During interviews, you may sometimes be asked about what you would have done differently at work.
This question requires some self-reflection and can be tricky to answer. After all, you don't want to highlight something you handled poorly during a job interview.
If you think about this question ahead of time, you won’t find yourself swallowing hard and struggling to respond during your interview.
The best approach is to know how to “spin” your answer so you can demonstrate how you’ve reflected upon and learned from past experiences.
Get tips on the best ways to respond to this question—along with what not to say.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
When interviewers ask you questions about things you would have done differently at work, they want to gain insight into your job-related weaknesses.
Interviewers may also be attempting to determine how you respond to failure, and whether you can identify and address your shortcomings proactively.
How to Answer "What You Would Have Done Differently at Work?"
Start by reflecting on past work experiences.
Make a list of situations that didn't turn out the way you would have liked. Think about the actions you took (or didn’t take), and how they resulted in a less-than-ideal outcome.
Then, identify similar scenarios you encountered again after those initial disappointments, but where you performed differently. What did you learn from the negative result, and what did you do to strengthen your ability to handle similar situations in the future?
The key to a strong response is to make sure the overall answer reflects positively on you. That means you'll want to focus on what you did after the negative event — and not on the event itself.
Examples of the Best Answers
Example Answer #1
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to head up a major group project. I felt unprepared in terms of my management skills, and declined. I wish I'd been open to challenging myself. To ensure I never felt that way again, I've taken management training courses and also built mentoring relationships. That's given me confidence in my managerial skills and given me a group of people I can consult about opportunities.
Why It Works: This response is very honest, which is always a plus. Also, the interviewee makes sure to note that this happened early in their career, and highlighted steps they've taken to prevent it from happening again.
Example Answer #2
At ABC company, I worked on a project with the development team that fell behind schedule. Everyone involved had individual goals, and while I stuck to my own, it didn't occur to me to check in with others. Now, when I work on big projects with others, I make sure to have check-in points.
Why It Works: This response shows that the candidate uses situations that do not work out as anticipated as an opportunity to course-correct. That's a valuable asset in employees.
Example Answer #3
When I first started as a manager, I allowed one team member to interfere negatively with the dynamic. As a result of this person's behavior, morale eroded. The person eventually left the company, but since I saw how much of an impact their behavior had, I attended a workshop on dealing with difficult employees. When a similar situation ensued last year, I was prepared and knew that avoiding the issue was not an option: I met with the individual to coach him to change his behavior. Now, we work together very smoothly.
Why It Works: This individual notes specific steps they took to change their own response, and also is able to describe a similar incident that they handled more effectively.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
- Turn potential weaknesses into learning opportunities. Instead of dwelling on the regret or what you would have done differently, focus on the positive. Mention any steps you took to upgrade your skills, increase your knowledge base, or modify counterproductive behaviors.
- Talk about how you'd handle the situation now. It can be helpful to talk about how you'd deal with a similar situation now. This shows how you've grown and learned.
- Be honest. As with all interview responses, be sure to select issues you can discuss honestly and sincerely, since interviewers will usually notice fabrications. Stretching the truth during an interview can make it difficult to keep your story consistent. Depending on the extent and depth of your lies, this can cause a job offer to be withdrawn. You can even be fired for lying during the application process after you have been hired.
What Not to Say
- Avoid deal-breaker weaknesses. Don't reference any scenarios that reveal weaknesses that would interfere with you carrying out key elements of the job, unless you can offer clear substantiated facts that those weaknesses are no longer an issue. You don’t want to give the interviewer an opportunity not to hire you because of concerns about your ability to do the job.
- Don't fail to answer. Everyone has regrets. If you say you have no regrets, or fail to highlight even a single weakness, you'll seem like you're covering something up or lack awareness. Employers want to know you understand your weaknesses, take active steps to learn from them, and avoid allowing them to create problems at work.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake. — Best answers.
- Why are you looking for a new job? — Best answers.
- What is your biggest strength? — Best answers.
SHOW GROWTH. Frame your response around how you've grown and learned as a result of past experiences.
PRACTICE. It's true for all interview questions, but particularly with a tricky interview question like this one, practicing beforehand can help you give a meaningful response.
DON'T DISQUALIFY YOURSELF. While you should acknowledge a weakness, don't highlight something that's a core responsibility in the role at hand.