Question forms part of
Civil Service Question Bank
Project Manager Question & Answer Sheet
Other interview questions that are similar
What was the last error you made?
Have you ever been part of a failing team?
What areas do you believe you are weakest in?
After you have made a mistake, how do you ensure you don’t repeat the same error in the future?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
No this is not a trick question. But it is not as straight forward as it seems on the surface.
The interviewer is not as interested in the mistake that you made but rather how you handled the situation once the mistake was realised.
- Did you attempt to cover up your mistake?
- Did you draw attention to your mistake?
- Did you, successfully, fix your mistake?
- Did you change how you approached the task in the future to prevent re-occurrence of the mistake?
All of these things will be running through the interviewers mind when you are answering this question.
The interviewer is less interested in the actual mistake* than they are in how you handled yourself in the face of the mistake being realised and what, if any, steps you took to fix the mistake and learn from the experience to prevent similar issues going forward.
*That said the interviewer is going to raise an eyebrow if you talk about a particularly devastating mistake so try to keep it minor (no showstoppers!)
The best approach to answering this question
This is a “Tell me about a time” question. As with all questions phrased in this manner your answer is going to require sharing an example from your experience. I always recommend that when answering questions like this that you follow the B-STAR technique.
Let’s see how this method would work on this question:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts/feelings on the matter? – Explain to the interviewer how you feel about making mistakes (presumably not great). Talk about how when you realise a mistake has been made that you seek to highlight and correct the mistake at the earliest possible opportunity. Once the damage from the mistake has been reversed (or minimised) then you look to see the root cause of the failing and take steps to prevent re-occurrence.
S – Situation – What was going on? And what was the mistake? – Set the scene for the interviewer. It is important to remember at this point that this is still an interview, and is under a time restraint. So don’t spend too much of your time describing the issue, if possible make your example very easy to understand – simple project, simple mistake.
T – Task – What was your responsibility at the time? – Talk about what your role in the situation was. What tasks were you responsible for in the original project, in making the mistake and in the clean-up. Good answers will touch upon how you took a pro-active role in helping to fix your mistake.
A – Activity (or Actions) – What steps did you take? – Upon realising your mistake what did you do? Run through each activity you completed while conveying to the interviewer why you believed these steps to be necessary. This part of the question should form the bulk of your answer.
R – Results – How did it all turn out? – What was the end result? Again, this is an interview so let’s try to keep it simple and say that the end result was positive. The mistake was spotted, you owned up to it, you were pro-active in getting the issue remedied and finally you enacted some changes to how you work to prevent the issue from happening again.
How NOT to answer this question
Do not describe a work place catastrophe – I appreciate that the question is asking you to share a mistake but don’t fall into the trap of sharing your biggest mistakes. Keep your examples to mistakes that were somewhat important to your role/function but that did not have life or career threatening impacts.
Do not use a failure as an example – When choosing your example try to talk about one where you were able to wind back all (or at least some) of the damage that your mistake caused. Also ensure that you were able to learn something from the experience for the next time you are in a similar situation. Do not describe a time when you made a mistake, it was never fixed, and you do not know how you would react if a similar situation were to happen again.
Do not avoid the question. Don’t tell the interviewer that you never make mistakes. I have seen candidates use that answer hundreds of times and not once has it ever endeared them to the interview panel. Everyone makes mistakes. If you claim that you never make mistakes the interviewer is not going to believe you, they will either assume you are lying or that you are very inexperienced.
Tell me about a time when you have made a mistake in a project – Example answer
“I hate making mistakes – I suppose everybody does – that is why I always advocate for proper planning. I am a ‘measure twice cut once’ type of girl. When a project is planned correctly the risk of mistakes by any one person are greatly reduced. However on the occasions that a mistake of mine does ‘slip the net’ I always immediately highlight it to the project/workstream and take steps to remediate the fallout.
For example, back when I was Delivery Manager at [REDACTED] my project team were in charge of delivering an important piece of work to the business every Tuesday morning. This piece of work took my team 1 day to produce. One such week – after a bank holiday – the report was going to be delayed until Wednesday (as my team needed the Tuesday for production since Monday was a non-working day).
The mistake that I had made was that I had not communicated this delay to the business area expecting the report and as such there were a team of people without any work to do.
Upon learning of my error I immediately contacted the team lead of the business area and explained the situation, taking full blame for the error and apologising for the inconvenience caused. I listened to the lead talk about how their team used the report and between the two of us we devised a temporary solution. My team would deliver the report in 4 stages, so as opposed to receiving one full report the business would now receive 4. This would allow them to start work on the first stage while my team continued to produce the remaining stages.
Had I not took responsibility and sought out how to rectify the situation then the entire team would have lost a full day’s production, in the end they only lost 1.5 hours, of which the Team Lead advised me they used to complete mandatory learnings anyway.
Once the situation was resolved I went back plugged the gaps in my RACI matrix and communication strategy so that this issue would not present itself going forward. I also took the time to take a couple refresher courses on LinkedIn with regard to stakeholder management. I can safely say failure to communicate will not be an issue for me again!”
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