One of the most commonly asked interview questions that the candidates we work with face is telling the interviewer about a time in which you failed at work. In this blog post, Sarah, Alison and Niall from our recruitment team give their thoughts and advice on how to adequately respond to this potentially awkward interview question.

Sarah – Have a well prepared example for this interview question

This interview question is always tough to answer and it needs to be executed correctly to ensure that you are not shooting yourself in the foot during the interview! It is asked as part ofailed at workf the Competency Based interview questions, which almost every interviewer will go through. The reason interviewers will ask this question is to determine your ability to problem solve and to identify how you have learned from your mistakes. Your answer should be a realistic failure, such as not achieving a target set to you or a particular project that didn’t go to plan – don’t go too dramatic with it! After stating the failure you will need to tell the interviewer how you rectified it, what procedures you put in place and how you would make sure it didn’t happen again. For example, perhaps you are in a sales role and failed to hit your quarterly target. Following this result, you reviewed your targets with your manager and determined where you fell short and why. After that you broke down your targets weekly and monitored them and then successfully reached your targets for the following quarter. This is an example that shows how you reacted positively to a setback, amended your work practices to rectify the situation and saw a positive outcome from your actions. Be ready to be asked this question. Preparation is definitely key here, so don’t be startled by it!

Alison – Break your response down into 4 key areas

This is certainly a tricky interview question to answer but is no more difficult to approach than another commonly asked interview questions such as, “what are your weaknesses?”.  The interviewer is not really concerned about which particular task you failed at but more so, how you handled this failure and what you would do to prevent this occurring again in the future.  When preparing your answer to this question, I would recommend breaking it down into four key areas;

  1. Did you recognise that you failed?failed at work
  2. What did you do to try to rectify things when you recognised it was going in that direction?
  3. Were you able to accept responsibility or were you quick to pass the blame onto someone else?
  4. And most importantly what have you learned from the experience?

Give careful consideration of examples you wish to use and ensure you build into your example the learning outcomes you would bring into your next challenge.

Niall – Show that you took responsibility and learned from the failure

This is a perplexing question to be asked and you should be well prepared with a solid answer that you are confident speaking about. For this type of question in an interview, I would ainterview questiondvise candidates to think of a real problem or a time when you did not meet expectations for whatever reason. You should wrap up the example you give with a detailed analysis of what you have learned from the failure, how you have improved as a result of the setback and how you now work to prevent this failure recurring again. It is important to show the hiring manager that you are capable of taking responsibility for mistakes or setbacks and can demonstrate a willingness to improve beyond the setback.  A hiring manager is not going to rule you out as a potential candidate if you have experienced failure in your career but they may rule you out if you cannot show how you have learned from that setback.

For more information on competency based interviews and interview tips, Click here.

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