Interview Question: "Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake"
Updated July 14, 2023
Discussing previous mistakes can be a good way to show that you're capable of growth and learning. During a job interview, a hiring manager may inquire about your past work mistakes. By being prepared for this kind of interview question, you can show potential employers that you can handle a variety of situations.
In this article, we share how to effectively answer, "Tell me about a time you made a mistake" during an interview.
Why employers ask "Tell me about a time you made a mistake"
Employers ask "Tell me about a time you made a mistake" to see how you handle challenging situations. Admitting your mistakes shows a sense of integrity and also serves as an opportunity for you to show your thought process and how you respond during challenging times. The key to answering this interview question is showing employers that you learned from your mistake and that you can take accountability for your actions to perform better in the future. This common interview question shows employers that you can reflect on your actions, identify resources that can help you improve and apply feedback.
An employer will be able to gauge whether you are a good fit for the role by your ability to reflect on a challenge and how you either overcame it or learned from it. They use this question to assess your flexibility, emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills.
—Shaneequa Parker, JD, MPA, MSW, CDP/CDE®
How to answer "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
Follow these steps to effectively answer, "Tell me about a time you made a mistake:"
1. Outline your mistake
Start your response by explaining your past mistake. Remember to take accountability for your actions and choose a situation that you were able to fix. It's best to discuss minor mistakes rather than large ones. Focus on work-related mistakes rather than personal situations.
By acknowledging your mistakes, accepting responsibility and consciously attempting to improve, you can demonstrate to the recruiter that you have grown professionally. The emphasis should be on the lesson learned and how you've applied it.
—Shaneequa Parker, JD, MPA, MSW, CDP/CDE®
2. Describe your actions
Explain what you did to resolve your errors. Make it clear that you were proactive in this situation. The purpose of this interview question is to see how you handle past mistakes, so emphasize that you're a problem solver. Also, make it clear that you took responsibility for your past mistake and admitted that you made an error.
Related: How To React to Mistakes at Work
3. Emphasize positive results
Focus on the results of what you did to fix the error. Show the interviewer that you're capable of overcoming challenges and that you can reflect on what you can do to improve your work ethic. Try to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. You can also discuss how your remedy for the mistake benefited the company.
4. Discuss what you learned
You can make the lessons you learned the center of your response. Focus on what you learned and how you've applied this new knowledge to other situations. Explain that you now know how to avoid similar future mistakes and to be more careful. Show that this error resulted in your professional growth.
Example answers for "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
Here are examples of effective answers to this interview question for different job titles:
Here's a sample response that a candidate for an editor position might use:
"As an editor, I was responsible for proofreading the publication's monthly magazine. While I was quite effective at catching mistakes, one time I missed that the page numbers were all one page off. I didn't notice this mistake until we had already sent the files to the printer. I was quite worried about this small detail since the numbers wouldn't align with our table of contents. While the graphic designer was responsible for the design error, I took complete accountability for not catching her mistake.
I directly contacted the printer and to my relief, they were behind on production and hadn't started printing our pages yet. I had the graphic designer fix the error and then asked a few of my fellow editors to triple-check that everything looked correct. We ended up having our perfect copies printed on time. This mistake taught me not to overlook even the smallest details. Even if something is almost always correct, I'm sure to fully edit it. To make a publication look credible, I ensure that there are no errors, including formatting ones."
Creative director example
The following example relates to a candidate for a creative director position:
"When working at my last agency, I made the mistake of sharing the news about a new client too early. While this normally may not have been an issue, the client ended up going with another firm at the last minute. Since I prematurely shared this news, my team was so excited about this new opportunity. When I had to deliver the bad news, they were all quite disappointed.
To remedy the situation, I sincerely apologized to my employer and my team. I told them that I simply wanted to share my excitement, but now I understand the importance of waiting until the client signs and processes all of the contracts. This situation made me realize that I need to wait on making big decisions until things are in writing. I helped my team feel a bit better by buying them all lunch."
Marketing manager example
Here's a sample response that a candidate may say in an interview for a marketing manager position:
"When I first became a manager, I was eager to make a good impression, so I took on more work than I could manage. I constantly felt overwhelmed and stressed throughout the day. Upon talking to my mentor, she made me realize that I can benefit from delegating more work to my team. I followed her advice and started giving my team more responsibilities.
My team felt happy with these changes. I finally had the time to focus on the rest of my projects. I produced a better quality of work while my team also had the opportunity to grow in their roles. This experience taught me that it's okay to ask for help and that while I can do a lot, I can't do everything."
Sales representative example
The following sample shows a response from an aspiring sales representative:
"I've found that over the years, making mistakes has taught me a lot. One mistake that helped me grow the most is when I wasn't meeting my sales numbers when I first started my career. Instead of feeling discouraged, I asked my manager for some advice. He told me that the number-one mistake I was making was not following up with customers enough. Sure enough, when I followed his advice, my numbers doubled. This experience taught me the importance of nurturing leads and that I always have room for improvement."
Financial planner example
Here's a sample response that a prospective financial planner may use during an interview:
"When I was an intern, I felt timid to ask questions. I always felt like people didn't have enough time to help me. When it was time for my performance review, my manager told me that he felt like I wasn't learning enough. He encouraged me to ask questions so that I could learn. After that conversation, I asked many more questions and grew a lot in that role. They offered me a job upon graduation.
This mistake taught me the importance of asking questions. Now as a financial planner, I make sure to ask all of my clients an extensive list of questions. I want to know everything I can so I can help them make better money decisions."
Related: How To Nail an Interview
Tips for answering "Tell me about a time you made a mistake"
Before your next job interview, review the following tips to help you describe work mistakes to a potential employer effectively:
Prepare your answer in advance. Contemplate how you want to respond to the question before meeting with the hiring manager so you can feel confident in your delivery. Consider practicing telling your story to make sure you're emphasizing the positive result and your problem-solving skills.
Tailor your response to the job you're pursuing. The interviewer may appreciate hearing about mistakes you made and the lessons you learned in roles in the industry where you want to work. Recall an error that's relevant to your desired position so you can draw attention to your ability to overcome challenges in that job.
Keep your answer concise. A specific, yet straightforward response can make it easier for the interviewer to understand the positive result from you learning from your past mistake, and you can maintain their interest as you speak. When telling your story, only include details that are most important for the employer to know.
Contemplate potential follow-up questions. After you tell the employer about a work mistake, they may pose additional questions to learn more about your problem-solving skills and ability to take responsibility for your actions. Think of possible questions they may ask you so you can prepare yourself to deliver effective responses that reflect positively on you as a candidate.
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