Do’s & Don’ts: How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” – The Hire


Do’s & Don’ts: How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

Interviews can be daunting.  Most people experience a certain level of pre-interview nerves, which is natural.  Often, this pre-interview stress is related to apprehensions about the “unknowns” … such as questions that may seem to come out of left field.  Examples of these include situational and/or behavioral interview questions that require you to think on your feet and provide a concrete example of how you have handled, or would handle, a situation in the workplace. One such question that is frequently asked is a version of “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”.

A sure-fire way to reduce interview jitters and to make a great impression is to be prepared.  Anticipate the types of questions you are likely to be asked ahead of time and practice your response.  Keep in mind that the interviewer is asking you the question to learn how you handle challenges … not to trap you or to find a reason to disqualify you as a candidate.

Following are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help you respond to “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” with ease.



§  Don’t choose a mistake that is either too trivial or too major. §  Do choose a mistake for which you can show how you learned from it and, ultimately, became a better candidate because of it.
§  Don’t brush over the question, not answer it, or imply that you never made a mistake.
(E.g., “Hmmm, well, let’s see … I can’t really think of an instance where I made a mistake.  I am actually known for being the person who can be counted on to not ever mess up.” )
§  Do be specific, honest and transparent with your answer.
(E.g., “I will never forget the time that I missed a deadline because I failed to factor in the black-out dates when key resources would be unavailable for content support”)
§  Don’t try to justify the mistake or to blame others. If the mistake wasn’t fully yours, choose a different one.

(E.g., “I missed a deadline once because no one would respond to my requests for information.  It was very frustrating.  Had they only been more responsive, everything would have gone as planned.  So really, in retrospect it wasn’t my fault at all.”)

§  Do own it.  Accept responsibility and show accountability.

(E.g., “I knew that I would need to rely on several subject-matter experts from different departments for this project.  I should have allowed extra time to factor in the varying schedules.  Once I realized my mistake, I immediately contacted all of the project stakeholders and communicated what had happened.  I also negotiated an extension on the project and came up with an action plan to ensure that our submission was ready prior to the new deadline.”)

§  Don’t stop with the negative by stating the mistake made and leaving it at that. §  Do highlight the positive.  Focus on the lessons learned from the mistake and actions taken to ensure that it wasn’t repeated.

E.g., “I learned from my mistake and have never missed a deadline since. I developed a detailed project status resource that I use for every project.  It tracks everyone’s action items, due dates, and status.  I share updates with all involved on a regular basis throughout the project.”

§  Don’t ramble on and on. §  Do keep it brief – e.g. about 30 seconds.  But also anticipate follow-up questions … and be open and reflective in discussing.

By keeping these tips in mind you are bound to impress your interviewer with your candor, self-awareness, and ability to adapt, learn, and grow from your mistakes.

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