Behavioural questions like this seem to be more common in interviews these days, and they might actually be one of the most important questions an interviewer can ask. These questions can give an interviewer some insight into your past employment experience and act as a predictor for your future employment prospects. It also gives your prospective employer the opportunity to see how you respond and compose yourself under pressure. Some examples of how this question might be asked are: Looking back on your career, what do you wish you did differently?, If you could change a decision you made what would it be? etc. The phrasing is different, but the message is the same.
These questions are challenging to answer because they ask you to focus on a negative experience, which can be tough to talk about even for the most confident of applicants. But, don’t panic, because acknowledging a time when you failed is nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering hiring managers don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact this kind of question can be an excellent chance for you to demonstrate your self-awareness, maturity and ability to grow – as long as you include a few applicable learnings to accompany your story.
How you should NOT answer
Before we delve into how to answer this type of question, it’s important to take a moment to discuss how not to answer it, specifically the non-answer. This is where an applicant gives a response without actually answering the question. An example might be: I can’t think of any serious failures, I guess I’m lucky. or I’ve been pretty successful in my career so far, and I am yet to fail. This type of response will usually lead the recruiter to conclude one or more of the following:
- You’re hiding something about your past
- You think you’re perfect and thus have no room to grow
- You’re unable to accept responsibility for your mistakes
This is definitely not how you want to be viewed by a prospective employer, as none of those traits are sought after. That said, you also don’t want to give just any response about a time you failed. This question should be answered with careful consideration, make sure your answer is a real failure, well rehearsed and one that won’t raise any red flags with the recruiter.
How you should answer
Before you apply to any job, do yourself a favour and decide how you would answer typical interview questions. This means you should prepare your failure story and practice it beforehand. Keep in mind that this type of question can really backfire on you if you mess it up, so prepare yourself.
As mentioned you need to choose a real time you failed, be specific and direct. Don’t skirt the issue with a humblebrag, show real humility and tell the interviewer about a time when you failed. Ensure you include relevant points, and don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary details – brevity is important.
A word of caution, this is not a psychiatrist’s couch, you don’t need to divulge every detail about where the bodies are hidden. Don’t choose a mishap that occurred as a result of a serious personal failure or character flaw – like how you lost a big account because you spoke rudely to the client. This will send up red flags to the employer and will reduce your chances of landing the job. Instead, try to think of a time when you failed as part of a team, and talk about the role you played in that failure.
When answering the question, the most important thing is that you show that you have learned from your mistake. This means you’ll need to pick a story with an uplifting ending, and show the hiring manager that you took a positive lesson from the time you failed. As an example, you could talk about how you missed a crucial deadline, but since then you have improved your time management skills and now meet all of your deadlines. If you learn something from your mistake, it shows the interviewer that history won’t repeat itself if they hire you. The point is to focus on the learning – follow the story up with an example of how your newly mastered skills helped you succeed on a subsequent task.
Now that you have the know-how, you can start crafting what you would say the next time you are asked this question. If you think carefully about your response and practice what you are going to say, this behavioural question should not be a problem for you. In fact, if you give an honest and profound answer it can have a huge impact on your chances of landing the job. If you found this article helpful, you might want to search our blog to find plenty more valuable resources. Or if you’re looking for your dream job, you should take a minute to see what offers we have right now.