How to Answer Job Interview Questions About Mistakes

Woman in interview
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A common job interview subject is past work-related mistakes. One question the interviewer might ask about past mistakes is, “What have you learned from your mistakes?" While the topic might make you uncomfortable, it’s important to know how to answer a job interview question about mistakes.

The interviewer asks questions like this to learn how you handle challenges. He or she also asks this to determine your weaknesses, and decide if you have what it takes to do the job well.

When answering this question, you want to be honest, but you should also do your best to tell a positive story about how you became a better job candidate because of a mistake. Read below for more tips on how to answer this question, as well as sample answers you can tailor to your career experiences.

How to Answer Job Interview Questions About Mistakes

The best way to answer this question is to talk about a specific example of a time you made a mistake. Briefly explain what the mistake was, but don’t dwell on it. Quickly switch over to what you learned, or how you improved, after making that mistake. You might also explain the steps you took to make sure that mistake never happened again.

When talking about what you learned, try to emphasize the skills or qualities you gained that are important for the job you’re interviewing for now. You might also explain that something you struggled with a long time ago has actually become one of your strengths.

You want your example of a mistake to be honest. However, it's a good idea not to mention a mistake that would be critical for success in the new position. For instance, give an example from your last position that isn't specifically related to the job requirements for the new position.

It's also a good idea to mention something that is relatively minor. Avoid mentioning any mistakes that demonstrate a flaw in your character (for example, a time you got in trouble for fighting at work).

Sometimes a good mistake to mention is a team mistake. You don’t want to place all the blame on your teammates, but you can say that you collectively made an error.

How to Prepare for Questions About Mistakes

You’ll probably get some sort of interview question about a past mistake or failure, so it’s a good idea to go into each interview with an example of a mistake in mind. Before the interview, look over the job listing, and try to think of a mistake you have made in the past that is not too closely related to the requirements of the job.

Be sure to also think carefully about the positive spin you’ll put on the mistake. What did you learn from your error and how will it make you an ideal candidate for this position?


Examples of the Best Answers

  • When I first became an assistant manager of a sales branch, I tried to take on everything myself, from the day-to-day operations of the branch to making all of the big sales calls. I quickly learned that the best managers know how to delegate effectively so that work is done efficiently. Since then, I have won numerous awards for my management skills, and I believe a lot of this has to do with my ability to delegate effectively.
  • I’m the kind of person who tries to learn and grow from every mistake. Years ago, a team I was working on failed to land a sale, and we were told it had to do in part with our ineffective visuals. Over the next six months, I spent much of my free time learning how to use various software programs to create enticing visual presentations. Since then, I’ve been continuously praised for my visuals in meetings and sales pitches.
  • One thing I have learned from past mistakes is when to ask for help. I have learned that it is far better to ask for clarification and solve an issue right away than to be unsure. I know that your company emphasizes teamwork and the need to be in constant communication with one another, and I think my ability to ask (and answer) questions of my peers would help me fit in very well with your company culture.

More Job Interview Questions and Answers

Review common interview questions, along with sample answers, that will help you prepare for questions your interviewer will ask you no matter what type of job you’re seeking.

Not all interview questions will be about the mistakes you’ve made at past jobs, but there will be more interview questions about you, such as, “Are you easy to talk to?” or, “Tell me about something that’s not on your resume.”

Your interviewer will expect you to have some questions for him or her to answer about the job, the company, or the culture.

If you’re not good at coming up with questions on the fly, review questions for candidates to ask the interviewer.