A common behavioral interview question that people struggle with answering is, "What is your greatest failure?" Some of the trickiest questions seem to be the ones that ask you to explain something negative about yourself.
Similar questions that you might be asked include, "What are your weaknesses?" or "Tell me about a time you did something wrong." When you are interviewing, the last thing you want to do is have the hiring manager think you are a bad person. That’s why it’s so important to take a few minutes before your interview to prepare answers to these questions.
The trick here isn’t to avoid answering the question and state that you have never failed. The reason the hiring manager is asking you this question is to determine if you can handle failure, learn from your mistakes, and become a better person afterward. Think of an example to use in an interviewer that can accomplish these points, and you will do great! I am going to break down 3 simple steps for answering this question. Each step will build upon the other until you have the perfect combination for addressing failure.
Can you handle failure?
The ability to handle failure is crucial to any successful person. There isn’t a single human being who is successful at something who didn’t first fail. Being confident and being able to accept your failure is key. Don’t get defensive or blame somebody else for this failure. Own up, and take responsibility for your actions.
Do you learn from your mistakes?
It’s easy for someone to admit that they have failed. Especially if it’s a very obvious failure that you can’t blame anyone else for. But, it takes a truly great person to actually learn and grow from their mistakes. Don’t just acknowledge your failure, figure out what the cause of the failure was, and determine a solution to prevent it from happening again. Showing your interviewer that you take the time to analyze your mistakes and improve upon them is going to speak highly toward your character.
Are you a better person?
The third step is to become a better person. It’s a great start to admit that you have failed. And it’s even better when you take the time to think about these mistakes and improve upon them. But, the absolute best case scenario is when you become a better person from these mistakes. This happens when you finally change your mindset from thinking of failure as a negative, and you turn it into a positive. Thomas A. Edison says “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” What an amazing perspective towards failure!
When I was in college, I worked at a solar company as a door-to-door outside sales person. I was constantly thinking of new ways to bring in business, outside of knocking on doors. I developed a PowerPoint presentation and walked around to local businesses sharing the idea of a partnership. The way it worked was, I planned to leave business cards with a special promo code at each partner store. If anyone called me for a free solar consultation and referred to the business card, we would provide that person with a $20 voucher towards that store/restaurant. This becomes a win-win-win. The customer gets $20. The business gets $20. And I received my solar consultation.
Although the logistics sounded good, and I even received a few stores who were interested in partnering with me, I did not run the idea past my company first. They told me that they were unwilling to provide the $20 voucher towards the solar appointment and that it wouldn’t work. I quickly learned that even great ideas can be turned down, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it. In the future, I will confirm with my company that this would be O.K. before trying to create a plan of my own.