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.
What is a good example of a time you failed? ›
I missed my deadline and had to change the delivery window. The client wasn't happy with the extra time I needed. While I did finish the project, it took much longer than it should have. Had I taken those steps to test changes at every stage, I wouldn't have had to go back to the drawing board to make changes.What is your failure sample answer? ›
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.What is your biggest failure interview best answer? ›
Spend more time explaining what you have learned about yourself than the experience: Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, identify the reasons behind the incident and emphasise what you have learned and what you now do differently. Explain the actions you took to ensure that you wouldn't achieve the same mistake.How do you handle failure sample answer? ›
- Recognise and accept your emotions. Failure hurts, at least in the first instance, and you need to accept that. ...
- Don't make it personal. ...
- Don't worry what anyone else will think. ...
- Take the right amount of responsibility. ...
- Use failure as a way to improve.
- Not meeting others' expectations.
- Missing a deadline.
- Taking on too much/over-promising.
- Failing an assignment.
- Not getting a job.
- Not getting into a club or making a team.
I was responsible for interacting with big clients and understanding the requirements. Being a fresher, I did not pay much attention to the details of the project. Instead, I focused only on my ethics and discipline. My poor listening skills led me to lose one of the most significant projects of the organization.What is failure and success according to you answer? ›
Success and failure, however, are terms meant to define events, not people. You are either successful at doing something, or achieving some milestone, or you failed at doing something or did not achieve some milestone. That does not imply that you are a complete success or a complete failure.How you experience being a failure How did you overcome it? ›
- Don't Feel Threatened By Failure. ...
- There is Nothing Wrong with Feeling Bad. ...
- Develop Healthy Habits to Stay Healthy. ...
- Avoid Picking Up Bad Habits. ...
- Take Reasonable Responsibility for Your Failure. ...
- Study Yourself. ...
- Keep Looking Ahead. ...
- Take Inspiration from Failures that Led to Success.
For example: Three years ago, we were doing A, but realized the result fell short of the goal. Things were just not working. Many saw it as a failure, but we also saw it as an opportunity to improve, so we did a thorough analysis and realized that B was a better tactic.What are 2 famous failures? ›
Sir James Dyson suffered through 5,126 failed prototypes before he landed on the first working Dyson vacuum. Elvis Presley was fired from the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to truck driving. Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame was rejected over 1000 times before finding a franchise partner.
What are some successful failures? ›
- Arianna Huffington got rejected by 36 publishers. ...
- Bill Gates watched his first company crumble. ...
- George Steinbrenner bankrupted a team. ...
- 4. Walt Disney was told he lacked creativity. ...
- Steve Jobs was booted from his own company.
Your skills and qualifications. If you can prove that you've got all the skills that the company is looking for in a candidate, you'll have effectively answered the question. Your passion and motivation. You can highlight how good of a company fit you'd be and how much you love working in your field or industry.Why should we hire you? ›
Show that you have skills and experience to do the job and deliver great results. You never know what other candidates offer to the company. But you know you: emphasize your key skills, strengths, talents, work experience, and professional achievements that are fundamental to getting great things done on this position.How would you define failure in interview? ›
Some short answer examples for the question can be like “I think to fail at something is making a mistake and not learning from it.”, or “I think failure is not reaching your full potential even with an abundance of resources around you. That's a failure because you had chances of doing the work better”.What has been your greatest failure How do you overcome failure? ›
While answering the question 'What is your greatest failure in life? ' Be careful about the incident that you choose to explain. Mistakes that resulted in a huge loss should be avoided. Instead, talk about a lesson you learned, which is relevant from an interview perspective.How do you answer when is a time you failed? ›
- 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.
The best approach for handling this kind of question is to identify some scenarios when you came up short on the job in advance of your interview. Choose situations where you took responsibility for your failure, learned from it, and took steps to avoid recurrences of similar failures.Can you describe a work instance in which you messed up? ›
The best way to answer this question is to talk about a specific example of a time you made a mistake: Briefly explain what the mistake was, but don't dwell on it. Quickly switch over to what you learned or how you improved, after making that mistake.How should you answer questions regarding failure of your greatest weakness? ›
- Clearly describe your weakness (preferably with specifics, not vague clichés hiring managers have heard hundreds of times).
- Give a short example of a time your weakness affected your work.
- Talk about what you've done to improve your weakness.
- Assure the interviewer that you can handle pressure.
- Be honest, but stay positive. If you struggle under pressure, that's okay. ...
- Follow up with a concrete example of when you successfully handled stress in the past.
- End on an affirming note: you'll bring the same skills to this role.
How do you handle stress difficult situations at work? ›
- Track your stressors. Keep a journal for a week or two to identify which situations create the most stress and how you respond to them. ...
- Develop healthy responses. ...
- Establish boundaries. ...
- Take time to recharge. ...
- Learn how to relax. ...
- Talk to your supervisor. ...
- Get some support.
- Acknowledge your feelings. ...
- Acknowledge any irrational belief. ...
- Avoid seeking others' approval. ...
- Accept responsibility. ...
- Avoid defining yourself by your mistakes. ...
- Channel negative emotions productively. ...
- Adopt coping skills. ...
- Improve your self-esteem.
Any time you fail at something, whether it's a long-term goal or a small project, the first thing you should do is take a step back and detach from the situation. Work backward by tracing the thinking and beliefs you had at the time the mistake was made, and look to see where you made a misstep.What is your biggest failure and how did you handle it? ›
“My biggest failure is getting fired from a previous job because I lost my temper with a customer. I was already in a bad mood when I went into work that day, so when an angry shopper came in with a complaint, I made the awful choice to give them a bit of an attitude.