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How Do You Deal With Failure?

In an interview, hiring managers often ask about how you deal with failure to learn how you might respond in the face of a snafu like missing an important deadline or disappointing a client.

This is your opportunity to talk about a specific example from your life of how you rebounded from a challenging misstep, which can ultimately strengthen your position as a candidate. Learn how to formulate an impressive answer below when asked about how you deal with failure.

Why do interviewers ask about a time you failed?

Mistakes happen. People fall short of their goals. More often than not, bigger problems start to develop when people try to cover up a mistake or do nothing to change after failure. Interviewers ask, how you deal with failure to see whether you grasp this important concept. 

They also want to see whether you’re able to take accountability for your actions, which is an important quality for being an effective member of a team. 

What the interviewer is looking for when asked about how you handle defeat

An interviewer wants to hear a real story about your personal experience overcoming failure in the workplace. This will shed light not only on how you define it but your attitude to it overall. 

Rather than investigating what led up to the failure, an interviewer is mainly looking to hear how you responded after it. Did you come to terms with the reason for the failure and grow from it, or do you hold the detrimental mentality that someone else was to blame?

Your response will tell a hiring manager whether they can count on you to recover smoothly in the face of a setback. 

How to answer the question, “How do you deal with failure?”

Pick the right example

In choosing the right situation to talk about, you’ll want to rule out both minor mistakes and serious disasters. An example like sending a client an email with a typo is not serious enough to make an impact. An example of a mistake that cost your company a million dollars is too serious and scary for an interview. Try to identify a failure that was meaningful enough to learn from yet not so catastrophic that it caused a major loss for your employer. 

Take accountability

After you outline what went wrong, the next immediate step should be to acknowledge your role in what happened. This shows that you’ve taken the time to understand how your actions contributed to the failure.

Show what you learned

The bulk of your answer should be focused on the growth you experienced. If your failure was something that could be fixed, explain the steps you took to correct the problem. Otherwise, zero in on what you learned from it and tie that knowledge to the qualities your interviewer is looking for, like becoming a better listener or being more focused on details. Bonus points if you can also cite a real-world example of your growth, like “after learning from my mistake, I’ve consistently maintained a customer feedback score of 98% or higher.”

How not to answer

Re-assigning blame

Oftentimes failure, like success, is a team effort. But resist the temptation to throw others under the bus or explain how you cleaned up after someone else’s mistake. 

Giving too much detail

This isn’t a time for spilling all the gory details. Keep your anecdote of failure brief and allocate the majority of your answer to the positive lessons that resulted from it. 

Sample answers to “How do you deal with failure?”

Example #1

“In my last job, I was really eager to make a good impression, so I never said no to an assignment. This was manageable for a while, until our busy season hit. I got so underwater that I started missing deadlines, and instead of hearing about it from me, it was an angry client who called my boss. I learned a big lesson that day about knowing my limits and being honest with my manager about what’s realistic for me to take on. Now, I keep her in the loop about my workload regularly and flag it right away if I think a deadline might be in jeopardy.”

Example #2

“My company had just signed on with a new vendor and it was their first time working an event for us. In the weeks leading up to the event, I had a bad feeling that things seemed disorganized, but I didn’t want to rock the boat or call anybody out. The morning of the event, there was still so much left to do that we ended up having to enlist members of another department to come and help us out. Our department head was fuming. I should have spoken up at the first sign that things weren’t going smoothly. Now, I trust my gut and am not afraid of rocking the boat if it’s in the interest of putting out a great final product.”

By summarizing what you gained from your failure and ending your answer on a high note, you’ll show your interviewer that you’re adequately prepared to handle the inevitable challenges that come with the job.