Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake"

Given the choice between a potential teammate who is willing to take tough feedback, and another who does everything possible to cover his or her you-know-what after a mistake, most people would choose the former. To give you the ammunition that’ll show The Person in Charge that you’ll work hard and are a great teammate, here are three rules to follow when you’re responding to the dreaded question, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake.”

1. Don’t Pass the Buck

Hey, we all make mistakes. And anyone you’ll interview with for any job knows this. But, when you know something was your fault, do yourself a favor and own up to it. Nobody wants to work with someone who’s always pointing fingers, and yet, too many applicants I met with went out of their way to convince me there was nothing they could’ve done differently. This was a huge bummer, especially when I had grown to like the candidate a lot.
When in doubt, choose a blunder you can articulate the details of, and open up as much as possible.

2. Don’t Assume You’re Done Talking About Your Mistake Once You’ve Answered the Question

Any honest answer about a mistake you’ve made in the past will be appreciated. In fact, your honesty will be appreciated so much that most interviewers will have follow-up questions. Whenever I heard a candidate respond openly about a previous blunder, I started rooting for them to really win us over—even as I started digging deeper. And too many times, it was hard for people to stay candid.

It usually went something like this:

Q: Tell me about something you wish you had done something differently.

A: I mishandled a report and ended up making my boss look really bad in front of a potential client. It was nobody’s fault but mine.

3. Even if Your Mistake Was Simply Taking a Certain Job, Don’t Blame Your Former Company

Sometimes a particular job is simply not right for you. It happens! But remember, while it’s good to be honest when talking about previous mistakes, you don’t want to go into a tirade about how much you just didn’t like your former (or current!) boss, team, or company.

Instead, see if you can reframe the way you talk about your reasons for leaving. Even better, if you have some unique circumstances, an answer like the one below will score you some extra brownie points.

I’m happy in my job in a lot of ways. My boss is great, the company is awesome, and I work on a really close team. I took a job in sales because I wanted to make sure I had enough money to pay my bills and eventually, I got really good at it. But even though my sales job has been good to me financially, I went to school to be a journalist and ultimately feel like this is the right time to finally pursue my dream of writing for a leading news outlet like yours.