Job interview question and answer: Tell me about a time you experienced failure and how you handled it

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

Don’t be spooked by this question. It’s no shame to acknowledge a previous failure – in fact, the ability to recognise your own failings and learn from them is an important quality and will work in your favour, as long as you demonstrate the right attitude towards such experiences. Failures usually provide us with our greatest lessons, and the ability to learn from them shows maturity, self-awareness and an ability to grow.

The key here is to acknowledge where you went wrong but show that you learned from your mistake, took a positive lesson from it and moved on. If you can demonstrate that you never made the same mistake again, that will impress your prospective employer.

Be specific – describe the situation and your reaction to it, outline the lesson you learned and how you would approach a similar situation today.

For instance, let’s say that in your early career you failed to deliver an important project on time because you didn’t manage your time and prioritise properly – then you can say that you learned an important lesson from this and are now a stickler for organisation and keeping things on schedule. Or perhaps in your first project management role you failed to communicate effectively with your team, but ever since then you have ensured that weekly meetings are held where everyone has input and all issues are clarified to make sure everything is on track.

Maybe you failed to thrive and succeed in your first career because you originally chose something ill suited to you – but the positive result of that experience was that you then chose a different career path which you love, and have never looked back since!

Try to choose failures based on behaviour rather than innate characteristics, as these are more easily changed. And most importantly, show that you see failures as positive and constructive lessons rather than catastrophes.

Gearing up for a new job? Make sure you have all the right qualifications.

Josie Chun

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