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Mastering the Art of Answering the Tell Me About a Time You Failed Interview Question

How to Best Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” Interview Questions

Job interviews are nerve-wracking experiences for most people, and one of the most dreaded questions is when the interviewer asks, “Tell me about a time you failed.” This question is tricky because no one likes admitting their mistakes, but it is essential to remember that the interviewer is not looking for you to be perfect. Instead, they are assessing how you respond to adversity, take responsibility for your actions, and how you grow from setbacks.

In this article, we will discuss the best ways to answer this question and increase your chances of landing the job.

Importance of Choosing a Genuine Failure

The first step in answering this question is to choose a genuine failure. The interviewer can tell if you are bluffing or sugar-coating your answer, so it is crucial to be honest and transparent.

Demonstrating your vulnerability and weaknesses is challenging, but it shows you are self-aware, honest, and authentic. Choosing the right failure is also important.

Avoid choosing a failure that could have catastrophic consequences or that reflects poorly on your character. Instead, think of a situation where you made a mistake, but it was not a significant one.

For example, a project that did not go as planned, a missed deadline, or a misunderstanding with a colleague.

Convince Interviewer of Your Genuine Failure

It might be difficult convincing your interviewer that your failure is genuine. To prove yourself, explain the context of the situation, what happened, and the impact it had.

Be specific in your explanation and avoid broad generalizations. Your response should show that you have put in the effort to reflect on your actions and how they led to the failure.

Taking Responsibility and Being Honest

Once you have shared your genuine failure, it is time to explain how you took accountability for your actions. As tempting as it may be to shift blame, taking responsibility is an essential component of demonstrating your character.

Explain the role you played in the failure and how you learned from your mistakes. An honest response is also essential.

Do not shy away from admitting your mistakes, and do not overinflate your role in the situation. Be precise and direct in what you say, and avoid making excuses.

Honesty is a highly valued characteristic in any workplace.

Showing How the Failure Was a Learning Experience

Now comes the critical part of your response: showing how you learned from your failure. Your interviewer wants to know that you can grow from setbacks, learn from past experiences, and apply those lessons in your current role.

When answering how you learned from the failure, focus on the positives and avoid dwelling on the negative aspects. Explain the steps you took to rectify the situation, what you learned from it, and how it has helped you grow as an individual and professional.

Using the STAR Method to Structure the Answer

When answering any behavioral interview question, it is essential to have a structured answer. In the case of “Tell me about a time you failed,” using the STAR method is highly recommended.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Here is how to use the method:

Situation: Introduce the situation that led to the failure.

Provide context and explain the circumstances that led up to the situation. Task: Explain what task or responsibility you had in this situation.

Action: Provide the action you took and what steps you took to rectify the situation. What did you learn from this experience?

Result: Explain the outcome of the situation. What was the impact of this failure on yourself, the team, or the company?

Using the STAR method provides a coherent narrative to your response, making it easier for the interviewer to follow and understand.


Interviewers ask the question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” to assess how you respond to adversity and how you learn from setbacks. To answer this question like a pro, choose a genuine failure, take accountability for your actions, and show how you learned and grew from this experience.

Remember to use the STAR method to structure your answer clearly and concisely. Being open, honest, transparent, and authentic in your response is more important than trying to appear perfect.

So, be confident, learn from your mistakes, and ace your next job interview!

Continuing on the discussion of answering the interview question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” it is essential to understand the reasons why interviewers ask this question. In addition to assessing a candidate’s ability to learn and grow from mistakes, the question provides valuable insights into their past performance and the importance of addressing failures in the interview process.

The Purpose of Asking About Failure in Interviews

Insight into Candidate’s Past Performance

The primary reason interviewers ask about failure is to gain insight into a candidate’s past performance. Understanding a candidate’s past actions, including successes and failures, is an essential part of the interview process.

By asking this question, interviewers seek to understand how candidates react in adverse situations and how they respond to setbacks. It is an effective way of evaluating a candidate’s problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, and resilience.

Importance of Addressing Failures in the Interview

Another reason why interviewers ask about failure is to ensure that candidates address their failures. Addressing failures is an essential part of personal and professional growth.

It is natural for people to make mistakes, but it is equally important to take responsibility for them and learn from them. By addressing failures in the interview process, candidates demonstrate that they are open to learning from mistakes and willing to improve.

Addressing a failure also shows that a candidate is honest and transparent, which are crucial qualities that employers value.

Example Answers to the Question

Example Answer Emphasizing Overcommitting to Tasks

One common example of a failure is overcommitting to tasks, leading to unrealistic deadlines. This type of failure is common, especially for individuals who want to impress their superiors by taking on more significant responsibilities than they can handle.

An example answer to this question highlighting this type of failure could be as follows:

“In my previous position as a project coordinator, I was given the responsibility of managing a new project that was expected to be completed within three weeks. Excited about the project, I committed to unrealistic deadlines, which led to an incomplete project on the stipulated date.

Recognizing my error, I convened with my supervisor and the team to discuss the current status of the project and shared my concern about the unrealistic schedule we were trying to maintain. The result of this meeting was an adjusted timeline that set more achievable milestones, leading to a successfully completed project that exceeded client satisfaction.”

This example illustrates the importance of honesty, taking responsibility for failures, and learning from them.

It shows that the candidate was proactive in addressing the situation by recognizing the error and communicating it to the appropriate channels, leading to a successful project outcome.

Example Answer Involving a Mistake with Duplicate Orders

Another common example of a failure is when an individual makes a mistake during their work, such as a duplicate order. Mistakes like these can result in lost revenue, inefficiencies, and ultimately damage to the company’s reputation.

Here is an example response to a question about duplicate orders:

“In my previous role in data entry, I made a mistake when entering a client’s order into the system, resulting in two orders with identical orders. This error led to complications in fulfilling the orders and threatened our credibility.

To address the situation, I immediately notified my supervisor, and we worked together to come up with steps to ensure the mistake did not repeat. I developed a checklist for consistency when entering orders into the system, and my supervisor helped me verify each order when they were placed.

These measures helped eliminate errors in future orders, ultimately contributing to the improved customer satisfaction levels and the company’s efficiency.”

This example reinforces the importance of taking responsibility for mistakes, identifying solutions, and proactively engaging superiors in implementing measures to avoid repetition. It shows that the candidate demonstrated growth mindset in how they learned from their failure and implemented steps to prevent duplicate orders, contributing to improved business outcomes.


In conclusion, answering the question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” is an essential aspect of the interview process, allowing interviewers to gain insight into a candidate’s past performance and how they respond to setbacks. It provides an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their problem-solving skills and ability to learn from mistakes.

By sharing genuine failures, taking responsibility, and demonstrating how they learned from the situation, candidates can increase their chances of landing the job and showing the interviewer their interest in personal and professional growth. Answering the question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” is not easy, but it is essential.

It allows interviewers to evaluate how candidates handle adversity, take responsibility for their actions, and learn from mistakes. In this article, we will cover tips for answering this question effectively, as well as common mistakes candidates should avoid when answering.

Tips for Answering the Question Effectively

Focus on How the Candidate Moved Forward from the Failure

When answering the question about a time you failed, it is crucial to focus on how you moved forward from the failure. The interviewer wants to learn how you used your failure as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

How did you learn from the situation? What steps did you take to prevent the failure from happening again?

A focus on moving forward will demonstrate your ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes, which is a valuable skillset in any work environment.

Bringing Up Extenuating Factors While Taking Responsibility

Sometimes a failure can occur due to extenuating factors or circumstances beyond the control of the candidate. While it is important to take responsibility for the situations where you are responsible for a failure, it is equally important to recognize and mention any extenuating factors that may have contributed to the situation.

Providing a clear explanation of any such circumstances can help the interviewer understand the context that led to the failure and show that you are not shying away from taking responsibility.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering the Question

Avoiding Blame on Others and Taking Full Responsibility

One of the common mistakes candidates make when answering the question about failure is avoiding blame on others and not taking full responsibility for the situation. It is essential to show accountability and take responsibility without deflecting blame onto others.

While it is true that there may be team dynamics in a failure, owning up to the part we played in it and showing how we learned from the situation is essential.

Not Mentioning Failures Involving Serious Misconduct or Repetitive Mistakes

Another mistake to avoid in answering the question is not mentioning failures involving serious misconduct or repeating mistakes. A failure of this nature is often viewed with high scrutiny in the job market, and it is advisable to get ahead of it when it is brought up in an interview question.

While it may be tempting to avoid mentioning these types of failures, doing so will make it seem like you are hiding something. Instead, use the opportunity to demonstrate how you learned from the situation and how it has helped shape your character and fostered growth.


In conclusion, the question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” is designed to assess how candidates handle adversity, learn from mistakes, and take responsibility for the outcomes of their actions. To provide an effective response, candidates should focus on how they moved forward from the failure, acknowledge extenuating factors while taking full responsibility, own up to their part of a failure without deflecting blame, and bring up even the most challenging situations.

By doing so, candidates illustrate their ability to learn, grow, and adapt. By avoiding common mistakes in answering this question, you can demonstrate the essential qualities that interviewers seek in potential employees.

The Positive Aspect of Failure: Turning Setbacks into Opportunities

When we think of failure, we often associate it with negativity, disappointment, and a lack of success. However, failure can have a positive aspect that is often overlooked: it provides us with opportunities for growth and learning.

In this section, we will explore how reframing failure as an opportunity for growth and understanding the different types of failure can help us navigate our professional and personal lives more effectively.

Reframing Failure as an Opportunity for Growth

One way to embrace the positive aspect of failure is by reframing it as an opportunity for growth. Instead of viewing failure as an endpoint, we can see it as a stepping stone towards success.

Failure gives us the chance to learn valuable lessons, gain new perspectives, and develop resilience. When faced with failure, it is crucial to reflect on the experience.

Ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and how you can improve moving forward. By taking the time to analyze your failures, you can extract valuable insights that will guide you on your path to success.

Embracing this growth mindset not only helps us overcome setbacks but also encourages us to take risks and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

Different Types of Failure and Their Implications

To fully understand the positive aspect of failure, it is important to recognize the different types of failure and their implications. Here are three common types of failure:


Preventable Failure: This type of failure occurs when we make mistakes that could have been avoided through proper planning, attention to detail, or skill development. Preventable failures can be frustrating, but they also offer valuable lessons in terms of improving processes, increasing efficiency, and avoiding similar mistakes in the future.

It is essential to take responsibility for our actions, learn from our errors, and implement measures to prevent them from occurring again. 2.

Systemic Failure: Systemic failure refers to failures within larger systems or organizations. These failures are often caused by flaws in processes, communication breakdowns, or inadequate structures.

While systemic failures may be beyond an individual’s control, they provide an opportunity to identify areas for improvement and advocate for change. By analyzing these failures and proposing solutions, we can contribute to a more efficient and effective work environment.

3. Intelligent Failure: Unlike preventable and systemic failures, intelligent failures are deliberate and calculated risks taken in pursuit of innovation and experimentation.

Intelligent failure occurs when we try new ideas, test hypotheses, and push the boundaries of what is known. While these failures may not produce the desired outcome, they yield valuable insights and learning opportunities.

Intelligent failures foster creativity, encourage thinking outside the box, and pave the way for groundbreaking discoveries. By understanding the different types of failure and their implications, we gain a broader perspective on how failure can be a positive force in our lives.

It teaches us to be more innovative, adaptable, and resilient.


In conclusion, failure should not be solely viewed as a negative experience. Instead, we can reframe failure as an opportunity for growth, learning, and personal development.

By reflecting on our failures and extracting valuable insights, we can navigate our professional and personal lives more effectively. Recognizing the different types of failure, such as preventable failures, systemic failures, and intelligent failures, allows us to approach setbacks with a growth mindset.

Embracing the positive aspect of failure empowers us to take risks, learn from our mistakes, and ultimately achieve greater success. So, the next time you encounter failure, embrace it as a chance to grow and move closer to your goals.

In summary, understanding and embracing the positive aspect of failure is crucial for personal and professional growth. By reframing failure as an opportunity for learning and growth, we can extract valuable insights from our mistakes, develop resilience, and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

It is important to take responsibility for our failures, learn from them, and implement changes to prevent similar mistakes. Recognizing the different types of failure, such as preventable, systemic, and intelligent failures, provides a broader perspective on how failure can be a catalyst for innovation and progress.

So, instead of fearing failure, let us embrace it as a stepping stone to success and a valuable teacher on our journey towards achieving our goals.

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