How job hunters should answer interview questions about past failures


One way for companies to assess their job applicants’ ability to handle adversity in the workplace is by asking them about their failures in the past. As much as job hunters want to evade job interview questions like “Are there any previous goals that you failed to achieve?”, making an excuse or beating around the bush can do more harm than good.

As job seekers, you want to maximize every opportunity with your interviewers. So instead of letting your knees shake when faced with a typical interview question about failures, use it to your advantage and highlight what you have learned from those mistakes. Here are five tips to help you.


1.     Pick a real failure


Claiming that you haven’t gone through any unfortunate incidents in the past would definitely appear to be unbelievable to the recruitment team. Of course, everyone has made bad decisions in the past that might have compromised their working procedures, output quality, and their company’s standards. It’s perfectly normal to admit to the mistakes you’ve done.

So when asked about those mistakes during an interview, it would be advisable for job hunters to state a specific challenge that they failed to overcome. Pick one mistake that enabled you to learn and grow. This is what the hiring team wants to hear – your insights and lessons after the blunder. Don’t attempt to create stories that you think can wow your future employers as they can easily uncover fabricated details.


2.     Define failure in your own terms


Before you proceed with your storytelling, explain how failure became an advantage for you. This means highlighting the strengths you have gained in the midst of a negative situation. By establishing a positive effect of an unfortunate incident, the story that you’re about to share will no longer be seen as a complete failure, but a medium that paved way for your improvements toward the end of the situation.


3.     Use the STAR format


Sometimes people get carried away with storytelling – pushing one detail after another and potentially bumping off the main point of their story. To have a clean and smooth transition of the narrative, use a method called STAR.

  • SITUATION— Describe the scenario, setting the story that gives your hiring manager an overview of the scenario.
  • TASK— Briefly explain what was required in the situation.
  • ACTIVITY— What did you do after you were given a task? Give a quick overview of what you planned to do about the situation and what exactly took place.
  • RESULT— Explain the results of your chosen action. This includes pointing what decision caused the failure.

This format can serve as your guide to clearly and briefly describe the story instead of going back and forth with the details that can confuse your future employers.


4.     Don’t go overboard


As much as you want to give every detail of your story, it’s best not to overdo it. Also, be mindful of how you told your story, including the tone and volume of your voice. Otherwise, you may risk sounding arrogant which can turn off your potential employers. So follow the above STAR format in retelling your stories and stick with the important details.


5.     Share what you learned


Perhaps this is the part where the hiring team would be all ears. This is essentially the main reason behind job interview questions like this. Take the opportunity to openly express the insights you’ve gained after an unsuccessful event that you’ve experienced. Touch the points where you made a mistake and magnify the strengths that transpired after the situation. The important point is to convince your future employers that you have gained another perspective after a fall and are now knowledgeable enough to prevent those same mistakes from happening again.