Here is the question that everyone loves to hate. It has many variations. Tell me about a time a project did not work out? What are you not good at? They are all getting to the same thing: some point in your career when everything – including maybe you – was not perfect. What should you do?
Let’s start with what not to do. Do not talk about a failure with no “but”. “I screwed up the Johnson account” is not enough, unless you want the interview to end quickly. Every story that you tell in this scenario has to have a “but”. This horrible thing happen, but I learned this from the experience. This plan did not turn out the way we had thought, but I and the rest of my team learned…
The point is that your interviewer wants to understand how you think. Can you admit the need for improvement and development, a trait that we all share? Do you learn from mistakes? This is your opportunity to show some humility and to demonstrate the wisdom that comes with experience.
Here is the formula. First, pick a story that describes a challenging scenario that shows that you were stretched. Second, give some detail to illustrate the complexity of the situation. Finally, explain the outcome and the learning.
Now, here’s an example. “I was asked to lead the Alpha project, something that had been in the planning stages for over a year but had not progressed. We knew that it would be challenging because the company had never worked on something like this before. We delivered 30 days late, but as a result I was able to identify some organizational limitations that had previously not been recognized. We took that failure and converted it into a success with the Delta project three months later.”
Keep it simple. Think about something that could have gone better, what you learned from the experience, and finally how you applied what you learned in that experience to a future project. If you have two or three of these stories ready to go, you will nail this tough question. Let your competition forget about but.
If you found this helpful, see some other stories to help you deal with common interview questions.
Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself
Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?
Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment
2 thoughts on “Question 4: When Have You Failed?”