How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”

by | Last updated Sep 2, 2020 | Interview and Job Search Skills

Knowing how to answer the job interview question “Tell me about a time when you failed” can throw off even the most polished candidate. Yet it’s a popular one and you need to be ready for it.

First, let’s break down the motivation behind the question.

Why do Companies Ask “Tell me about a time you failed?”

By asking this, the employer wants to get a wholistic picture of who you are professionally. They also want to know whether you’re willing to discuss and own your mistakes.

Naturally they want to hear about your successes and what you have to offer.

But they also want to know when things haven’t gone so well, how you problem solve, and what you do in the face of adversity. Inevitably these things will come up, and they want to know how you’re going to handle it.

How to Frame your Answer to “Tell Me About a Time When You Failed”

Here’s a framework and one example of how to answer the job interview question, “Tell us about a time when you failed.” (This is similar to using the SOAR method of creating your success stories to share.)

You can apply this approach and framework to other similar questions such as “What is the last big mistake you made and how did you handle it?”  or “Describe a time when things didn’t go so well. What did you do?”

  1. Describe the situation
  2. Talk about where things went wrong
  3. Discuss what you did to overcome the problem
  4. What you learned from it and how you carried the lesson forward in your career.

Let’s take the example of a company marketing director:

Describe the Situation

“As marketing director, I oversaw a team who was in charge of a full rebrand of our company. As part of that, we were redesigning the logo. We had two finalist designs which we took to a cross section of employees and to our executive team to get their feedback.”

Talk About Where Things Went Wrong

“The feedback we received from employees and the executives was evenly divided. No one could agree on the logo that best represented our company. The project got stalled. Other priorities were getting put on the back burner. Our website was delayed. Everything else was getting delayed because we didn’t have this one mission critical piece in place.”

Tell How you Overcame the Problem

“Since we weren’t making any headway, I decided to take this to a trusted group of our customers and asked them for their feedback. Almost immediately, there was a clear-cut winner. I took this information back to the team, the employees, and the executives. Of course, we decided to go with what resonated most with the customer.”

Wrap up With What You Learned

“Depending on the circumstances, if it was appropriate, I’d definitely involve a customer group much earlier on in the process. After all, that’s why we exist as a business.”

When thinking of an example to answer “Tell me about a time you failed,” think about:

  • Something that is real, but not something so disastrous that could derail you from being a candidate.
  • Something where there’s a distinctive lesson learned or point of growth that you now apply to your daily professional life.

If you apply these tips, you may just welcome the chance to talk about your failures and mistakes!

dalena bradley job interview coach career coachI’m Dalena Bradley, job interview and career marketing coach dedicated to helping you communicate your value, stand out from the competition, and win the job!

Contact me to discuss how we can collaborate.


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