“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
It is very important to realize and understand that failure is not something that you need to feel ashamed of. Failing at something means not achieving something that you tried to achieve. It means you are moving forward, and it is best to acknowledge your failures as a pathway to success.
During you an interview, many employers ask you this question- “Tell me about a time you failed.” This article will help you get away with this tricky question and help improve your chances of getting hired during an in-person interview.
Importance of Failure Question in Interview
Before moving ahead you firstly need to understand the reasons as to why the employers ask this question-
The employers are looking for certain traits in you and if you are able to smartly give them a reasonable and spontaneous answer, the chances of you being hired increase manifold. Here are a few things that an employer might be looking in you when he asks you about a time when you failed.
Employers do not like the people who lie or shy away from accepting their flaws. It is really important to embrace you flaws and take accountability for your actions. You should not be sounding like someone who shifts the blame onto your colleagues or the circumstances. Refrain from making statements like-
‘I was blamed for something that was not my mistake.’ OR ‘The circumstances were really difficult, and I was not entirely at fault.”
Such statements definitely send a wrong message to the interviewers. Employers are always looking for someone who is responsible and owns up to their faults. It also shows that an individual learns from his/her mistakes or failures. Acknowledging your mistakes and accepting the fact that you could have done better and have improved yourself thereafter definitely sends a positive message to your recruiters.
Someone who actually learns from their mistakes
It is really important to show it to your recruiters that you are someone who actually learns from their mistakes and are not someone who just let go of things the way they are. Your story needs to be true and needs to be true and the lessons you learnt should also sound realistic. No employer is looking for someone who repeatedly makes mistakes and learns nothing from them. So, make sure to share an experience that helped you learn and improve both personally and professionally.
The way an individual act in a stressful situation tells a lot about his/her personality. The employers are looking for someone who is calm and can handle both success and failure with calm. Many people get anxious when things do not go as planned or when they fail to stand up to certain expectations. But the employers are always looking for someone with a balanced personality and calm mind to handle the pressures and expectations of the job.
A clear and concise story
Lastly, your story needs to be true and honest. There should be a smooth transition from point A to B. The employer at no point should get a hint that you are lying or making-up the story. (You should never even do that.) Try to keep your story as small as possible and the facts clear in a perfect chronological order. Amongst other things, your story will reflect your communication skills which might increase or decrease the chances of you getting hired depending upon how you perform and how you state the facts.
Also try to keep your story between 30-40 seconds max and then smoothly move towards the lessons you learnt from your failure and how you improved yourself for the future.
Sample Answers to Your Failures
Here are a couple of sample answers that might help you deal with the question-
“In my previous job I promised one of my company’s top client to finish their project within a month. I did not discuss the deadline with my colleagues and subordinates as I believed the task was doable in that time frame. But the project actually took two months, hurting the company’s reputation.
This incident helped me learn that I always need to commit to a time frame after thoroughly discussing with others working on the project. It also made me realise that I should give a deadline a little further, as that provide a cushion to the people working on it and also helps improve the company’s reputation if it is delivered before the due deadline.”
In my last job, the recruitment office trusted me with some interviews to hire new recruits for our company. I chose to hire someone who seemed to have a lot of potential but also had some “red flags” or things that worried me largely because I knew the individual personally. It ended up being a big mistake. The person had a poor attitude and did not have enough experience for the job which dragged the productivity of the company down. Ultimately my CEO had to fire him/her. This helped me learn to be more careful and I realized I should have said no to the interview in the very first place.
I realized how important each hiring decision is and also about the gravity of wrong recruits. This experience has helped me become a better manager and have always tried to keep my personal biases at bay and keep my company’s interests at the top. Since this incident, I have successfully hired at least twenty new people which are now a part of the organization’s core team. But it was a great lesson to learn early in my career as it has helped me grow both professionally and personally.”
In my previous teaching job, I had given the students more work than they could handle. As a result of which students refrained from attending my classes and their works were mostly incomplete. This made me realize that as a teacher it should be my top-most priority to keep the interests of the student at the top and consider the academic level of every individual before formulating a course work.
I learnt this lesson early on in my career. I reduced the workload from my students after talking to my colleagues and students which avoided a poor result then and there.
When I was serving as a store manager, I mistakenly did the wrong billing and later refrained to understand the customer’s grievances. This would have cost us a permanent customer and negatively impacted our image. If it were not for my senior intervening, we would have lost on our reputation. I learnt a lesson about acknowledging my mistakes and also the value of customer satisfaction in such a job. After this experience I always double check the bills and cater to customer issues with patients.
Once as a fuel station manager, I did not anticipate the sales correctly and failed in ordering the tanker. Our station was dry for at least two days owing to my miscalculation. Ever since, I always try to keep the supply filled up by ordering it early on. We did not loose much because of the weekend and less traffic on roads. Learning this lesson early on have helped me better manage my finances and supply chain.
As a chief driller in one of my previous jobs, I did not pay complete attention to our air compressors which caused it to over-heat. Luckily, the compressor shut by itself preventing a major accident. This helped me learn how while working I need to keep an eye on the working of every equipment and not just focus on one part of the job. I have become very vigilant individual both personally and professionally post this experience.
In my previous job as a chef in a hotel, I mistakenly put the chilies twice in one of the dishes, causing a huge issue with one of our customers. We had to remake the entire dish and serve them for free owing to this mistake of mine.
I have leaned from this experience that I always need to check with others working in the kitchen and taste the food before sending it out to the customer. Luckily, we did not loose our customer as the HR department intervened in time and I personally apologized to the customer.
As a caterer anticipating lesser people at an event and in order to earn more profits I made less food for the event which eventually caused a shortage of food. We had to order food from nearby hotels to meet the demand. Instead of saving money we had to pay more for the food ordered from outside than we earned from the entire event. This helped me learn a really important lesson and I have successfully managed 50 events since then successfully.
In my last job as a project manager, I resealed the project without consulting the team. The programme had many glitches which would have cost us our reputation but luckily my group made the required changes in time and the product was improved.
I realized that I should have waited and consulted everyone before resealing the product. My attempt was to improve the company’s PR value by launching the product before the deadline but it would have had negative repercussions if my teammates were not vigilant.
In the early stages of my career as a financial advisor I recommended my clients to invest in penny stocks as it was driven high by the animal spirits. I did not read the stock charts properly and by the end of the day many clients would have gone into severe losses if my superiors had not intervened timely. From that time onwards I have been thoroughly reading the company history and understanding the market sentiments before advising my clients to invest.
Finally, here is a summary about the way in which you can handle this question-
- Be precise and honest.
- Keep it real and short.
- Give weightage to your learnings.
- Refrain from narrating a very bad story.
- Be confident and refined.
We all make mistakes and there is nothing wrong in embracing your flaws. While answering such a question in an interview, try to be precise, honest and to the point. Keep your story real and factual. Do not waste much time in explaining the pretext but focus on the lessons that you learnt from your failure.
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Sandeep Bhandari is the founder of PrepMyCareer.com website.
I am a full-time professional blogger, a digital marketer, and a trainer. I love anything related to the Web, and I try to learn new technologies every day.
All the team management, content creation, and monetization tasks are handled by me. Together with the team at PrepMyCareer, the aim is to provide useful and engaging content to our readers.