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Example interview answer: tell me about a time you failed

“Tell me about a time you failed” – find out what interviewers really want to hear when answering this question!

Example interview answer: tell me about a time you failed

When preparing for an interview, you need to brace yourself for tough questions. And one of the hardest interview questions is this one: Tell me about a time you failed. It’s tricky because you have to talk about the negatives. But the key to answering this question is to put a positive spin on it. 

Use our top tips for answering this tricky interview question.

1. Frame your answer

Always frame your answer using the STAR interview method. First, explain the Situation (your job title, company etc). Then talk about the Task you had. After, describe the Actions you took. And lastly, talk about the Result.

2. Don’t be cliche

Don’t answer this question by saying ‘I don’t believe in failure.’ That’s cliche and is only avoiding the question. You need to be honest and really think about your failures. Interviewers can tell when you’re trying to dodge a question. So face it head on!

3. Don’t dig yourself a grave

We want you to be honest. But you also need to be smart in your answer. Don’t pick a failure that doesn’t have a happy ending. You need to pick a failure that you managed to fix. Otherwise, the interviewers will start to question your ability to do the role.

4. Focus on what you learned

Failure can teach us to be better. But not everyone learns from their mistakes. The interviewers really want to know you’re the kind of person who learns. The type who can bounce back. So wherever your story goes, always bring it back to what it taught you.

5. Be accountable

Don’t play the blame game. Don’t point the finger. These are big red flags for employers. Always hold yourself accountable for your failures. Companies want to hire people who can learn from their mistakes. They don’t want to hire people who can’t be accountable for their actions.

6. Show appreciation

You’ll gain bonus points from the interviewers if you can appreciate the lessons you learned. It’s a great attitude to have.

Sample answer to ‘Tell me about a time you failed”

Example 1: Sales role

I was working as a Sales Consultant for Ford in 2019. I was close to hitting my annual target and still had a whole month to go. I had worked really hard all year. But I made the mistake of thinking it would be easy to hit my target in the final month. So I didn’t put in the same amount of calls I normally would. Unfortunately, I ended up not hitting my target and missing out on my bonus. It was completely my fault. I’d been overconfident. But in a way, I’m grateful because this taught me a huge lesson to never take business for granted. The following year, I never gave up on hitting my target even when I thought it was in the bag. In the end, I exceeded my 2020 sales target by 20%.

Example 2: Hospitality role

My biggest failure was when I was working as a waitress for a Michelin star restaurant. I was fairly new to waitressing and inexperienced. One table asked me several questions about the menu and I wasn’t able to answer them because I hadn’t studied the menu.  It was quite embarrassing for me and reflected poorly on the restaurant. The customers complained to my manager since they expected a higher level of service. Ever since that evening, I stepped up my game and studied everything I could about the menu. My manager said he was very impressed with how I turned things around so quickly. It was a good lesson to learn. It taught me that customers have certain expectations. And if you don’t meet those expectations, you’ll fail. It’s as simple as that. 4 years on and I’m still working in Michelin star restaurants at management level so I must be doing something right now!”.

Prepare to fail!

Failure is a natural part of everyone’s career progression. We wouldn’t learn if we didn’t fail. So don’t be scared of talking about your failures. Just be sure to prepare your answers in advance so you can answer confidently!

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