22 Tips on How to Answer, “Tell Me About a Time You Failed.”

By: | Updated: April 17, 2024

You found our list of tips on how to answer, “Tell me about a time you failed.”

“Tell me about a time you failed” is a common interview question to assess how candidates handle failure and learn from their mistakes. Examples of tips include understanding the question, showing resilience, and taking responsibility. The purpose of these tips is to help job seekers respond to this tough question. These questions are also known as “discussing career mistakes” and “answering tough interview questions.”

These tips are similar to tips on hiring team players, common interview questions, and steps on preparing for an interview.

This article touches on:

  • discussing career mistakes
  • talking about workplace failure
  • how to answer tough interview questions
  • dealing with failures at work
  • interviewing tips
  • strategies for interviewing

Let’s get to it!

How to answer, “Tell me about a time you failed.”

From understanding the question to ending on a strong note, here is our list of the best tips for talking about workplace failure.

1. Understand the Question

In job interviews, it is important to understand why employers ask about times you have failed. These leaders want to see if you are self-aware, resilient, and innovative. When you understand why interviewers are asking, you can give an honest and strong response that shows your strengths by being open about your vulnerabilities. Recognizing the importance of this question lets you demonstrate your ability to handle challenges with maturity and adaptability.

Consider a specific failure, what you learned from it, and how you overcame it. Do not give a generic answer. Instead, share a genuine experience that proves you can learn from tough situations.

2. Choose the Right Example

Picking the right failure story is key. You should choose an example that shows how you have grown and bounced back professionally. When choosing your story, go for a work-related situation highlighting your willingness to take smart risks and learn from them.

In addition, avoid picking a failure that caused big problems for the company or shows you acted irresponsibly or unethically. The most important part of your answer is not the failure itself but how you recovered from it, learned from it, and made changes to avoid repeating it.

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3. Practice Your Response

When interviewers ask about a time you failed in an interview, it is crucial to have a prepared response. When practicing, start by choosing a specific failure that taught you a valuable lesson. You will want to explain what happened, why it failed, and what happened as a result. Then, talk about how you handled the issue, what you did to fix it, and what you learned from it.

Lastly, mention how this failure changed how you approach problem-solving and your commitment to getting better. By practicing your answer beforehand, you can give a calm and well-structured response that shows you can learn from challenges effectively.

4. Stay Calm and Confident

While discussing career mistakes, remind yourself that every individual fails at some point, and it is essential for growth and development. You should provide an honest yet positive example demonstrating resilience and the ability to learn from mistakes. Maintaining a calm demeanor and having confidence throughout your response shows your growth. Failure is not defeat but a stepping stone toward success.

5. Be Honest

Recounting a failure honestly can be challenging, but it shows maturity and self-awareness. Be sure to choose an instance where you faced genuine difficulty, highlighting the lesson learned. You are not celebrating failure but showcasing your ability to recognize mistakes and make improvements.

Your answer should show how this failure shaped you positively, fostering growth and resilience. Honesty shows you can self-reflect, one of the crucial skills in an ever-evolving workplace.

6. Take Responsibility

When discussing times of failure, it is important to take responsibility instead of blaming others. Employers admire an individual who owns up to their mistakes and learns from them. For instance, you could talk about a project where you missed a critical deadline due to poor time management.

Then, explain the steps you took to rectify the situation, the lessons you learned, and how you used new strategies to prevent it from happening again. This approach portrays you as accountable, showing that you can grow from adverse situations.

7. Identify the Lesson Learned

Analyzing your failures is an essential part of dealing with failures at work. You want to identify what lesson you learned from the failure. For instance, if you missed a crucial project deadline, then the mistake taught you the importance of planning and execution. Perhaps you realized the significance of delegation and teamwork. Recruiters value candidates who can articulate how failures turned into opportunities for learning and self-improvement.

8. Relate the Lesson to the Role

When someone is asked to talk about a time they failed, they can link the lesson learned to their job by showing how the experience enhanced their skills. For instance, they could describe how facing a setback in a project taught them the significance of careful planning and how they now use this in their present position. By tying the failure to their career development, they display self-awareness and a positive approach to learning from errors. This method not just demonstrates resilience but also uncovers a candidate’s capacity to derive useful lessons from tough circumstances, positioning them as a valuable addition in any professional setting.

9. Show Resilience

Recalling a failure does not mean you have to present yourself in a negative light. The key is showing resilience. For instance, if you failed to meet a project deadline, then emphasize the action plan you came up with to navigate the ordeal.

Further, discuss how you identified the root cause, worked to tackle the issues, and created a more effective time management strategy. You should frame the failure as a learning opportunity where you grew stronger, fostering resilience in adversity.

10. Frame the Failure Positively

Responding to this question can leave you feeling vulnerable. However, it is a chance to show that learning from failure is crucial and that you have a growth mindset. To frame your response in a positive way, pinpoint a failure while sharing the lessons you gained from it.

In addition, describe how that failure positively affected your viewpoint, decision-making, or capabilities. Finally, discuss how you used that experience as a stepping stone rather than a setback. A well-structured response can highlight your resilience and capacity to learn.

11. Describe Your Growth

One of the top strategies for interviewing is reflecting on a situation where you failed but grew. After describing the error, focus the narrative on the lessons and growth gained as a result. Be sure to underscore your newfound resilience, problem-solving skills, and capacity to deal with adversity.

The ultimate goal is to demonstrate your ability to learn from past mistakes. Your answer should also show your ability to take failures in stride and use them as stepping stones on your path to improvement and success.

How to answer tough interview questions

Answering tough interview questions is a common challenge. Here are a few interviewing tips for these types of discussions.

1. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead for tough interview questions is key to feeling confident during your interview. Consider common questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Describe a time when you faced a challenge.” Then, think about your experiences, and pick specific examples that show your skills and strengths.

After writing some notes, practice talking about these examples clearly and concisely. You should try to explain what you learned from each experience and how it helped you grow. By preparing ahead of time, you can feel more relaxed and ready to impress your interviewer with thoughtful and confident responses.

2. Practice Your Responses

Practicing your responses to tough interview questions is important. You can start by writing down common questions and your answers to them. Then, say your answers out loud or even record yourself speaking. Finally, listen back and see where you can improve.

It is also helpful to practice with a friend or family member. These friends can give you feedback and help you feel more comfortable discussing your experiences. The more you practice, the more confident you will become at answering tough questions during the actual interview.

3. Listen Carefully

Listening carefully when answering tough interview questions is an essential step. Be sure you understand the question before you start answering. You should pay attention to the details and try to address all parts of the question in your answer.

It is also helpful to maintain eye contact with the interviewer and nod to show you are listening. By listening carefully, you can give a thoughtful and relevant answer that shows you are engaged and attentive.

4. Pause and Reflect

When faced with tough interview questions, taking a moment to pause and reflect can be helpful. If you are unsure how to answer, then it is okay to ask for a moment to gather your thoughts. You should use this time to think about your response and consider your past experiences or examples that relate to the question.

Before responding, take a deep breath, and focus on what the interviewer is asking. Finally, reflect on how you can best showcase your skills and experiences in your answer. Pausing allows you to give a thoughtful and well-organized response.

5. Ask for Clarity

You should feel confident asking for clarity if the question feels unambiguous or confusing. It is better to understand the context and answer appropriately than presuming and faltering.

For example, you might ask if they want an instance from a professional or personal setting. When you understand, you can share your answer in a structured and concise way. This technique proves that you are well-prepared and have strong comprehension skills.

6. Structure Your Response

When using the STAR method to answer tough interview questions, it is important to structure your response neatly. You can start by explaining the Situation or background of the problem you faced. Then, describe the Task or goal you were trying to achieve.

Next, talk about the Actions you took to address the situation, being specific about what you did and why. Finally, share the Result or outcome of your actions, highlighting any achievements or lessons learned. By following this structure, you can give a clear and organized answer that showcases your skills and experiences effectively.

7. Provide Context

When answering tough interview questions, giving context is key to helping the interviewer understand your experiences. You should start by briefly explaining the situation you were in. This context could include where you worked, what your role was, and any challenges you faced.

Providing context gives the interviewer a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding your experiences. Be sure to keep your explanation clear and concise, focusing on the most important details that relate to the question being asked. With these techniques, you can ensure that your response is relevant and easy for the interviewer to follow.

8. Highlight Achievements and Skills

When answering tough interview questions, it is important to highlight your achievements and skills clearly and confidently. Consider specific examples from your past experiences that demonstrate your abilities. Then, describe the actions you took and the results you achieved. Also, use specific numbers or examples to quantify your achievements whenever possible. For example, if you increased sales, then mention the percentage or dollar amount by which sales increased.

Additionally, emphasize any skills or qualities essential to your success. Whether it is problem-solving, teamwork, or communication skills, be sure to explain how these skills contributed to your achievements. 

9. Be Concise and Focused

When answering tough interview questions, it is important to be concise and focused to keep the interviewer engaged and to make your points clear. You should organize your thoughts, stick to the main points, and avoid going off on tangents. In addition, use clear and simple language to convey your ideas, and avoid unnecessary jargon or technical terms unless necessary.

Be sure to keep your answers brief and to the point, but provide enough detail to answer the question fully. Finally, pay attention to your body language and tone of voice to convey confidence and enthusiasm. By being concise and focused, you can make a strong impression on the interviewer.

10. Stay Positive and Professional

When facing tough interview questions, maintain a positive and professional demeanor. It is important to stay calm and composed, even if the question is challenging. Be sure to maintain eye contact and a friendly tone throughout your response. Further, focus on the positives, such as your strengths and past successes. If you encounter a question that catches you off guard, then take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding.

Answers should be honest and genuine, but always frame them in a positive light. Additionally, show respect toward the interviewer, and avoid negative or defensive language. By staying positive and professional, you can leave a lasting impression and increase your chances of landing the job.

11. End on a Strong Note

Ending on a strong note when answering tough interview questions is crucial to leaving a lasting impression. To reinforce your main message, summarize your key points briefly. Further, express your enthusiasm for the opportunity, and thank the interviewer for the chance to discuss your qualifications.

You can also ask any questions you have about the role or the company. Lastly, reiterate your confidence in your ability to succeed in the position. By ending confidently and positively, you leave the interviewer with a favorable impression of your candidacy.

Final Thoughts

Learning to discuss failures can turn an uncomfortable interview question into an opportunity. With practice, you will be able to showcase your resilience and learning ability. This skill allows you to demonstrate your problem-solving skills and how you have grown professionally from past experiences. What matters most is what you learn from failures and how you apply those lessons moving forward.

Next, check out our posts on interview questions, interview thank you email templates, and company culture fit.

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FAQ: How to answer, "Tell me about a time you failed."

Here are frequently asked questions about how to answer, "Tell me about a time you failed."

Why do interviewers ask about your failures?

Interviewers ask about your failures because they want to understand how you handle adversity. These leaders are interested in seeing if you can take responsibility for your actions, learn from your mistakes, and implement changes based on these lessons.

How do you show resilience after failing?

Showing resilience after failing involves demonstrating that you could bounce back from the setback. This skill could involve discussing steps to improve or explaining how the experience has made you stronger or more adaptable.

How do you turn a story about failure into a positive?

To turn a story about failure into a positive one, focus on what you learned rather than dwelling on the negatives. Discussing how you have applied this lesson in the future can also help portray failure positively.

How honest should you be when discussing a failure in an interview?

Honesty is crucial when discussing a failure in an interview. This skill shows integrity and authenticity, highly valued traits in any professional setting. However, it is also important to frame the failure constructively and focus on the lessons learned.

What are the top tips for talking about failure in interviews?

The top tips for talking about failure in interviews include being honest, taking responsibility for your actions, and focusing on what you learned from the experience. Further, be sure to share how you have applied these lessons to prevent similar failures in the future.

Author avatar


CEO at teambuilding.com.
I write about my experience working with and leading remote teams since 2010.


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