Interview Tips

How to Answer: Tell Me About a Time you Made a Mistake

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By: Caroline Forrest
Apr 15, 2020 • 6 min read

How to Answer: Tell me about a time you made a mistake

In this article, we’ll continue our series on how to answer specific interview questions. So, can you tell me about a time when you made a mistake?

This can be a difficult question to answer because when you want to make a good impression, why do you need to talk about your past mistakes? However, this question is not about what you did wrong, it is about what you did to fix it. In this blog, we will give you advice and tips on how to effectively answer this question.

Why are they asking me this?

Before you begin to think about a mistake you made, it is important to understand why your interviewer is asking you this. They are really not concerned about the mistake that you made—they want to know how you handle challenges. Do you get nervous and run away, or do you try to solve the problem? Do you blame it on others, or do you admit your wrongdoing? You should be honest and transparent when answering, but do not get caught up in explaining what went wrong. Instead, focus on the positives. This will show your interviewer why you are strong in the face of a challenge.

made a mistake

How do I answer the question?

Whether it was a time you showed up late for work or a bad test grade, we have all made mistakes. You have heard the saying, “nobody’s perfect”, and the secret is, your interviewer is not perfect either! So try to relax and think about a mistake that you learned something from.

  1. Reflect on a time you made a mistake

Think about a time that you failed at something. Because you are interviewing for a job, try to pick an experience that is school or work-related. It is also important that you pick an experience that does not directly relate to the job you are applying for. Also, refrain from talking about anything that reflects poorly on your character. For instance, if you fought with a coworker. The experience you choose should have taught you something. Did you gain skills or a new perspective? Maybe you learned to change some of your bad habits? Did the outcome, once resolved, positively affect others?

  1. Explain the mistake to your interviewer

Now, it is time to figure out how you are going to explain this situation to your employer. In 2-3 sentences, explain what happened. Then, move on. This should not be the focus of your answer. Try the STAR technique, if you are stuck!

Example: As noted on my resume, my last job was in retail. It was Black Friday, and I had to be at work earlier than usual, but I slept through my alarm, and I was late to work.

That’s all you have to say. A common mistake people make when answering this question is adding too much detail and making excuses. Your interviewer does not care about why this happened. So, refrain from making comments like, “I worked the late shift the night before, so I was really tired,” or “I thought I set a second alarm, but that did not go off either.” These details are not relevant, and it takes away from the main purpose of your answer: showing what you learned and how you improved. This leads us to the next step.

  1. Highlight the positives

After explaining your mistake, we now come to the most important part of answering the question. Conclude with two things: how you improved and what you learned. Additionally, avoid using negative terminology because at this point, you are shifting the focus away from the mistake—it is all about the positives!

Example: After this experience, I started to hold myself more accountable. I wanted to prove to my bosses and coworkers that I could be relied on. I realized that I needed to make changes like being more organized and proactive. Now, I have a daily planner where I list out all of the tasks that I need to complete, and I make sure I get to bed early enough and set a second alarm. Since then, I am more organized and on top of my duties at work. I am also in a better mood, which has helped me to build better relationships with my boss and coworkers.

At this point, your interviewer is not focused on your mistake. They can see that you are a dedicated, hard worker. You have shown them that no matter what, you will always own up to a mistake and learn from the experience to positively affect everyone that you are working with. This is what they are looking for when answering the question.

made a mistake

Be prepared!

Being prepared will make you feel confident. Make sure you know your audience. Do a little research before your interview to understand the values of the place you want to work at. Is teamwork important? Then, pick a time where you learned how to be a better team player or leader. Be unique with your answer, as well. Is there something not on your resume that you want them to know? Maybe you babysit or volunteer somewhere. This will help you and your answer stand out. After you feel comfortable with what you are going to say, practice, and then practice some more. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and they are not inherently bad. What you learn from a time you made a mistake is far more important than the mistake itself!

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