What Is Your Greatest Failure?

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: September 01, 2022

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What’s your greatest failure’ is without a doubt one of the most common interview questions presented to job seekers- and is a question that you should give a lot of thought to before answering. In fact- taking a moment to think and breathe before responding will show the interviewer how seriously you take the question. The query may be phrased in several different ways- so be prepared for interviewers to ask about your most memorable mistake or the one big thing you wish you could do over again.

The purpose of the question is not to intimidate you- but rather to find out how honest you are about mistakes- how you handle them and whether or not you learn from making them. Interviewers aren’t really interested in what you did that resulted in your biggest failure- but how you responded to the problem and what you would do differently next time. By preparing a thoughtful and humble answer- you can set yourself apart from interviewees who haven’t taken the time to prepare for this question.

How to Answer the Question

1. Be Honest and Humble:

The worst possible answer you could give to this question is that you’ve never made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Depending on your position and the industry in which you work- errors could result in delays to production- cancelled orders and lost revenue. Mistakes which affect a company’s bottom line or have disastrous results to the end user are clearly more devastating than forgetting a guest’s drink order- but in any case- owning up to the error is critical. Be sure to remain humble in your telling of the story- and take your share of the blame.

2. Choose Your Mistakes Carefully:

You may have made more than one memorable mistake in your career- and if so- choose to share your greatest failure- since that is what is being asked for. Just be sure that your failure relates directly to the job you are applying for- that you have recovered from that event and you have learned from it. Failures that are incriminating should not be brought up. For example- if you are tied up in litigation because of a breach of contract- you may not want to mention it. On the other hand- you have to share a failure- so don’t act like you are hiding something. Interviewers assume that you are not perfect- but they want to know if you are likely to take the blame when something bad occurs and if you are willing to correct the problem in order to avoid making the same mistake again.

3. Show Your Strong Character:

People who accept responsibility in a professional capacity- whether in management or not- know that eventually something will go wrong. Job applicants who are willing to accept this and deal with the consequences while learning and growing from the experience are ideal candidates for important jobs. When answering this or similar interview questions- tell how you would handle the incident if you had a chance to do it again. Be positive- upbeat and admit your mistakes. Explain in detail what you learned from the failure- why you feel it contributed to your professional development and how in retrospect you consider it a valuable part of your job experience.

Sample Answers

1. While working in my previous position- I was diligent about setting goals and striving to meet them on time. There was a quarter last year when my department failed to meet the expected quota- and I take responsibility for that failure. I believe that I pushed my team too hard to meet deadlines- instead of taking time to cheer them on for their accomplishments. In retrospect- I feel that employees need to be nurtured in a professional capacity in order to be as productive as possible. I learned to break goals into smaller segments and offer incentives and rewards to the hardest workers.

2. There was a time early in my career when I worked too quickly and didn’t put enough thought into producing quality results. Because of this- I was overlooked for promotions and my career became stagnant. I feel like I failed my employer and myself by not working hard enough and by focusing too much on quantity. On the plus side- I was driven to achieve the goals that I had set- but my method for achieving them was flawed. In looking back- I can see how important it is to give my work my full attention and produce the best results possible every day. I can honestly say that I am appreciative of my failure because it has made me the conscientious professional that I am today.

The ideas outlined above should give you what you need to nail this tough question every time. Get ready to watch your interviewer be completely blown away by your thoughtful answers to challenging interview questions.

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