How to Use Your Failures as an Asset

No one wants to admit they’ve failed at something, yet no one is perfect either. As human beings, we learn and grow, and part of that process involves stumbling along the way. When an interviewer asks about a past failure or a time when something didn’t go right at work, they are not trying to uncover your mistakes. PrideStaff Financial reveals what the interviewer really wants to know and how you should answer it.


The hidden truth behind, “Tell me about a failure at a past job.”

The real reason interviewers ask about a failure is it reveals a lot about you. Not your inability to get something done mind you, but your ability to take risks, tackle challenges, acknowledge mistakes, and how you learn from those mistakes. The key thing to remember when answering this question is it really isn’t about what you did wrong. It’s about how you handled a difficult situation, what you learned from it, and how it has strengthened you.


Don’t list multiple failures.

Remember, the interviewer is asking about one example, one time you failed at something related to work, or a life experience that applies to the working environment. A common mistake candidates make is listing a string of failures they’ve had. You’ll only put the interviewer off by giving them a dozen reasons why you’ve failed. Take a second to think about the question, be calm when answering, and pick one example that directly applies to your work capabilities. Then, state why it was a failure to you—the best way to answer this question is to define failure in your own terms, why you think the situation was a failure. Maybe you didn’t meet a personal expectation on the job or maybe you didn’t communicate something to your team properly and there were mistakes because of it. Failure has many definitions and looks differently to each individual.


No one is perfect.

The interviewer is not looking for perfection. Some of the most successful people in the world failed many times to get to a place of success. One of the greatest examples of our current generation is Elon Musk. As the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors (and numerous other ventures), he has had many failures, but has shown time and again that he takes those failures and turns them into strengths. Interviewers want to know that you can reflect on your own experiences and are able to identify where you could have done things differently; that you can apply what you’ve learned and turn your failures into future strengths.  


The best thing you can do before an interview is prepare ahead of time. Go into an interview expecting this question and you won’t be caught off guard.


PrideStaff Financial is one of the nation’s leading recruiting firms. Our staffing consultants can help you navigate the interview process and will work with you each step of the way. Contact us to learn how we can help you.