How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”

“Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”. This question falls under the behavioral questions that job candidates are finding it difficult to answer. Most of you, think how is possible someone to ask you about a time when you failed, when the main purpose of the interview is to shine  a light on all of your successes?

However, why interviewers ask about failure?

Interviewers ask you to share with them about a time when you failed  not because they want to make you feel awkward. But, the reason is to gain some insights into you have performed. They don’t really care that you failed but they want to know how you approach the situations when they don’t work.

They want to see that:

  • You are self-aware and can acknowledge your failures
  • You take responsibility for your mistakes
  • You grow and learn from failure
  • You are able to overcome challenges and move forward

How Not To Answer Questions About a Time When You Failed

Everyone has a time when they failed. So, don’t just answer by saying ” Erm, I haven’t really had any failures”. This answer reduces your credibility and is an immediate red flag, to the interviewer because they know better. On the other side, they are not expecting from you to answer to this question by confessing a catastrophic event.

In addition, never make excuses or blame others for the failure. Remember that above we mentioned self-aware, and responsibilities! If your failure was with a team project, take ownership of your piece of failure.

Select a Situation To Discuss

There is no getting around answering this question, so be strategic and a select a failure that will boost your interview performance and not raising red flags.

Select a situation to talk about a time when you failed, you may consider the following:

  • Team failures, but make sure you are sharing your piece of responsibility!
  • Discuss something that went wrong but not catastrophically!
  • Avoid personal and emotional topics that don’t relate to the position.
  • Discuss a meaningful failure such as missing a deadline, making the wrong hiring decision or not closing client deal.
  • Be sure that there is a career related lesson learned or takeaway from the failure.

How To Answer Questions About a Time When You Failed

First of all, make sure you are admit your mistakes! Tell the story from the beginning to end but be succinct. You want to give enough detail to be transparent.

By using the START method is a simple way to formulate your answer:

Situation: Introduce the scenario and what did you face.

Task: What was required to be solved?

Approach: How did you approach to solve, what kind of decisions were made?

Results: What was the result of the decisions made? Or, why did the approach fail?

Takeaway: What did you learn, what should have been done, what will you do next time?

Finally, always put failure in the proper perspective. Failure is perceived a negative situation however, failure = learning. You try something and it doesn’t work out, but you learn what doesn’t work and you learning to do it next time.

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