Question forms part of
Other interview questions that are similar
- Describe a situation where you faced a significant obstacle or setback. How did you overcome it?
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. How did you handle it and what did you learn from the experience?
- Can you give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and how you handled it?
- Share an instance where you faced conflict with a colleague or team member. How did you resolve it?
- Describe a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your work environment. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about a challenging project you worked on and the steps you took to achieve success.
- Can you provide an example of when you had to make a difficult decision at work? What factors did you consider, and what was the outcome?
- Share a situation where you had to take on a leadership role unexpectedly. How did you manage the responsibility?
- Describe a time when you had to persuade someone to see things from your perspective. How did you approach the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you had to juggle multiple priorities. How did you manage your time and ensure that all tasks were completed?
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.
“Tell me about a time you failed” is a question that touches on all three of these fundamental aspects that interviewers seek to understand about a candidate. By asking you to share an instance of failure, they can evaluate your skills, motivation, and cultural fit within the organization.
When you describe a failure or challenge, the interviewer can assess your ability to perform the job by understanding the skills and experience you drew upon to address the situation. Your explanation of how you approached the problem and attempted to solve it demonstrates your competency and adaptability.
Furthermore, discussing a failure allows the interviewer to gauge your motivation and drive. If you share how you learned from the experience, it shows that you’re dedicated to personal growth and self-improvement. This illustrates your willingness to take on challenges and see them through, which speaks to your work ethic and determination.
Finally, your response to this question can also reveal aspects of your personality and how well you might fit into the company culture. By sharing how you dealt with failure, you offer insights into your communication style, problem-solving abilities, and how you handle setbacks. An interviewer can determine whether your approach aligns with the company’s values and whether you would be a good fit with the existing team.
How Best To Answer ‘Tell Me About A Time You Failed’
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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 situation.
Do not overhype the situation.
Do not say you have no experience with the subject matter.
Do not reject the premise of the question.
Do not have a passive role in the situation.
Do not give a one-sentence answer.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action
Tell Me About A Time You Failed – Example answer
Project Manager Example
I firmly believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, and it’s essential to confront challenges head-on and adapt our strategies. Let me share a time when I faced a failure as a project manager.
I was leading a software development project for a client, and despite thorough planning and risk management, the project went over budget and missed the deadline. The main issue was improper resource allocation and ineffective communication with the development team, which led to unexpected roadblocks and delays in the project timeline.
In that situation, my role was to lead the project, manage resources, and ensure timely delivery. When I realized the project was off track, I took responsibility for the failure and immediately took steps to address the issues. I met with the client to apologize and transparently discuss the reasons for the project’s shortcomings. I also worked with the development team to identify areas for improvement and implement new processes to prevent similar mistakes in future projects.
This failure was a valuable learning experience for me. It taught me the importance of having a contingency plan in place, proactively identifying and addressing potential risks, and effectively communicating with all stakeholders. As a result, I’ve become a better project manager, approaching each project with a greater level of caution and preparation.
Fundraising Manager Example
I once faced a failure as a fundraising manager, where I was responsible for securing funding for a non-profit organization. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t secure the necessary funds to meet our target.
I took full responsibility for the failure and immediately took steps to address the issue. I evaluated our fundraising strategies and identified areas for improvement, such as targeting new donor demographics and strengthening relationships with existing donors. I also reached out to stakeholders and donors to understand why we were unable to secure the necessary funds and used that feedback to develop a new plan.
This experience was a valuable lesson for me. It taught me the importance of continuously assessing and adapting fundraising strategies, as well as the value of strong relationships with stakeholders and donors. Because of this, I’ve become a better fundraising manager, approaching each campaign with a greater level of preparation and a more comprehensive understanding of our target audience.
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