerful technique to employ when structuring a response to behavioral interview questions like this is the STAR technique.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
Applying this structure helps you build an answer that incorporates all the key points without roaming or veering off-topic. The STAR technique makes practice easy and enables you to be clear regarding what you want to say.
Before using any examples for your interview, make sure that it’ll fit into the STAR format.
Below are some samples illustrations of how to give a comprehensive response to the question “Tell me about the time you failed,” utilizing the STAR technique:
Situation: While serving as a vice marketing account director at Netbox, a thriving digital marketing firm, a client asked us about our services.
Task: “I was being prepared to take on more obligations. My manager advised that I take the occasion to talk with the client about what they were searching for and how we could be of help.”
Action: “I was a bit nervous about this and didn’t feel very ready. To plan for the conversation, I glanced over the services we offered to be clear on which would be appropriate for the potential new client.
“When I was holding the discovery call with our lead, they summoned me to a puzzle about monitoring Key Performance Indicators, and it got me off guard.
“I gave the most helpful answer I could, but, then, the lead reached our firm again and expressed dissatisfaction. Saying we were no longer proactive regarding monitoring and reporting on the figures. We recognized that I had provided minimal information and had distorted how our company addresses this area.
“After speaking it through with my manager, we discerned that I hadn’t identified which questions a lead might ask me and consequently, had failed to prepare appropriately, resulting in me transmitting incomplete information.”
Result: “To address the situation, I participated in a training session with my manager, comprising a roleplay with him acting to be the lead and asking all the issues that usually get asked. I practiced my answers and built up my confidence.
“We further resolved that if I do not know the answer to a question, I can apologize to the client while offering to investigate and get back to them.
“I later called the potential client, apologized for the mix-up, and explained precisely how we track and report on KPIs for our clients. They were content with this information and showed gratitude for the time I took to explain. They came back to book our services. After then, I have taken the lead with two other prospects who have both signed up as enterprise clients for yearly contracts valued at £35,000 and £50,000 .”
Situation: “I was managing my team in an advertising project at the last company I worked at.”
Task: “I was so anxious to awe our new client that I drafted a proposal that pledged to deliver the work below budget and in less time than they had stipulated.”
Approach: “The client was thrilled and gladly offered us the work. However, as the project went on, it became apparent that we couldn’t deliver it in the shorter period I had proposed.
“I had been overly confident and had over-engaged in my effort to impress, and my company had to offer a discounted rate to make up for the delay. I apologized to the client (and to my boss) and accepted my mistake.”
Result: “I acquired that it is much more helpful to be practical and honest from the starting, rather than to overpromise and underdeliver.
“I have never committed such a mistake again. Now I take the path of gaining conventional assurances and then being honest to clients when the work comes in faster or under budget.”
With inadequate preparation, it is easy to mess up and answer in a way that will paint you in a negative light. Take heeds to these common mistakes.
We put together a few other tips to help you provide the best workable answer to this tricky interview question:
If you want to tackle all behavioral interview questions, including this one, with ease and win yourself that dream job, then prepare properly.
The secret to all interview questions is proper preparations, and the best way to prepare is by working with an experienced interview coach.
At MentorCruise, a mentor with hiring experience will act as a technical interviewer and ask you some conventional hiring questions that you might hear in one of your future interviews.
Then you’ll receive actionable feedback on what to improve about your interview presence, knowledge, and other things that may be relevant to a future hiring decision.
Got an upcoming interview you need to nail? Book an interview preparation session in minutes.