How to Answer ‘Tell Me About a Time You Failed’ Interview Questions

How to Answer ‘Tell Me About a Time You Failed’ | Examples |

If an interviewer ever asks you to explain a time you failed at work, you can answer in a way that frames you in a positive manner and demonstrates your ability to grow and learn.  This question also gives you the opportunity to present examples of how you’ve worked with diverse groups of people to achieve sustainable results for the company previous employers. Learn more about why employers ask this question during an interview, along with the best way to answer and examples that you can reference for future interviews.

Why employers ask, ‘Tell me about a time you failed’

Employers asked about a situation when you’ve failed to test your problem-solving skills. These types of skills show that you can solve problems on your own, and they can benefit the organization as a result of your persistence. Also, discussing a failure during your professional career describes when you’re the most vulnerable, and how you can use these situations to improve your work and interactions with your coworkers.

Surprising ways employers ask, ‘Tell me about a time you failed’

Employers may ask ‘Tell me about a time you failed’ in multiple ways to have you guess what they’re trying to ask you in an interview. The way you answer this question determines if you’re the right fit for the company’s culture.

Here are a few ways an interviewer can ask you this question:

  • When was the last time you failed in your current role?
  • Can you describe one of the largest failures you’ve had in the workplace?
  • What is a decision that you regret?
  • Discuss your greatest professional failure and the way you’ve learned since you’ve made it.
  • Do you believe that you can learn from failure?
  • Are you known for taking risks?
  • What is your view of success and failure in the workplace?
  • How you can learn from failure to become successful?

Employers want to understand your perception of risk to see if you’ve grown from any projects that didn’t work out in your favor. Your answer to these types of questions displays when you’ve taken risks, even if they’ve been unsuccessful, and the importance they’ve had in your professional development.

How to answer, ‘Tell me about a time you failed’

Here are a few steps to follow when preparing an answer to ‘Tell me about a time you failed’:

1. First, choose a specific situation

Reflect on your professional career and select a failure that resonated with you the most. Focus on staying calm when you’re presenting your answer to the interviewer, which will help you maintain a clear mind to detail each part of the situation and what you learned from it. If possible, it can help to choose a failure from long ago that doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for, which further emphasizes how you’ve grown professionally.

You can also outline one element of the situation that you consider a failure in comparison to the whole experience. This will show the interviewer that you have the insight to analyze exactly what part of a project or undertaking went wrong, allowing you to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future.

2. Second, define what failure is to you

Take the time to express your definition of failure based on the experiences you’ve had in the workplace. For example, you can say that failure can be defined by not reaching a goal you’ve set for yourself or not meeting the expectations set out by you or your employer. Explaining what you think failure is can help you more easily set up your story.

3. Next, describe the story you’re telling

Include a brief description of what led up to the failure you’re planning to discuss to give the interviewer enough context about the situation. Begin with what you found challenging about the situation you faced, how you approached the solution and the actions you took to address it. Keep this part of the answer short enough to allow yourself plenty of time to discuss what you learned from the experience and how you apply that knowledge to your work now.

4. Lastly, identify key learnings

Discuss the lessons learned from the failure you’ve experienced. You should get to this point right after you describe the outcome of your failure. You can say what results occurred regardless of the original plan, but make sure to finish the response with a reflection on what you could have done to rectify the situation and how you approach your work differently now.

Example answers to use in an interview

Here are some example answers to help you answer, ‘Tell me about a time you failed’ in an interview:

Example describing your biggest failure in the workplace

Example: ‘My biggest failure in the workplace happened when I was a project coordinator two years ago. At the time, I worked with one of our top clients while the usual project manager was sick for a few days. I informed them that I could finish a presentation by the end of the day, but I realized later on that it would take me at least three days to finish it. I was honest with the client, and I let the project manager know as soon as she came back to the office. Since then, I’ve learned to recognize my limits and stop overextending myself, which has helped me give clients more realistic and honest expectations.’

Example of a willingness to take risks

Example: ‘Taking risks is an important part of growing your skills and learning how you can boost your work performance. I worked for a software company three years ago, and I decided to purchase and implement our project management system right away. After one week, we realized that tasks fell behind because people didn’t understand how to use the system, so we halted the implementation process and met with our team. After coming up with a plan to streamline workflow, we doubled production and learned about the importance of having a framework to help execute the risks you take.’

Example of the most recent failure in the workplace

Example: ‘My latest failure in the workplace occurred when I tried to hire an intern on the content marketing team. Even though I saw a few grammatical errors in some of the published articles they wrote, I decided to hire them anyway. This decision didn’t work in my favor, since the intern never made an effort to improve their writing during their time at the company. The lesson I learned was to take my time when I make decisions and to perform thorough research on candidates’ resumes and portfolios. Currently, I’m in the process of hiring another intern, and I’m doing my part to make sure they’re fully qualified for the position.’

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