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.

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