Talking About Failure in an Interview

One of the interview topics that many job seekers struggle with is discussing failure. We want to focus on success in an interview and shifting gears to admit a failure can be difficult.

The questions that you can expect in some interviews include:

  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • What was the last goal you failed to meet?
  • How would you react to an obstacle you can't overcome?
  • What is you biggest weakness?

Talking about a failure won't hurt your potential to be hired if you handle it right. Everyone has failed – most of us have at a lot of examples of when things didn't go as planned. Some of the most successful people have failed more than they have succeeded. This isn't a bad thing – it's part of the learning and growth process.

If you are asked about a failure, talk about a real failure.  The key is to recognize what you have learned.  Often, we learn a lot more from adversity and failure than we learn from success. This is how you can demonstrate you potential in an interview.

You should prepare a story about a failure in advance.  This is not something you should answer on the fly. You want to know what to emphasize and what you learned from the experience.

When you prepare your example of a failure, consider what you would have done differently to avoid the failure.  Then review examples of similar situations you have encountered since then.  Ideally, you were successful due to what you learned. 

To prepare your answer, the following structure is very effective:

  • Situation – provide background on the example
  • Actions – what did you do in this situation
  • Results – review the outcome and admit the failure
  • Growth – discuss what you learned from the experience
  • Adjustments – explain what you would do differently
  • Success – give an example of a recent success in a recent similar situation

If you tell a story that hits all six of these areas, you should make a positive impression.  The most important thing to remember when you are asked to discuss your failures is demonstrate you are comfortable acknowledging your mistakes and learn from them.