Need help answering the interview question about the time you made a mistake? Here we will share tips on what hiring managers are looking for and give sample scripts to help you ace the interview.
Remember, mistakes are bound to happen on the job, but how you respond to them after you’ve made an error says something about your character and can tell an interviewer a lot about you as a candidate.
Why do interviewers ask about mistakes?
An interviewer wants to learn how you handle challenges. Challenges are part of every job, and they inherently will come with some missteps along the way. A hiring manager wants to see how you behave when those mistakes happen, which can tell them how competently you’ll be able to do the job. Your answer to this question can shed light on your weaknesses, like if you tend to rush through tasks or have trouble communicating clearly.
An interviewer also wants to know if you’re able to take accountability for your actions. Being able to own up to your mistakes is critical for growth, which is something the best workers strive for.
What a hiring manager wants to hear in an answer
When they ask you to elaborate on a past mistake, a hiring manager wants to see if you’re able to talk candidly about your professional gaffes. Problems can’t be corrected unless they are first acknowledged, so this is an important quality in putting out strong work. Your ability to take responsibility for your mistakes can be a sign of how well you take feedback and whether you’re an easy or difficult employee to manage.
They’re also asking to understand what you learned from the mistake. Every mistake is an opportunity to get better at your job; without this mindset, your mistakes will have happened in vain, and worse, you risk repeating them. An interviewer wants to feel confident that when mistakes happen, you’ll learn from them and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.
How to answer, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake”
Don’t try to come up with an answer you think will sound good. Talk honestly about an actual mistake that happened at work, ideally one that offered you a chance to grow without causing serious problems for your company.
After you’ve briefly explained the mistake, accept responsibility for it. This shows your interviewer you’re able to admit when you’re wrong and that you understand how your actions led up to the issue.
Focus on the positive
The majority of your answer should be spent putting a positive spin on the story, like explaining the proactive steps you took to correct your mistake, what you learned from it and what you do differently now to make sure you don’t repeat the same error.
How not to answer
Mention a costly mistake
Don’t choose a mistake that made headlines in the papers or cost your company a lot of money, as these are likely too serious to spin into a positive-sounding learning experience.
Mention something that reflects poorly on your character
You shouldn’t talk about losing your temper and yelling at a coworker or fudging the numbers to make your sales goals, as these would be glaring red flags to a hiring manager. Keep your answer focused on your skills or minor errors in judgment.
Be overly apologetic
Don’t talk about your mistake as if it’s something that still haunts you. You want to show your interviewer that you’re able to learn from your mistakes and move on, not dwell on them.
Sample answers to “Tell me about a time you made a mistake”
“My team was working on an important project for a client, and we were running behind schedule. It was up to me to decide whether to ask for an extension, but I opted to push forward with the hopes that we could complete it on time. On the day of the deadline, our materials were in no shape to be handed over to the client. I had to call them and explain that their product would be delivered late. We ended up giving the client a discount on the project, which thankfully alleviated their frustration. Still, it would have been much better to let them know about the potential delay ahead of time. Now, if there’s a chance we’re going to be late, I play it safe and keep the client in the loop. I also put stricter project management deadlines in place to reduce the chance that we get behind in the future.”
“My first time going on a solo sales call, I totally flubbed the presentation. I was nervous, unprepared, and didn’t have answers to the prospect’s questions. We didn’t close the deal. After that, I buckled down to make sure it would never happen again. I asked for more coaching from my manager and even took a public speaking course to help me get more comfortable talking to leads under pressure. Now, I spend a few hours the night before a pitch going over the presentation and researching the target to anticipate their questions better. Last quarter I had the best sales numbers in my division.”
If possible, wrap up your answer with an example that emphasizes your qualifications for the position, like citing your performance statistics or an award you obtained. Possible related questions to be prepared for include ‘what are your weaknesses?’ and ‘tell me about a time you failed at something.’