What Is Your Greatest Failure And What Did You Learn From It

How To Answer Interview Question: What Is Your Greatest Failure And What Did You Learn From It?

Most people find talking about failures and mistakes uncomfortable; I mean, no one likes to talk about the time they screwed up, especially during a job interview. However, a lot of hiring managers and recruiters always include this question in their interviews; some may go as far as telling the candidate that is the most important question. This only means that you as a candidate cannot afford to fail this question if you really want to get the job. On the other hand, a lot of people are terrible when it comes to answering this question, and you begin to wonder why this question is so tricky.

There are always different challenging questions that hiring managers tend to ask during a job interview, and one of them is the big question: What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it? Having a good understanding of this question and giving the correct answer can impress interviewers on your ability to turn failure into a learning opportunity. Stay glued to this page as we will discuss why interviewers ask these questions and how well to answer them.

Before we move into answering this big question effectively, it would help to know why the interviewer asks a question about your greatest failure and what you took from it.


Why ask about my greatest failure?

The truth is how you eventually answer this question will determine your ability to learn from mistakes, your level of confidence, self-awareness, and most importantly, what you view as failure. The hiring managers or recruiters understand that nobody is perfect, so they are not asking the question to intimidate you at all. If they are not looking for an excuse to let go of you even before they hire, they are for the following;

What do you consider a failure? – your recruiters want to understand your opinions of failure and what exactly you categorize as a failure. Most importantly, they definitely want to know what your most significant failure is in your eyes.

How did you handle it? – You probably won’t be asked directly, but your interviewers want to know how you handled the biggest failure of your life. They would also like to know how long it took to cope with this failure.

What lesson did you take from it? – it’s not enough to just cope or handle the failure; your interviewer wants to know what lesson you learned from your failure. This lesson will tell your interviewers how you can deal with any future failures in life.

What will you do if it reoccurs again? – After telling the interviewer the lesson you learned, he/she might want to know what you will do if you encounter a similar or same problem or situation in the future. They want to know if you are ready to face the challenges that come with your career.

Apart from these mentioned points, the hiring managers ask the question to understand your kind of person, if you are the type who is self-aware and realizes when you make a mistake or the type that is very lackadaisical about things? Do you learn quickly from your missteps? Are you comfortable taking intelligent risks and always pushing beyond your comfort zone? If you are, then to what extent? Are you an honest person or not? Well, let’s quickly move on to giving the best answer to this question.


Answering the question – What to include and what to avoid

Answering the question about your greatest failure can be a bit tricky and frustrating, especially if you do not have the proper understanding of what the interviewers want to hear from you. There are things you should include in your answers and certain things you should avoid when giving your answers. This is why you should keep reading to know what to include and avoid while giving your answers.


What to include?

Talking about failure during an interview can be risky, especially if you do not know what to include in your answers. This negative question can be your positive turnover by simply following the tips below.

Applicable failure – it is highly recommended that you only talk about your life’s relevant shortcomings, i.e., professional shortcomings. Talking about personal failures might portray you as a weak candidate rather than strengthening your chance. You could speak of failures related to previous jobs or any responsibility that you were in charge of can also be mentioned.

Share– your answer to the question should always be in the form of a story with the interviewer. Give full details like the time it happened, the exact story, how you handled it, and what you learned from the failure. Share your story well, that the interviewer is left in no doubt about you or your story.

Become the story – this is your story; don’t talk about how your team messed it up or how the project your partner or team was working on failed. Talk about the aspect that didn’t work out, and if any failure was your fault, admit it, and take ownership and responsibility for your actions. In doing so, the interviewer will see how honest and self-aware you are.

Lesson – now, this is the most crucial part of your greatest failure story. A quick tip: you should make a significant chunk to this part of your answer. Focus on the lesson you learned from the failure, and your interviewer will also be focused on the lesson rather than your failure. 

Applying the lesson – implementing the lessons you learned should also be included in your failure story. You should tell the interviewer how you applied the lesson learned because ending your answer on this positive note will definitely add some extra points.


Things to Avoid

Since the question about the greatest failure is a negative one, most candidates tend to say many things, things that shouldn’t be included in the answer.so, here are a few points you should totally shun when answering the question.

Not picking a real failure – in a bid to impress the interviewer, most candidates tend to mention a failure that isn’t a failure exactly. Sometimes, these are usually overstated facts and should be avoided entirely while telling your answer. 

Don’t go too deep – yes! Be honest about your failure, but you really don’t have to reveal all of your secrets and failures to the interviewer. Personal issues or any character flaw should be removed entirely from your story.

Being too optimistic – is a tricky part that most candidates seem to miss while giving their stories. Giving an answer like “I don’t really think I’ve had any huge failures” will definitely give a bad vibe rather than helping you. Answers like that only depict that you lack self-awareness rather than being super good or an all-time winner.

Talk yourself down – there is a vast difference between admitting to a mistake and talking yourself down. You can reprimand yourself later, but you should never talk yourself down in front of the interviewer. Don’t become too emotional or extra generous during or show a lack of confidence during your interview. 


Getting ready for your answer

Since you have become aware that this answer is one of the behavioral questions category’s questions, you should use the following tips to structure your answer. 

  • Find the perfect and relatable situation that you describe as a failure.
  • Mention the exact task that you did or expected to do.
  • Talk about the approach you took to handle the failure or how you addressed the consequences.
  • Talk about your response to the failure, the lesson you learned, and how your confidence suffered a minor setback after the situation. 

These points need to be fused in a story form to give a well-constructed answer that is honest and balanced. Let’s see some sample answers to help you build yours. 


Sample Answer

There was a time when I just kicked my career; I worked too quickly and didn’t focus on producing quality results. Because of this oversight, I was overlooked for promotions, and I became stagnant in my career. At that time, I felt like I failed myself and my employer by not working hard enough and also focusing on quantity and not quality. Well, that self-awareness got me so driven to achieve the goals I had set earlier. Looking back at that time, I realized now how important it is to give my responsibility full attention and strive to produce only the best results every day. Finally, I can proudly say that my failure at the kick start of my career has made me the diligent and thorough professional that I am today. Although going through the failure situation was not easy, I am appreciative of my failure and the fact that I learned extensively from it. 


Final thought

The first step to giving the correct answer to this question is understanding that everyone makes mistakes. So, while answering, you should totally be honest and humble. Choose the mistake to talk about carefully not to incriminate yourself or put yourself in the wrong spot in front of the interviewer. However, you have to share a failure, so don’t act as though there is something you are hiding because the interviewer already knows that you are not perfect. Finally, show your strong character by accepting responsibility in a somewhat professional capacity when answering the question.

Interview Questions

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