So, you're sailing through an interview and feel confident when the hiring manager throws you a curveball.
Suddenly, you get the question, “Give me an example of a time you did something wrong. How did you handle it?”
You might want to hit that one out of the park by answering, "I take pride in the fact that I have never misstepped while completing work assigned tasks."
After all, it's a solid answer, right?
It's important that you be honest when an interviewer asks this question.
We all know that nobody is perfect.
So, pretending to be flawless in an interview will not get you anywhere.
Use the following guidelines to answer this question without ruining your chances of landing your dream job!
How Not to Answer
Okay, so we've already determined that you should not answer that you have never done anything wrong in your career.
Let's discuss a couple more things to avoid when crafting your response.
1. Avoid over-explaining
Keep the response short and sweet.
When you add too many details, you can come across as though you are trying to excuse yourself from the mistake.
It might also sound like you haven't gotten over the issue.
Know when to wrap up your answer and get ready for the next interview question.
2. Avoid a vague answer
While you don't want to over-explain, you also don't want to do the opposite by skimping out on important details.
The request is that you provide an example of a time you did something wrong.
It wouldn't do well to simply say, "Oh, yeah, I messed up in my first couple of months working at XYZ, but everything turned out okay."
The hiring manager would not consider that a satisfactory answer.
How to Explain a Time You Did Something Wrong
1. Remember that everybody makes mistakes
Whether you blew a sale or sent a client the wrong invoice, hopefully by now you have accepted the mistake and moved on.
It may be difficult to discuss, especially in front of someone you are hoping to impress, but remember that there is nothing unique about making mistakes.
There is also nothing wrong with admitting times you blew it.
- Discussing mistakes will help you grow as a person.
- It will also allow you to make adjustments in the future.
For these reasons, you will come across as mature and professional if you can admit something you did wrong and remain positive about the whole experience.
In short, be humble and fess up!
2. Keep the emphasis on your response
This interview question is not so much about what you did wrong.
Rather, the question is how you handled it.
Discussing how you realized you messed up and worked to fix your mistake is much more important than focusing on the details of the error.
This is actually what the interviewer is looking for.
- They want to know how you respond to mistakes or problems.
- They hope you can handle challenges with professionalism and finesse.
Yes, outline what you did wrong, but keep your focus on your reaction.
Spend more time on how you handled it than on the mistake, if possible.
(For more about speaking on your weaknesses in interviews, see our article What Are Your Weaknesses?)
3. Choose your example wisely
Make sure that you don’t select a catastrophic example of a time you messed up.
Rule of thumb: If you got fired because of it, pick a different story!
Try and pick a scenario that you could laugh about afterward.
- This will demonstrate your resilience and ability to bounce back.
- It might also give you an opportunity to find common ground with the interviewer.
4. Demonstrate growth as a result
Can you explain how you have grown professionally from your mistakes?
At this point in your career, you should be able to easily discuss your mistakes with others, knowing that your goal is to constantly improve your game.
In your response, try to...
- Show how you created steps to mitigate the chance of the same mistake happening again.
- Structure your answer with a cause-and-effect type of approach.
- Conclude the story with what you learned from the situation.
Explaining what you learned from your error will show the interviewer all they need to know about your ability to strive for excellence.
You will separate yourself from other candidates if you respond with confidence.
Here's an example of an answer to this interview question that follows the above guidelines:
Hiring manager: Give an example of a time you did something wrong. How did you respond?
Applicant: I was a bank teller when a customer came in requesting a sheet of checks. When I went to print them out, another banker printed similar checks for another client.
Without looking, I handed the wrong checks to the client. She then wrote a check to pay her rent and the funds were eventually pulled from the other client’s account.
This was not figured out until the customer called and complained that their funds were missing. The clients actually reconciled this between themselves and were able to laugh afterward.
I then developed a system to make sure that I triple check the name before handing any client a sheet of checks.
The above response indicates a mistake anyone could make.
It maintains a positive note with those affected laughing about the issue.
It also finishes strong with the applicant developing a system to make sure the error would not happen again.
(Also prepare to answer the interview question What Are Your Strengths?)
All the best in acing your next interview!
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