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Practical Answers to the Interview Question “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

If you have an interview coming up for any role or organization whatsoever, there is a possibility that the recruiter will ask you this question about the time you’ve made a mistake.

The response you give may likely determine your success or failure at the interview and for the role you’re applying for. So, if you aren’t ready to provide an intelligent reply, the question can throw you off balance.

In this article, MentorCruise will reveal in detail everything you need to know about the interview question “Tell me about a time you made a mistake.” And a practical approach to preparing a perfect reply. We also have a similar article on how to answer an interview question about the time you’ve failed.

To help you answer this question the right way, this is what we’re going to cover;

  • Why do recruiters ask the question?

  • Quick points to note before you reply

  • How to provide a relevant reply to the question

  • Using the STAR approach

  • What you should say when replying to the recruiter

  • Things you shouldn’t say when replying to the question

  • Practical answers to the interview question

Why Recruiters Ask the Question “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

To begin with, the reason for this question isn’t far-fetched. Asking this question gives the recruiter an idea of how you respond and act to mistakes or challenging situations. While asking you this question, your level of honesty is tested, so do not fall into the recruiter’s trap by saying you don’t make mistakes.

No doubt, this question puts you in one spot, and if you haven’t made any mistake before, the recruiter wants to know how you’ll manage the situation when it comes. The secret in this is that the recruiter is more concerned about your reaction when the mistake occurred. This question will enable recruiters to measure your strength and weakness and tell if you are the right candidate for the position.

Quick Points to Note Before You Reply “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

Now that you understand why recruiters ask candidates this question, it will improve your comfort and self-awareness. However, before you begin to tell the story of your past mistakes, you need to note critical points that will help you structure your reply.

Brainstorm Your Answer

One of the ways to attend an interview fully prepared is to brainstorm your answers. Brainstorming will help you uncover unexpected ideas on how to answer this question.

Look into Your Career and Past Achievements

Before you reply to the recruiter during an interview, you need to search deep into your career journey and identify all the past achievements. With this, you can get a significant reply to the question asked by any recruiter.

List Your Past Career Mistakes

At this point, you can even make a list of all the mistakes you’ve made throughout your career journey. Doing this can be difficult because you may have forgotten a few situations where you made errors. However, just pen down the past mistakes you can easily remember.

Find Ways to Show Self Reflection and Growth Following those Mistakes

It’s okay to make mistakes, but what’s not okay is when you don’t learn a single lesson from that mistake. Before you answer a recruiter, demonstrate that you pay much attention to all activities during and after the mistakes. The aim is to periodically look back on the mistake and make better future decisions.

Practice Answering this Question in Front of the Mirror

One thing you shouldn’t do is go to an interview with a note, instead rely on your courage. At MentorCruise, we coach candidates to build courage and improve their presentation style. Rehearse how to answer this question with a mirror, and with this, you’ll be able to gauge your effectiveness and focus on dynamic gestures.

How to Provide Relevant Reply to the Question “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

This question cuts across all industries and challenging scenarios. There is no specific way to answer the recruiter during an interview. . But here are simple steps on what to say when replying to the question.

Say You Have a Team Spirit

Be sure to tell the recruiter how you were still collaborative with others amidst the situation. Companies want people who work well in a team and are fully accountable. This is a great element to include in your reply.

Say You’re Flexible

When you tell recruiters that you are flexible, it means you’re more responsive to change. When you want to reply to this question, explain to the recruiter that you can adapt.

Say You’re Not Afraid of Making Errors

While committing errors, you have the chance to learn particular things. Recruiters feel like you get to learn significant life lessons when you make silly errors. In your reply, say to the recruiter that you aren’t afraid of making mistakes, but that you’re careful in not making the same ones again.

Say the Good and Not-So-Good Moments

Whether your story has a happy ending or not, the beauty of any reply to this question is when you say both the good and not-so-good scenes. It is vital to tell the recruiter the critical components of the mistake that occurred.

Using the STAR approach

The STAR approach gives a candidate concept to answer interview questions in a detailed and compelling manner. Richard McMunn, a career consultant, based in the US, says, “With the STAR approach, it is quite easy to provide concrete answers on how you handled a situation.” It is also an effective way to answer other interview questions, such as about your career aspirations and questions on how you will be in the workplace in the second round of interviews.

STAR is an acronym that stands for;

S – Situation (What was the situation you were in?)

T – Task (What task did you carry out?)

A – Action (What steps did you take?)

R – Result (What was the outcome of the situation based on the steps you took?)

By adopting these four critical elements, we are confident that you’ll get a higher mark. And it will help you ace the behavioral recruitment question and interview in general. In detail, the key elements comprise;

Situation: Here, don’t beat around the bush; if an interviewer asks you, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake”, give a clear picture of the scenario. The situation may be complicated but find a subtle way to break it down – be specific and not generic. So, think about the problem you’ll want to share before the interview date and ensure it’s a work-related situation.

Task: The reason you are sharing this story is that you are deeply involved. At this stage, your answer will make the recruiter know the exact steps you took. When you are replying, try to highlight what your duties were in the challenging situation.

Action: Next, tell the recruiter what your contributions were, and don’t do this at the surface level. The recruiter wants to know things like “if you used a tool to solve a problem”, the name of the tool, and the process.

Results: This final part is essential, and it’s your time to hit it big and earn more marks. Explain to the interviewer how your actions made a change. No interviewer will take you seriously if you don’t talk about the outcome or the lesson you learned from the situation.

Things You Shouldn’t Say When Replying to the Question “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake.”

Remember when we said you should brainstorm your answers before the interview day, it will help you keep away from irrelevant context. To provide the right reply to the recruiter on this question, it’s a no-brainer to pay attention to the following;

Don’t Say Your Previous Boss is Bad

Responding to this question by saying negative things about your previous employer is not a great answer and not what any recruiter is looking for. Saying your past boss is terrible will only demonstrate that you are disloyal and lack respect.

Don’t Use Vague Language

Using vague sentences makes your story appear less factual, so when replying, make sure you apply phrases and statistics to convey rich interpretation.

Don’t Say Personal Matters that are Irrelevant to the Question

Make sure not to bore the recruiter with long stories about your personal life. Whenever you’re asked this question, do well to speak and keep it professional.

Practical Answers to the Interview Question “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

By adopting the STAR techniques recommended by MentorCruise, here are examples of world-class answers to this big interview question;

Example 1:

Scenario: My line manager asked me to give a brief presentation to other team members in my previous workplace.

Template Answer: Before I resumed my previous workplace, I had experience giving presentations, and I thought I understood the particular subject well. However, when the time to give the presentation was near, I realized I didn’t feel ready as expected, and I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Upon this realization, I felt embarrassed.

Quickly, I went to speak with my line manager; I explained my mistake, followed with an apology, and asked for extra days to prepare.

After talking it through with my line manager, I learned a lot from the scenario, especially regarding not taking my knowledge and expertise for granted. Also, to make sure I prepare entirely for things moving forward, which I did.

Situation: I was asked to give a presentation during a meeting at my previous place of work, and I didn’t prepare fully.

Task: While discussing with my line manager, he suggested that I take more time to prepare myself and come with my “A” game during the presentation.

Action: I felt blank and embarrassed about the situation. To prepare adequately for future presentations, I took out more time to do intense discovery and research about the subject matter.

Result: I took into consideration all my tasks and executed them in order of priority. As a result, I settled with enough time to prepare for the presentation, and since then, I have learned that it is better to take my preparation approach to another level.

Why this Works: This is a well-to-do answer, and it shows that you are being honest and owning up to your errors. It is a real example that highlights how to realize your weakness from a mistake.

Example 2:


When I worked as a graphic design associate in a branding and consulting firm, a client asked about our logo and brand kits services.

Template answer:

The graphic design team lead in my previous workplace called in sick. Before the illness, the team lead handled a critical logo and brand kits service for a client. On this day, the client approached the company to ask about the project, and someone within the team needed to provide feedback.

Despite already handling my design project, I volunteered to speak with the client because I wanted to show empathy and didn’t want the client to be let down.

Unfortunately, before a few minutes of meeting with the client, I realized I wasn’t going to provide relevant updates about the project to the client while worrying about my work. I was nervous and didn’t feel quite confident in the things I had to say. I tried to study the project dynamics, but I still needed clarity which I couldn’t get because the team lead was not on site.

I went to speak with the company’s operation manager, and I apologized for my interest in volunteering for that exercise when I could not deliver. Then, he needed someone else to talk to the client instead.

I felt awful because I let the team and entire company down. The client called and expressed her disappointment. I learned a huge lesson from this experience that you should never take on extra work unless you have the total capacity to do so.

Situation: I voluntarily indicated that I speak to a client on a project I do not have complete knowledge or information about.

Task: As I was working in the creative department as a graphic design associate, my manager supported that I should discuss with the client and provide feedback regarding the ongoing job handled by the department I was in.

Action: I know that I was not ready but decided to give the best reply I could. I was not confident enough in the things I had in mind to say. After discussing with the manager, we realized that most of the questions the client would ask, may not have relevant replies.

Result: As a result, I decided to contribute fully or partially and pay attention to all branding projects that my department will handle. I learned to take this as one of my new responsibilities as we advance.

Why this Works: This reply focuses on the fact that the candidate has the best interest of the company he works for in mind. It shows that the candidate can take on the responsibility to do things the right way with proper training.

Ace This Interview Question with MentorCruise

When you ace an interview by providing straight-to-the-point answers to questions, there is a high possibility that you’ll be invited for the next recruitment stage or automatically get hired by the company.

This particular question, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake”, will reveal a lot about your capability and interest to learn.

To get a great answer, you can use the STAR technique to arrange your response, and by sticking to all the career and interview resources available on the MentorCruise platform – you are on the road to succeeding.

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