How to answer "Tell me a time when you failed" in a job interview

By H NGUGI | Tuesday, Aug 13th 2019 at 15:39
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One of the interesting questions I come across nowadays when making job applications is a "Tell me a time when you failed. Explain the situation and what you learned from it." First time I saw this question, I was taken aback and wondered why anyone would ask me that. Why does what happen in the past matter? Then I was confused. What situation should I talk about? Should I talk about the time an event did not succeed due to disorganization? Should I talk about the time I ordered the wrong coffee for my boss or that I got fired? I had so many questions running on my mind, and yet I was on a timer. I had to finish the 4-page questionnaire in 20 Minutes. I finished all the other questions and went back to this one. I was almost out of time, so I noted down the first answer that came to my head. That question might have cost me the opportunity.

I've asked a couple of people about that question, and they have different answers. Some say you should completely honest, lay yourself bare, that employers like people who are not afraid to admit their faults and accept that they've learned from the experience and are better people. On the other hand, others have said don't tell the employer what they don't need to know. Pick a soft situation that shows failure but don't put yourself out there too much. In the real sense, it's very difficult to know what an employer is looking for in this question, and job applicants are caught between a rock and a hard place trying to answer that question.

So what should you do? According to professionals, first of all, you should answer the question. Start by explaining what the task was, what was expected of you, and what was expected result/benefits of that task. Then, talk about how the task was done, where you failed, and what was the effect of your failure. You should own your mistakes with no excuses. This tells the employer that you understand and own your faults/weaknesses in the project.

Finally, state what you learned from that instance and how you've used your fault at the time to grow your skills and output. This shows the employer that you've grown over time, and your experience so far has built your character, skills, and expertise.

However, as honest as you would like to be, it is advised that you don't state a situation that was a disaster for your employer at the time. As much as your current employer would like to trust your growth curve, they want to be confident that your mistakes will not cost them business, money, or resources.

While your past mistakes do not dictate who you are now, they have an impact on your character. Are you the kind of person to accept you made a mistake, correct it, learn from it and move on? Or are you the kind of person who gets swallowed by your mistakes, carrying the regrets & fear to make a mistake again to your next job?

No employer likes a new employee who carries baggage from their previous job. This makes an employee afraid to take up new responsibilities and can affect an employees speed to work.

If you made a mistake before, learn from it, pick yourself up, and use those lessons to do the next task on your desk. Your mistakes should give you courage that you now understand the task, and from your experience, you can do the job better.

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