Job Interview Question and Answer: What Is Your Greatest Failure and What Did You Learn from It?
Why Do Interviewers Ask About Your Failures?
Potential employers ask, “What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?” to find out if you are willing to accept responsibility for your mistakes. Discussing what you have learned from your failures can show interviewers that you reflect on negative experiences and make changes to avoid repeating the same errors.
Answers to Avoid
When an interviewer says, “Tell me about a time when you failed and what you learned from it,” avoid making excuses or placing the blame on other people. Also, steer clear of responses like:
- “I can’t think of any failures.”
- “I try really hard not to make too many mistakes.”
- “I mess up every once in a while, but it’s not a big deal.”
Hiring managers know that everyone makes mistakes. Giving non-answers and brushing off past errors can make you sound careless. Interviewers may think you don’t take your failures seriously and are unwilling to hold yourself accountable for your actions.
Answer the question “What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?” with a clear and concise story. Mention a time when you made a mistake at work, in school, or in your personal life. Explain where you went wrong and the results of your errors. Finish the story by describing what skills you developed to avoid making that mistake again.
Use the following examples to shape your answer to the question, “What is your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?” Make sure your story reflects your own experiences and shows how you adjust after making mistakes.
Sample Answer 1- Book Store Employee
“Last semester, I had two weeks to work on a big assignment. Since the due date seemed so far away, I put off starting it for a few days. That was a big mistake. I ended up having to do two weeks’ worth of work in four days while also trying to find time to study for exams and presentations in other classes. My final grade on the project was a low C, plus I failed a test for another course.
Though I got a passing grade, I know I could have done much better if I had managed my time more wisely. The experience taught me about the consequences of procrastination. Since then, I try to devote enough time to each of my assignments. Now I can take my time and do my best on all of my projects.”
Sample Answer 2- Personal Trainer
“My biggest failure is getting fired from a previous job because I lost my temper with a customer. I was already in a bad mood when I went into work that day, so when an angry shopper came in with a complaint, I made the awful choice to give them a bit of an attitude. Eventually, we ended up shouting at each other in the middle of the store, and a manager had to step in and send me home.”
“Up to that point, I had never been fired from a job. It was so embarrassing to admit that I had acted that way, and it made it hard to get another customer service position. To keep my temper under control, I started doing deep breathing exercises to calm down intense situations. I also watch a few funny video clips before work every day to put myself in a happy mood.”
Sample Answer 3- Hotel Receptionist
“I used to work as a bank teller, and the bank used a computer operating system that I was unfamiliar with. Instead of admitting that I needed extra training, I tried to figure it out on my own and ended up accidentally misplacing several customer accounts. Understandably, the customers were furious and my supervisors were frustrated about having to fix my mistake.”
“That experience taught me how important it is to ask for help when you need it, especially when you are dealing with other people’s time and money. Now I speak up if I am unsure about things at work, and pay close attention to my training to avoid making other big mistakes.”
Things to Keep in Mind
Remember that interviewers who ask, “What is your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?” are more interested in how you improved and grew after the failure than they are about the failure itself. Have a humble attitude when discussing the errors you’ve made, and show satisfaction and pride when you talk about what you’ve learned from your past mistakes.