Interview Question: Tell Me About a Time You Failed

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: February 27, 2023
Describe A Time Where Your Project Failed

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During an interview, your potential employer wants to get to know you more than they did just by reading over your resume. They want to get to know the depth of your character, what you do when placed in difficult situations, and how you handle conflict. They do this by asking questions that relate to your past behavior on the job, as this information will shed light on how you are likely to handle future similar scenarios.

These questions are very different from more traditional interview queries, such as what your last job involved, what your current qualifications are, and how many years of education in the field you have had.

Answering behavioral interview questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when one of your projects failed and you needed to bounce back’ is no easy task. What your interviewer is really asking is how you react when faced with failure. Do you get more motivated and decide to attack your next project with renewed zeal and enthusiasm? Or do you suffer from a bruised ego and decide to go a different professional route after one round of disappointment?

Your goal as an interviewee should be to talk frankly, openly and in detail about even a sensitive subject as your own failure. Doing this — especially in front of a stranger in a high-stress situation such as an interview — can be disastrous unless you are properly prepared. Fortunately, with tried-and-true methods such as STAR, it is easy to prepare for even the most challenging of behavioral questions.

You can bring an updated hard or digital copy of your resume to the hiring team on the day of your interview. The MyPerfectResume Resume Builder offers an extensive library of professionally designed resume templates to choose from, all of which can help put your resume in the best possible light.


How to answer: tell me about a time you failed

1. Find strength in your failure

Admitting your failure is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy, contrary to popular belief. In fact, having the courage to admit that you failed at something is actually a major sign of confidence and commitment to the task at hand. If you can show your interviewer how you were able to find strength and encouragement even in the midst of disappointment, he or she will be able to see how you will likely behave if dealing with similar situations when hired.

2. Don’t avoid discussing your mistakes

Don’t be afraid to go into detail about why a particular professional or personal project failed, what part you played in its flop, and any mistakes you made along the way. Nobody is perfect all the time, and very few employees have a 100 percent track record of project success.

While talking about a failure with an interviewer to whom you only want to show your best side may seem counterintuitive and make you feel vulnerable, it is important because of its ability to illustrate the strength of your true character when faced with a major challenge.

3. Use the STAR Method for structure

STAR is a brilliant way of organizing your answer to behavioral interview questions in an impressive and thorough manner. The STAR method stands for:

  • Situation or task
  • Action
  • Result

When using STAR to answer the question at hand, you would begin by discussing in detail the scenario of the project itself. Talk about what led to its failure and what, if anything, you could have done differently to prevent it from failing. Next, discuss any actions you took in relation to the project. Did you try to stop it from failing? Did you make a mistake that you believe caused it to fail?

Finally, discuss the result of the project and how you recovered, learned from any mistakes that you might have made, and fully bounced back. What are your thoughts reflecting back on the whole situation?

Pro Tip: Structure in your resume is just as important as the structure of your answers to interview questions. A resume template can help you order the sections of your resume, and job-specific resume examples illustrate how professionals in your field organize their skills, accomplishments and education.

Example answer: tell me about a time you failed

In my recent employment history, I was hired to complete a project for an important and high-profile client. I was offered the opportunity to add other employees to my team for the job, but instead, I chose to take the majority of the work on by myself, believing mistakenly that if I wanted it done right, I would have to do it myself. The workload proved to be too much for me. The project failed the first time around, and I ended up having to hire other team members at the time when I should have had the original project already completed.

Together, we did end up bringing the project to completion eventually. Bouncing back from that mistake was a huge blow to my ego, but I have learned since that teamwork, delegation and working seamlessly with others is sometimes the best and only way to accomplish large tasks such as the one I was assigned.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to answering behavioral interview questions with good examples from your history. Try to prepare as many answers to a variety of these types of questions as you can before the big interview day comes.

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