How To Ace 'Tell Me About A Time You Failed' Job Interview Question

Home > 
Blog > 
How To Ace 'Tell Me About A Time...
Sep 8, 2022 7 min read

“Tell me about a time you failed?” asked you a recruiter once. This is one of the most important questions. It will determine whether you will get the dream job or lose your chance right now.

Your answers will tell the Recruiter whether you can face challenges and grow or you’re blaming everyone besides you.

It’s challenging to tell more about your mistakes or failures. But these questions are often necessary. The Hiring Manager wants to know whether you can recognize your flaws and take responsibility for your actions, even if you failed. This also tells how much of a risky player you are, and how you bounce back from an unpleasant situation.

Stay with us as we’ll share some tricks and tips about how to give a complete answer to this question while increasing your chances of getting hired.

Don’t forget that if you want to try answering this question, or other rather tricky ones, and getting feedback from our top career counselors, Enhancv Career Counseling service is just for you.

Enhancv Career Counseling client review


Why HR managers ask you this question?

Upload & Check Your Resume

Drop your resume here or choose a file. PDF & DOCX only. Max 2MB file size.

Privacy guaranteed

No, the Recruiter is not the bad cop when asking this particular question and for sure is not searching for a reason to decline you as a candidate.

There are three key traits employers are looking for. Honesty, problem-solving skills, and learning from mistakes.

Be honest and show them a time you made a mistake. They won’t judge you and if you explain what you learned from the situation, it would only benefit you.

Most probably the company is just looking for someone who can bounce back from failure. As we know, nobody is perfect and even if you have experience, you can make a mistake. The important part is to learn from your failure.

They may ask you because the person before you failed and wasn’t able to handle the failure. When the wound is still fresh, the Recruiter could easily spot if you are lying on the topic.

Smart Recruiters realize this and look for candidates who can recognize and recover from failure. If they don’t understand that every person has flows, the company is not right for you.

There are a couple more tricky questions that almost every Recruiter asks. If you want to know which they are and how to nail them in your next interview, check out our article for 5 tricky as hell job interview questions.

After the Hiring Manager finishes with his/her interview questions, keep in mind to ask questions about the company and the position.

Don’t be shy.

This means that you have come prepared and you really are interested in the position.

If you are not sure what you could ask your future employer – we have suitable questions for you.

Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About a Time You Failed

When you are answering this tricky question, you should be careful for a couple of things:

  • providing too many details
  • not providing enough details
  • providing a response that is too short
  • or providing a response that is too long.

Now you are probably thinking: “Okay, is there even a right way to answer?”.

First, don’t go unprepared. Everyone fails, so don’t try to hide it and most importantly, don’t blame others in your story. Prepare an example and be ready to tell it.

Avoid sharing stories like: “When I was in college, I had a B on one of my exams, and that was one of my biggest failures. Probably in your head, you are being a perfectionist, however the Recruiter will end up thinking you either haven’t done anything extracurricular or that you are lying.

Also, tell only one thing, and be careful that it is not a repeatable problem. The Hiring Manager won’t be impressed by someone who fails all of the time, or makes the same mistake frequently.

Finally, one of the most important mistakes to avoid:

Don’t talk about a huge disaster. If you made a massive mistake that cost the company a million, keep it quiet and find a story that isn’t so scary.

So, now you know that you have to reshape your answer.

Let’s see some examples and gain some confidence on how to do it right. And don’t forget that one of the key aspects of your answer is your body language, so you have to look trustworthy and confident.

“Describe a time you failed” examples

Time estimation fail example:

“In my past company I had a meeting with a very important client and they expected a precise deadline. I really wanted to impress them, so I told them the project would be ready in a month and a half. Well, back then I thought we could do it, but we had results in a month and three weeks, and the client wasn’t happy at all. I realised that in order to please it at first, I made him expect something we are not able to do. So, when I had to estimate the time for a similar project, I told them that it would take 2 months. Imagine the surprise when we finished a week earlier.”

Hiring fail example:

“I started in my last company as a Sourcer, then I was promoted to a Recruiter and after a while the Manager gave me the opportunity to be Account Manager for one of our big clients. I had to pre-select and interview the people and choose who to send to the client. I made the decision pretty quickly and what is more, I vouched for him, because I saw great potential. However, there were a lot of red flags, but I didn’t think that through. The client hired the person, and three months later fired him, because of high ego and lack of real experience. I realised that If I am unsure of something, it’s better to talk to other people with more experience. After that I didn’t have any problems with the people I vouch for.”

With these two examples you give information of how you failed and what you have learned. What is more, they give enough details about what has happened and how you managed to apply it.

How to make your answer better

When a Recruiter asks you questions starting with “Tell me about a time when you”, “Have you ever had a situation where”, “Give me an example of”, and etc, it’s a really good strategy to use the STAR interview method.

This is a simple framework, giving you the opportunity to tell a meaningful story about your past experience consistently.

Let’s break down the method. STAR is an acronym for:

Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary aspects of your example.

Here you have to paint a clear picture of the situation, and share what the complexities were. Tell only details related to your story, keep it clear and concise.

Task: Explain your responsibility in that situation.

You should have key responsibilities in the story you have chosen. Make sure that the Recruiter understands the specifics of your involvement in the situation and the objectives set for you.

Action: Explain what steps you took to address it.

So, you are telling this story for a reason. You had a key part in it and something went wrong. And now it’s time to share what you have done to solve the problem. Don’t use buzz phrases, such as  “I worked hard on” or “I did a research and”.

Show your real contribution, make sure that you give enough information about every step you have taken to bounce back;

Result: Share what was the result from your actions.

Now it’s the time to rise and shine. Explain the positive difference you have made. Keep in mind to have a positive outcome. No Recruiter wants to hear “and then I got fired, that’s why I am searching for a new job”.

If that’s the case, better don’t tell this particular story. Choose another one.

When using this method you could easily focus your answer, while making it easy to understand.

Include what you did to bounce back and fix the problem. Then tell how you overcome the challenge. Explain the steps you took. Did you fail again?

Takeaways: “Tell me about a time you failed” interview question

When a Recruiter asks you this question, you should be honest and concise. Don’t give too much or too little details and concentrate on a real life situation. Use the STAR interview method to keep your story simple yet informative.

Keep in mind to tell how you bounced back when you failed and what were the actions you took to never make the same mistake again.

When you choose a situation for your example, don’t share things that cost millions to your past employer. What is more, don’t share stories that make you look careless. This includes repetitive mistakes, from which you haven’t learned anything.

Now, you will answer “Tell me about a time you failed” with grace. Impress the Recruiter and give him/her one more reason to hire you.

What are your thoughts? What story are you giving as an example to the Recruiter? Give us a shout out in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! :)

Make your move!
Your resume is an extension of yourself.
Make one that's truly you.
Rate my article:
How To Ace 'Tell Me About A Time You Failed' Job Interview Question
Average: 4.54 / 5.00
(666 people already rated it)
Kal Dimitrov
Kaloyan Dimitrov is a resume expert and content manager at Enhancv. He frequently publishes blog posts around resume writing, cover letters & job applications, and authors more than 500 publications on the site. Kaloyan also runs a Career Accelerator Bootcamp for young graduates where he applies his practical knowledge of job applications and writing resumes and educates people on how to present their best selves in front of business representatives. His opinions on resume writing and career development have been featured in Chron., as well as cited by top universities such as Simon Fraser University and UCL.
Linkedin Logo
Resume Guides