Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned from it.
- 1 Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned from it.
- 2 Other interview questions that are similar
- 3 What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
- 4 How best to structure your answer to this question
- 5 What you should NOT do when answering questions
- 6 Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned from it. – Example answers
- 7 Other Interview Question and Answers
Other interview questions that are similar
- Describe an instance where you didn’t achieve your desired outcome and the insights you gained.
- Share a specific example of a setback you experienced and how it contributed to your personal growth.
- Recall a situation where you faced significant challenges and discuss the lessons it taught you.
- Can you talk about a project or task where you underperformed and what you took away from that experience?
- Discuss a time when you did not meet your own expectations and how it influenced your future approach.
- Relate an experience where you made a mistake and explain how it helped in your development.
- Reflect on a professional or personal obstacle you encountered and what you learned about overcoming difficulties.
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
There are probably an infinite number of questions that the interviewer could ask you on the day. Some questions are incredibly common appearing in almost every interview you will have, while other questions you might hear once and never again regardless of how many jobs you apply for.
Fundamentally though all interview questions are really trying to find out one of 3 things:
1 – Can you do the job? (Do you have the skills/experience needed?)
2 – Will you do the job? (Do you have the drive/motivation to get the job done?)
3 – Will you fit in? (Does your personality match the workplace culture? Are you likeable?)
That’s it. Those are the 3 things that the interviewer is trying to ascertain. Every question that is asked of you will fundamentally be trying to resolve one (or more) of these 3 things.
When you’re asked about a failure and what you learned, it’s actually a practical way to check a few key things. Your answer shows if you’ve got the skills (because you’ll talk about handling a tough situation), your motivation (it shows if you’re the type to bounce back or just give up), and your personality (like if you’re honest about messing up and can learn from it). So, keep it real, talk about a genuine screw-up, and make sure they see you learned something valuable from it. That’s how you hit all three points without overdoing it.
How best to structure your answer to this question
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? This reflects on your mindset and attitude towards challenges or tasks, crucial for the interviewer to understand your approach to work-related scenarios.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe. This gives the interviewer a context to gauge how effectively you handle work situations.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter. This part of your response helps the interviewer assess if you have the initiative and responsibility traits they’re looking for.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question. Your actions demonstrate your problem-solving skills and ability to execute tasks, which are key to showing you can do the job.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. we cut costs by $3m, customer satisfaction scores increased 25%, failures reduced to zero, ice cream parties increased ten-fold etc.). Quantifying results provides tangible evidence of your effectiveness, something interviewers look for to predict your future performance.
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What you should NOT do when answering questions
Do not avoid the question.
Do not downplay the failure or its impact.
Do not blame others for the failure.
Do not focus solely on the negative aspects without discussing what was learned.
Do not provide an example unrelated to a professional setting.
Do not forget to mention specific steps taken to rectify or learn from the failure.
Do not leave out the results or impact of your learning from the failure.
Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned from it. – Example answers
Example Answer 1
I’ve always believed that failure is not the opposite of success, but a part of it. When I face challenges, I try to see them as opportunities to learn and grow.
Last year, I was leading a project to implement a new software system. My team was excited, and we had a tight deadline.
As the project manager, it was my responsibility to ensure the timely and efficient rollout of the system. I needed to coordinate with various departments, manage resources, and keep the project on track.
Despite careful planning, we encountered unexpected technical issues. Instead of asking for help or revising our timeline, I pushed my team to work longer hours, thinking we could overcome the hurdles through sheer effort.
Unfortunately, this led to burnout among my team members and a decline in the quality of work. We missed the deadline, and the implementation was not as smooth as expected. This experience was a wake-up call. I learned the importance of flexible planning and the value of seeking assistance and feedback. I took a course in agile project management and have since successfully managed two projects with better timeframes and team collaboration. This failure taught me vital lessons in project management and team leadership that I now apply in my work.
Example Answer 2
More Sample Answers…
The examples provided above can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 250 answers to all of the most common interview queries.
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