Tell me about a time you failed…

One of the most difficult questions in a job interview is: “Tell me about your failure(s)?” If you try to squirm around the question, it will signal negativity at the same time you need to elaborate just the right level of failure. 

Overall there has to be a balance, so how can we prepare for it? Here are some tips.

Start with “we”, not “me”. 

Always start with “we” instead of “me”, since a team failing as a group might seem more relatable (and excusable) than an individual failing because there was consensus behind the decision-making.

Describe a low-consequence event, and keep it brief.

Make sure the incident chosen is a low consequence not catastrophic, and keep it short. Don’t linger on many details.

Don’t be defensive, be thoughtful about the words you use.

Use words like learned, gleaned, grew, and overcame. Avoid defensive or regretful language.

Choose a circumstance, not a mistake.

Don’t draw attention to your character. When did something external not go as planned? When was a strategy ineffective? When did an approach miss the target?

Lastly, Focus on learning.

What the interviewer ultimately wants (and they may even state this explicitly) is not so much your story of failure but what you learned from it and how you turned that insight into a productive approach.

How to filter the best candidates in a telephonic job interview in 20 Minutes…

Being an entrepreneur I know how critical it is to get the right candidates, but at the same time, it’s impossible to spend a lot of time interviewing and screening each candidate. Hence I started researching how to screen the best candidates in the fastest way possible.

Here are a few learnings which I started using and gave surprisingly good results the best part it requires much lesser time for screening the “A candidates” from “B & C candidates”. (Some points are taken from book WHO – The A Method for Hiring)

Target: The initial screening interview should be short, phone-based, designed to select the best-suited candidates for our requirement.

Lets first start with the “DO NOTs”

Never start the interview by telling about yourself, company, or JD (Job description).

Unless you already know the candidate is the right fit, why waste time on this?. If she is the right candidate she would have already gone thru JD and website/company etc details.

Also, I have seen once you elaborate on the JD and your expectations, the candidate revolves around it and sometimes says those exact words. Kind of killing the whole process at the start.

You will get plenty of time to sell yourself & company later once you figure she is the right fit.

Don’t ask “Tell me about yourself and your profile?”

This is an over abused question and a waste of time, the candidate is so used to this question that it never touches any new information different from CV/Resume. Moreover, once it starts it’s difficult to control the candidate not to elaborate unnecessary details wasting further time.

Now let’s start with the screening questions:

#First Question: What are your career goals, or in the next 3-4 years what you see yourself doing?

The question gives a good opening dialog for the candidate, there is also a bit of surprise element to this question. It allows her to elaborate on her dream and what she wants to do in the future.

What to expect:

Notice whether her goals are matching your requirements. For example, if she is looking as a managerial position and your requirement is more of an individual contributor role, there is a red flag.

Secondly, if she lacks a goal or is saying a copy of the job description she got from the consultant or website, screen the person out. Talented people know what they want and shouldn’t be afraid to tell us.

Lastly, this question should reflect passion and energy in the candidate, after all, it’s her career goal(s) she is talking about. If it’s dull and monotonous, I would screen out the candidate.

#Second Question: What are you really good at professionally?

The question allows the candidate to further elaborate with plenty of points to talk about. Try to get as many traits (At least 5, the more the better) with real examples in some cases, it should give us a clear picture of her strengths.

What to expect:

If there are some key strengths that do not match the job requirement, again a red flag.

For example, if she keeps coming to front-end technologies and you already have a strong person in that technology it does not makes sense to continue unless you are specifically looking at expertise in that area.

Also, look at the passion, this is her area she should ace and should come out to be impressive.

#Third Question: What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?

This gives the other side of the equation about her, directly asking whats your weakness leads to a canned and self-serving answer like “I am impatient for results” or “I work too hard” not providing any productive details.

What to expect:

Again try to identify 3-4 areas that she is not interested or good at, if required put fear of reference check into the person. Saying what will be the reaction of your manager if we ask this to her? but ensure its in a soft tone so that it doesn’t disrupt the candidate.

#Fourth Question: What is the one single product/project you would say as your best and why?

This tells us what excites her, motivates her at work. Is it a technology solution, which is exciting, or design or architecture, etc, there is no right or wrong answer for this. Also, why part tells you where she likes to pat her back and tries to excel.

What to expect:

If the product/project was done long back, let’s say 3-4 years earlier, this implies there are not many exciting things she has done in the past 3 years, which is a red flag.

The reason for success and recognition should somewhere match the strengths we are looking for. Also, the reason for the best project shouldn’t digress a lot from your job requirement.

For example, if she says her best project was delivering high performing interface for email marketing and getting good results, but you are looking at SEO digital marketing profiles. There is a mismatch, this not exactly counts to reject but gives you an alarm to grill more on the SEO side.

#Fifth Question: What is the one single product/project you would say was your worst and why?

Again this gives the other side of the balance sheet, why part is most critical.

What to expect:

Failure is an important part to understand the candidate’s approach to a problem. Did she learn from it? What happened to similar future projects and how she came back from this.

It’s important that this also be a recent project, not 3-4 years old because failure is critical for growth, and unless she is recently out of her comfort zone learning would have not been possible. A person’s resilience towards failure is an important part of learning. A really talented person will learn from failures and handle it successfully going forward.

This ends our initial screening process.

All the above questions will give you pretty good insights about the candidate. Moreover, the candidate would have gone thru a really exciting interview.

Somewhere in the middle if you don’t like what you are hearing, simply collapse the call by accelerating your questions. It can be finished in much lesser time if the initial response is not positive. On the other hand, if you hear a strong potential match to your requirement, you can continue spending more time or ask to schedule more time later.

Remember for A candidates you can give more time and for B/C candidates cut short things, you own the process. But if there are doubts, skip and go for the next candidate, we all know how much worse it becomes when we hire a mediocre.