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Tell Me About A Time You Made A Mistake: Why It Is Asked & How To Answer [With Sample Answers]

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I am sure you have made some mistakes along your career path like the rest of us but do you feel comfortable talking about them to your potential new employer?

Most would say no and for a good reason too but your new employer is not trying to sabotage your hiring chances.

The question, “tell me about a time you made a mistake,” usually comes up to try and better understand how you face times of strife and turbulence.

Yes, it is a loaded question, but we are here to help you answer it by explaining and providing examples.

Why Do Interviewers Ask, “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake?”

Besides watching you flail around nervously, interviewers have a good reason for asking this curveball question. Similar to questions for problem-solving, the main reason why interviewers ask about your past mistakes is to understand how you handle challenges and how you’ve grown from your mistakes.

The question itself isn’t meant to weigh how bad your mistakes were, so don’t worry about that. The interviewer sees your accomplishments and is constantly getting insight into the great things you do, but everyone has one thing in common, mistakes.

Not everyone accomplishes feats, but people make mistakes, and getting that human aspect of you is important, especially during a job interview. To sum things up, here are the main reasons why an interviewer asks you this question.

  • Get to know you better.
  • Get insight into your struggles.
  • Get insight into your strengths and weaknesses.
  • If you’ll admit to any mistakes.

What Is the Interviewer Looking For?

You may still be fearful about answering this question, and it’s completely understandable. Discussing failures is difficult for people because they’re never appealing moments. Even so, being honest with your interviewer about your mistake is important.

To ease your mind, here are some of the main things an interviewer actively looks for when asking this question.

  • The impact that mistake had on you.
  • How you overcame the mistake.
  • What have you done to stop that mistake from happening again?
  • If you’ve owned up to your mistake.

How To Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

Answering this question may be more trouble than you think. You must actively focus on maintaining good character for the job while displaying your past incompetency. A tricky task, huh? To navigate this question, you must avoid common pitfalls and focus on a few key points.

What To Focus On When Answering This Question

You want to respond like you would to questions for problem-solving. You should outline your mistake and understand its impact on you.

Be ready to discuss what you learned and ensure it has some positive message that has, or currently, helps you.

  • Choose a mistake that’s defined you in some way: During the interview, it’s best if you choose a mistake that has directly impacted you. Be sure this mistake defines you in a positive way, not a negative one.
  • Translate your mistake into a trial you overcame: This is still an interview, so your current job is still to sell yourself to this company. Word your mistake into an active character fault you had in the past and how that mistake transformed that fault into a strength.
  • Focus on the important detail: Ensure you’re only sharing the most critical details of your story during the interview. Unless the fluff has intention, don’t bother stretching it out.
  • Focus on what you learned: Finally, you want to guide the interviewer into what you learned from that mistake and how you’ll keep improving moving forward.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Identifying your focus is fantastic, but you should still know what to avoid. Avoid doing these things when answering the interview question, and you’ll do just fine.

  • Don’t pass the blame: Remember, this interview is about you, not someone else’s mistake. The interviewer wants to know about how you made a mistake and what you did about it, don’t pass the blame.
  • Don’t feel sorry for yourself: It’s important to try not to make yourself a target for sympathy. Don’t make the interviewer think you’re feeling sorry for yourself and turning yourself into a victim.
  • Don’t get angry or frustrated: It can be difficult to talk about past mistakes, especially if they heavily impacted you, but you must control your emotions of anger and frustration.
  • Don’t avoid the question: Finally, don’t try and dodge the question. It’s an uncomfortable question, of course, but don’t actively try and dismiss it. Answer it.

Examples: How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

Remember, in these examples, I keep the situation vague because the focus isn’t to make the scene come to life. It’s to show you the general structure and plan of attack. You want to state your mistake and explain it in the necessary detail.

Then you want to explain the impact it had on you, and finally, you want to close it off by telling the interviewer what you learned from it or how it’s changed you. Here are three basic examples to give you an idea of what I mean.

Team-Based Example Answer

“In one of my first jobs, I let my entire team down. In a lapse of judgment, I stated I could take on more work than I could. At the time, I didn’t realize how in over my head I was because my only thought was impressing my boss and team.

In the end, the project was delayed because I couldn’t finish my portion of the project in time. I let down my employer and my co-workers. Needless to say, I never made that same mistake again. I now know my limits and what I can and should do.”

Why This Answer Works

This response works well because the speaker actively discusses a terrible situation, letting down his entire team and boss, into a positive learning experience from his naive mistake from earlier in his career. The situation is relatable to most people, making it a great speaking point.

Additionally, stating the outcome first, in this case, adds to how powerful this mistake was to the speaker and how they are willing to acknowledge it before providing extra details that could soften the mistake or make the speaker look better.

Remote Job Example Answer

“I was never the best at checking my email, which, as you can imagine, is an awful habit for someone working a remote job. My boss sent me a memo requesting time-sensitive documents, but since I didn’t check my email that morning, I missed the delivery window of the document.

I didn’t prioritize communicating with my boss or other employees because I felt a remote position didn’t require active communication. Not understanding the importance of communication cost me that job, and ever since, I stay connected with my team.”

Why This Answer Works

This response works well because it is relevant to the job position and addresses a key issue within that industry: communication within a remote working environment. Not everyone will be lucky enough to have an example related to their job, but if you do, use it.

What’s great about this response is that the speaker can share their reflection on the mistake and state how it’s strengthened his character. Still, you should be careful. Mistakes that relate to the position you’re going for can be risky to share. Make sure you do it right.

Manager Example Answer

“The first time I ever became a manager, I was extremely hands-on and micromanaged all the employees that worked for me. It got so bad that people started quitting because they felt like I was doing their job for them or that they weren’t good enough to do their job.

The business lost good employees because of my inexperience as a manager. It was a struggle, but I began using a hands-off approach and only got involved when needed. Everything was smooth from there on in. It was the first of many valuable lessons I learned as a manager.”

Why This Answer Works

This response works because of how simple and clean it is. It’s an honest leadership mistake that isn’t too embarrassing for most to own up to. Sometimes the mistake doesn’t have to be dramatic or too damaging, but it should still be important enough to reflect upon and learn from.

It’s not always easy for a manager to talk about mistakes, so you should pick an honest, relatable mistake that is fixable. If you’re still nervous, think of how you’d answer behavioral interview questions and apply reasoning, leadership, and communication when answering.

Additional Tips for Impressing an Interviewer Asking “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

The train doesn’t stop here. You have more to learn and use to help boost your odds of landing that job. Standing out in an interview can be hard, so consider these tips.

  • Lighten the mood: It’s okay to lighten up the situation. Talking about mistakes can get kind of heavy, so if it becomes too much, be sure to make it a little lighthearted.
  • Clarify what you learned: Showing or explaining how positively your mistake has changed you is great. It’s easy to overlook how much of an impact mistakes have on you, so it will impress the interviewer if you can translate that properly.
  • Remain calm: The right amount of calm shows plenty when you discuss your past mistakes. It’s heavy stuff at times, so maintaining your composure goes a long way when it comes to impressing the interviewer.

Additional Questions To Be Aware Of

Interviews are longer than just one or two questions. You’ll find yourself answering a gauntlet of questions depending on how thorough your interviewer is.

To better prepare yourself, consider looking at these questions and be prepped to answer them.

Wrapping Up

Tell me about a time you made a mistake. Not so scary now, is it? Answer with integrity and show the interviewer that, yes, you’re human, but you also came out of your mistake stronger and with more to contribute.

Use the examples and advice to your advantage, but always remember to add your personal touch. Don’t make your interview formulaic. Express yourself and show them who you are and why they need you.

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