Everyone makes mistakes. It’s inevitable, and it’s part of the learning process. But what separates the wise from the not-so-wise is the ability to learn from a mistake—after all, it’s not the falling down, but the staying down, that gets in the way. So what does this mean to your job search?

“Tell me about a time when you failed.”

During an interview, you may be asked this question. If you can show the interviewer what you learned from a past failure, you can highlight both your work ethic and your commitment to excellence in your career—despite the temporary set back. It’s all up to you how you will answer this question, but there’s definitely a right way to do it.

The best way to answer

Though it’s a tricky situation to be in, stay calm. You’ve got this! You should structure your answer in the following way:

  • Be honest. Choose something that really happened to you. If you try to fabricate a story, it will sound insincere and the interviewer will probably see right through it. Pick something that was of some significance, which came about due to your own personal actions.
  • Keep it in check. You may not want to choose a huge disaster that happened to you, directly related to the field you’re applying to. And you also don’t have to choose a story in which everything went wrong—just one mishap works fine.
  • Describe why it went wrong. What did failure mean in this circumstance? Explain why you viewed this situation as a failure. For example, “I felt I failed because I didn’t meet the deadline, even though I promised I would. That to me is complete failure.”
  • Tell the story. Keep it brief and include only necessary details. Set the stage, explain the situation and deliver the punch line. Explain why the situation was challenging and what you did to attempt to fix it (unsuccessfully, since this is a story about failure).
  • Share the lesson. This is where you bring it all home—wrap up your story with what you learned from the experience. If you could get into a time machine and do it all again, what would you have done differently? How has this changed the way you approach similar situations now?

Rehearse your lines

If you’re prepared for this somewhat awkward question, you won’t feel like you’re in the hot seat if it’s asked. Simply prepare what you’ll say so you’re ready on your big interview day.

Looking for something new?

Then we’re looking for you! McGrath Systems places candidates with jobs in engineering, light industrial, IT and human resources. We’ll work with you for a new position that meets your career needs. Reach out to one of our experienced recruiters to learn more!

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