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How to Respond to: Tell Me About a Time You Failed

We promise you can make it a positive anecdote

I made a mistake gif

Tell me about a time you failed. 

Ooph. This is a classic interview question, but it can be hard to answer. Exactly what kind of failure can you bring up without compromising your chances of getting the job? Luckily, we have your guide to crushing it in a job interview.

Use the STAR method

Responding to this is the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and this method outlines a formula for answering situational interview questions like this one. 

For a deeper dive, check out: How to Nail Interview Questions with the STAR Method.

Situation

Start your answer by telling your interviewer the situation or context for your story. 

I was the lead on a design team working for one of the agency’s biggest clients and we missed our presentation deadline because of a very basic management error that I made.

Task

Now it’s time for the task, or the problem you had to solve.

As the project lead, it was my job to make sure all of the designers and account managers were on the same page and meeting deadlines. 

Read more: How to Answer: What Are You Passionate About?

Action

The action step is where you describe the role you played in the situation. Be sure to center your answer around the impact you had and the efforts you made. Now isn’t the time to play the blame game.

Because it was my first time as the lead, I was nervous about managing those who were further along in their careers. So, I didn’t check in or follow up early and often enough, which led to the entire team being underprepared.

The action step of the STAR method is also the time to accept responsibility for your mistakes and show your interviewer that you aren’t afraid of accountability. (Do it. It's good for everyone.)

Read more: How to Talk About Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Result

Next up is the result. This is the time to talk about whether you were able to solve the problem and/or what you learned from the failure. It’s your chance to shine!

Well, we ended up with an unfinished product on presentation day. I was embarrassed, and I risked losing the client, which would have affected the whole team and the company. I had to have a very uncomfortable conversation with the client and with my boss.

The entire situation taught me that leadership doesn't correlate with years of experience. I should have gotten over my insecurities and done my job. Now, I have the skills and confidence to effectively manage and lead any team, regardless of their experience compared to mine.

Read more: 11 Essential Items to Bring to a Job Interview

An example answer for “tell me about a time you failed”

Put it all together and you get...

I was the lead on a design team working for one of the agency’s biggest clients and we missed our presentation deadline because of a very basic management error that I made. As the project lead, it was my job to make sure all of the designers and account managers were on the same page. 

Because it was my first time as the lead, I was nervous about managing those who were further along in their careers. So, I didn’t check in or follow up early and often enough, which led to the entire team being underprepared.

Well, we ended up with an unfinished product on presentation day. I was embarrassed, and I risked losing the client, which would have affected the whole team and the company. I had to have a very uncomfortable conversation with the client and with my boss.

The entire situation taught me that leadership doesn't correlate with years of experience. I should have gotten over my insecurities and done my job. Now, I have the skills and confidence to effectively manage and lead any team, regardless of their experience compared to mine.

Read more: The 3-Step Formula to Answering Why Are You Looking For a New Job?

Positive outcomes, please!

Ending on a positive note is key to nailing this part of the interview. Learning from failure and growing as a result makes you an even better job candidate.

Even if you were fired or severely reprimanded for the failure, showing that you accept responsibility and have chosen to use the experience to improve yourself says a lot about your character.

Read more: How to Respond to “Tell Me About Yourself” in an Interview

What not to say

Resist the urge to say, I can’t think of a time I failed, because we all have, and it’s okay. Best case scenario, this answer will make you seem underprepared; worst case scenario, the interviewer won’t trust you. 

Don’t say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. In other words, don’t make up an answer, lie, or sugar-coat your experience. Be honest about your failure and show that you’re a great job candidate because of it. 

Read more: How to Answer: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

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By Brandi Dye

Contributor

Brandi Dye is a Las Vegas–based writer and true lover of words. When she's not writing, you can find her cooking...or refreshing Twitter.

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