The failure talk remains a perplexing conversation for most interviewees. Therefore, you must prepare in advance to impress your potential recruiter. The moment you encounter this interview question, it is essential to remain calm and composed to avoid red tapes, such as inconsistency, that could eventually tarnish your employability. Literally, besides testing your confidence, hiring managers may ask you about your previous mistakes to confirm the following:

  • If you are an accountable person who takes responsibility for their failure without excuses
  • Whether your story remains consistent
  • If you acknowledge your weakness and strive to improve
  • If you are a growth-oriented person, even when faced with setbacks.

How To Respond To This Interview Question

While your answer to this question qualifies or disqualifies you from your dream job, you should never lie to the interviewer. This article will explore strategies and examples of responses that will increase your chances of standing out or impressing interviewers.

Strategies And Examples of What to Say Or What Not to Say

Taking notes on a few talking points could be helpful while preparing your story. This way, you can quickly form a narrative with few or no red flags that may show incompetency. Most people apply the situation- task-approach- result (STAR) method to outline a convincing case. Here is an example featuring the STAR approach:

The Situation

In my last job, I led a marketing team in an advertisement project.”


I promised a client that we could deliver their work within a shorter period to impress them.”


The customer was happy with the proposal and awarded us the job. However, we failed to deliver within the period, and my manager had to offer discounted rates for the furious client to extend the deadline. My urge to impress the client led to company losses.”


I apologized to my teammates, client, manager for being overly optimistic and over-promising to impress the customer. I learned my lesson to remain realistic. In our next project, I incorporated a conservative approach on reassuring clients to ensure that we did not underdeliver on our promises.”

Here are of tips on answering this interview question:

Pick a Real Failure

Choosing a true example can help you save time and avoid fabricating lies to back your story. For example, you can refer to an incident when you scored a low grade in school. This way, you will avoid colossal setbacks related to the potential job you have applied for in that company. However, if the hiring manager insists on a work-related incident, choose a story from the past when a project failed due to your actions.

Here is an example of what you can say:

In my previous job, I oversaw the dispatch of clients’ insurance claim cheques. At one point, I was eager to please the company’s leading client by reassuring them that I could process their insurance claim within one week. I thought this was achievable, and I ended up spending three weeks to progress from processing to approval, and the customer was not happy with this slow development. I realized that it is irresponsible to promise or provide an unclear timeline estimate. Learning from this incident, I understood the importance of clear communication on timelines to manage client expectations better and avoid future disappointments. For instance, I promised another client that I could process their claim in one week, and I did it in two days. The customer was happy and even referred me to other uninsured friends that become clients eventually.

In the above example, the interviewee has achieved the following:

  • Defined failure in their own words. The best way to show that something was a setback is by expressing it in terms that describe why you feel that it was a mistake.
  • Shared the lessons from their mistake. At the end of your response, remember to wrap up the story with a lesson. For example, you can acknowledge your mistakes and reassure the recruiter that the error was a learning opportunity and you do not wish to repeat the mistake in the future. In the above example, the candidate has concluded the response with a lesson and backed it with an example.

Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About a Time You Failed

When you are answering this question, always ensure that you are brief and concise. You do not wish to waste the recruiter’s time with a disorganized explanation. Always show the Hiring manager that you learned something from this one-time mistake. Remember a pattern or a repeating problem may indicate failure to learn from previous errors.