Interview Question: "Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake"
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated May 26, 2022 | Published January 5, 2021
Updated May 26, 2022
Published January 5, 2021
Related: Interview Question: Tell Me a Time You Made a Mistake at Work
In this video, Holl, a career coach at Indeed, explains how to best answer the tricky interview question, “Tell me a time you made a mistake at work?”
While discussing previous mistakes may not be your favorite topic, it is a good way to show that you are capable of growth and learning. During a job interview, an employer may inquire about your past work mistakes. By being prepared for this kind of interview question, you can show 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 indicates that you understand that you might have some failures throughout your career. The key to answering this interview question is showing employers that you learned from your mistake. This common interview question shows employers your potential weaknesses and how you might overcome them.
How to answer "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
While this is a question sure to cross industries and situations, how the answer is treated will vary. 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 mistake. Instead of attempting to pass the blame, take accountability for your actions. When picking a mistake, 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. Likewise, choose a situational mistake instead of one that suggests a flaw in your character.
2. Describe your actions
Explain what you did to resolve your errors. Make it clear that you were actionable in this situation. The purpose of this interview question is to see how you handle mistakes, so emphasize that you are a problem solver. Also, make it clear that you took responsibility for your 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 mistake. Show the employer that you are capable of handling anything, especially when you are at fault. Try to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Explain that in the end, everything turned out fine.
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 have applied this new knowledge to other situations. Explain that you now know how to avoid similar future mistakes and that you learned to be more careful. Show that this mistake resulted in you growing as a professional.
Example answers for different job titles
Here are a few effective answers to "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."
"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.
As soon as I noticed this mistake, I directly contacted the printer. To my relief, they were behind on production and hadn't started printing our pages yet. I was so relieved, and there was an incredibly quick turnaround. 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 got it sent back to the printer within hours and 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 am sure to fully edit it. To make a publication look credible, I ensure that there are no errors, including formatting ones."
Creative director example
"When working at my last agency, I made the mistake of sharing the news about a new client too early. While this normally would have been fine, 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 all of the contracts are signed and processed. 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 treating them all to lunch."
Marketing manager example
"When I first became a manager, I was eager to make a good impression. Trying to make a good impression, I ended up taking on more work than I could manage. I ended up constantly feeling overwhelmed and stressed throughout the day. Upon talking to my mentor, she made me realize that I needed to delegate more work to my team. I followed her advice and started giving my team more responsibilities.
My team ended up being quite happy with these changes. A few people even admitted they didn't have enough work to do and were thrilled to be busier. After giving them this work, I finally had the time I needed to focus on the rest of my projects. I ended up producing 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
"I have 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
"When I was an intern, I was much timider than I am today. During my internship, I was afraid 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."
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