No matter how prepared you feel for a job interview, it’s not unusual to be thrown off guard by a curveball question. “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” is a common question, but it can be tough to answer. Who wants to talk about their failures? Yet this can be the perfect opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd. Here’s what you should know.
What Are They Really Asking?
The reality is that no one expects you to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle your mistakes that makes all the difference. What the interviewer really wants to know is how you have learned and grown from your past missteps and how those failures made you a better employee in the long run.
How to Craft an Answer
It’s important to be honest, and tell a story about something that actually happened to you. But like any good storyteller, you’ll want to frame it in a way that focuses on what you learned.
First, choose a relatively minor mistake that isn’t directly related to the requirements for the new job. Misplacing a document may be okay to mention if you’re interviewing for a machine operator position, but if you’re applying to be a file clerk, you might choose something else. Also, avoid mentioning things that could be considered character flaws, such as fighting at work or showing up drunk.
Next, give a brief synopsis of the mistake with just enough detail to set the stage. Where were you? What were you doing? What mistake did you make, and when did you realize it? Make sure the story is easy to follow, but keep this part short.
Finally, make a seamless transition to explaining how you rectified your mistake and what you learned from it. For example, maybe misplacing the document taught you to be more organized. If so, how? What steps did you take to improve your organization? What have you done recently that highlights your new organizational skills?
To give the best possible answer each time, make sure you know your audience. Tailor your response to the individual interviewer and the position for which you are applying. Focus on the positive rather than dwelling on the mistake itself. Remain upbeat and avoid the urge to apologize to your interviewer for your past mistake. Don’t blame your mistake on others, and above all, don’t try to dodge the question by pretending that you don’t make mistakes.