What is Your Biggest Failure - Interview Question

What is your biggest failure? During a job interview, you may be asked difficult questions regarding your previous employment experiences and how you handled certain situations. While it is impossible to anticipate every interview question, one that the hiring manager may ask is, "What is your worst failure?" Understanding how to respond to this question may demonstrate your perseverance and capacity to convert failure into a learning opportunity for interviewers.

biggest failure interview question

Why hiring managers ask, "What is your biggest failure?"

Interviewers are cognizant of the fact that no one is flawless. They want to know if you are self-aware enough to see your flaws and if you are a person who can grow from your mistakes.

Failures also reveal a great deal about who you are as an employee, including your willingness to take calculated risks and push yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to accomplish goals.

This question also reveals your basic attitude toward risk, failure, and success. If you have never failed, it is possible that you have never taken risks or succeeded.

What are behavioral interview questions?

Companies use behavioral interviews to elicit information about your previous work performance. According to studies tracking years of hiring and firing at companies around the world, behavioral interviewing is the most effective way to predict future job performance and pick the right candidates. It is not flawless, but it is the best technique available at the moment.

Behavioral interview questions frequently begin with "Tell me about a time..." or "Explain..." Each question focuses on a certain area of expertise (a few examples: communication skills, time management, creativity).

Related: Common job interview questions

biggest failure interview question

How not to answer this question during job interviews

The most frequent error is to omit responding to the question. I understand why a candidate would freeze up when confronted with questions regarding failure. If you haven't prepared to discuss this subject, it might be intimidating to attempt to think of an appropriate example and then express it diplomatically in a way that demonstrates you are both honest and a wise hiring.

Many candidates may pause for a while and then say something along the lines of: "Well, I can't think of any significant failures." I suppose I've been fortunate in that I've been fairly successful in the majority of my positions thus far..."

That may appear to be a safe response. However, from the interviewer's perspective, you are providing no response to the question.

This non-response will be construed in one of four ways (or more):

  • You believe you are perfect and thus lack self-awareness and the capacity for growth.
  • You're concealing a history of catastrophic failures that you'd like us to be unaware of.
  • Because you do not hold yourself to an extremely high level, you will never fail.
  • You always take the safe route and never take any calculated risks or daring movements.
  • Neither of these readings is very complimentary.

Another common way to misunderstand this question is to speak without thinking it through. Certain applicants become agitated and stick their foot right into their mouth. They discuss something that reflects poorly on them.

Related: Behavioral interview questions and answers

How to answer, "What is your biggest failure?"

Always use the STAR method. The following methods will assist you in preparing a great response to this interview question:

Choose a time

Choose a genuine workplace failure, preferably one connected to the task you're currently performing. Look for a story in which something did not go according to plan. Selecting the appropriate tale is critical, as you're attempting to explain a circumstance in which only one item went wrong. This will assist in keeping the tale concise and make it easier to communicate what you learned and what you can do better the next time. Because you share the blame with others, a team failure might also be an excellent choice to discuss with your interviewer. It's just necessary to accept responsibility for your part in the failure.

biggest failure interview question

Share your story

Share the narrative you picked with the interviewer. Keep in mind that the goal of this question is to assess your ability to deal with setbacks, so try to get quickly to the section of the tale where you discuss how you dealt with the failure. You might wish to describe what made the issue difficult and what steps you took to resolve it. Be candid about the fact that events did not unfold as anticipated.

Focus on learnings

Discuss what you feel went wrong and contributed to the failure, what you would do differently in the future, and what adjustments you did. For instance, suppose your failure occurred as a result of presuming what your consumers desired. Your takeaway from this experience may be that you will never again make an assumption and that you will conduct further market research and survey your client base in the future—even testing the product with a small sample of people—before investing completely in a new product or service.

Be team focused

Focus on your team. The customer service team, product team, engineering. Always mention how past mistakes at the same company led to better job performance. Mentioning past job performance won't be a negative when answering this question. As long as the failure story is followed up by current job performance that's strong.

Example answers (sample answers) for job seekers

Here are some possible responses to this job interview question. Each sample answer should get used as an example, only. Use a real failure and mention exactly what you learned in that particular situation.

Example 1

"I was handling a project for a new customer who required a big quantity of unique product descriptions to boost their website's marketing efforts. Due to the fact that they were a new customer and I wanted to impress them with the quality of work we could do, I told them that we could return it to them in two weeks. I believed this would be possible with many writers on the project, but it ended up taking an additional week, and they were not pleased.

We apologized and promised them that the error would not again. I came to the conclusion that it is far preferable to under-promise and over-deliver. When you are upfront about the timetable, the customer will not be angry. When you are unable to achieve agreed-upon timeframes, complications occur. This incident taught me to be more circumspect in handling customer expectations. When I started on the next customer project, I made careful to allow for unanticipated events and informed them that we would deliver in four weeks. We delivered in three days, and they were overjoyed."

Example 2

"I chose a job where I was responsible for establishing a sales team that would address the company's key revenue issues. I was overconfident in my talents and believed I would succeed. However, upon my arrival, I found the issues were not limited to income but also to the way the company was organized. Within a month, I realized I would be unable to make the effect I anticipated.

When I realized I would fall short of the sales targets I promised, I momentarily contemplated resigning, but instead chose to focus on the areas I could control. I met with the company's management and restructured our year's sales targets. Additionally, we decided to reduce the size of my staff and hire a consultant to address some of the company's more serious issues. Being in this scenrio reminded me of the critical necessity of concentrating on what is under one's control and cooperating to solve complicated challenges. Additionally, I learned a valuable lesson in humility and the need of not leaping in and making commitments before fully comprehending the severity of the situation."

Example 3

"Several years ago, my boss assigned me the responsibility of interviewing, employing, and training an entry-level member of our customer support team. I opted to recruit someone who demonstrated a want to learn and, based on previous job experiences, appeared to possess considerable potential. I had a few reservations after reviewing their social media profiles but opted to hire them nonetheless. I immediately discovered that this was a mistake and that their social media activity was a good indicator of their job conduct. They were extremely dramatic, had a negative attitude, and influenced the entire staff to the point where I was forced to terminate them.

The event showed me the critical nature of each employment choice, from senior management to interns. Each individual has an effect on the company's morale and culture. Additionally, it taught me not to hurry hiring choices and to seek input if I had reservations about a prospect. I've learned to place a higher premium on intuition. Nonetheless, it is a lesson I am grateful to have learnt early in my career."

Useful resources

biggest failure interview question

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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