|  January 23, 2013

Common Interview Questions: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake

Common Interview Question:

Tell me about a time when you made a mistake? / Tell me about a time when you slipped up? / Tell me about a time when you dropped the ball? (etc.)

Why they’re asking:

They want to make sure you’re human, and you know it.  They also want to make sure you can acknowledge and learn from mistakes versus just denying them (and assuming you’re perfect)

Things to consider:

Everyone makes mistakes.  It’s okay if you’ve made them too.  Self-awareness and ownership is more important than a flawless track record.

answers to interview questions

How to answer:

interview questions - time when you made a mistake

  • Always have an example ready (that you’ve thought about in advance) so you’re not put on the spot
    • As with any questions that are “negative” or uncomfortable, they can be tough to answer.  It will be much easier to answer them if you think about your response in advance.  Think back in your past experience about times when you wish you would have done something differently or times when you realized an error and had to troubleshoot quickly.  If you can think of a few of these ahead of time, you’ll be ready for the question and won’t be caught off guard.
  • Use an example that will allow you to explain how you fixed the mistake (not one where it spiraled out of control)
    • In my mind, there are two types of mistakes: 1. the ones you realize quickly and are able to fix and 2. the ones that spiral out of control and have pretty negative consequences.  Don’t worry – we’ve all probably had mistakes in each category (and ones that fall somewhere in between).  In this case, use an example that falls to the “easily fixed” side of the spectrum.  It is just a safer response.
  • Use an example that will allow you to explain what you learned from the mistake and how it made you a better employee
    • Showing personal and professional growth is something that will make you come across as a stronger candidate.  Interviewers definitely look for candidates that can learn from mistakes and mature in their career.  This is why it’s always good to choose a mistake that led to a growth experience for you and made you an even better employee.
  • Probably avoid giving the biggest mistake you’ve ever made as your example – use one that is slightly more innocent and didn’t have big repercussions
    • Of course, too much honesty can come back to haunt you.  It is always a safer response to give a more innocent mistake versus the biggest one you’ve ever made.  Use your judgement and think “is this a big red flag to the interviewer?”  If the answer is maybe or yes, you might want to pick a different mistake as your example.

Here’s an example of what I think is a pretty good response to this question:

One mistake I made was early on in my time at “company X”.  I was reporting to a few different people and constantly had people asking me to work on different projects.  Based on the amount of work, sometimes it would take me a little longer to do something for person B because I was working hard on something for person A.  One mistake I made was that I took on all of the projects and didn’t let both person A and B know what else I was working on.  Once they understood this, we were all able to be more in the loop and set realistic expectations and deadlines.

When you’re answering this question, be honest, but try not to reveal anything that is too much of a “red flag”.  You want to show that you know you’re not perfect and have made mistakes, but also that you know how to fix them and grow from them.

interview prep worksheets

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