By: S. David Ross, Associate Director
It’s time for another feature on tough interview questions. This time, let’s consider the popular question – tell me about a time when you failed at something. Now, technically this is not a “question” but if you encounter this statement in an interview it can be difficult to share an experience that did not end well. However, with a well-thought out response, you can make a favorable impression on your interviewer.
There are several elements to articulating a strong response to this interview “question.” First, keep your story fairly succinct – mention relevant details, but try not to get too focused on extraneous information. Next, choose your example wisely. Your story should be authentic but try not to give an example that may suggest or imply you will have difficultly performing the tasks required in the job. The “trap” to this question is just that – describing a failure that is closely related to the duties or responsibilities of the position. Providing an example of failure that is similar to a task you may be asked to perform on the job may cause great concern for the interviewer. I would also suggest explicitly stating that you take some level of responsibility for the failure – the more you try to blame the outcome on extraneous factors out of your control, the less likely you will make a favorable impression with your answer. Finally, be sure to indicate what you have learned from the experience and how that has improved your skill set, approach or thought process moving forward. This is a sign of maturity which is always a great thing.
At some point in our lives, we all fail at something. For some people, the instinct may be to simply forget about it and it can certainly be difficult to talk about the situation at a later time. If you are ever asked to discuss a time you have failed at something during an interview, keep the aforementioned tips in mind so you can be confident in the delivery of your answer.