Job Interview Question: What Was Your Biggest Mistake?

Ready for another difficult job interview question you may need to answer? Today we tackle “What was your biggest mistake?”

Many people struggle to answer this question because it taps into three things you don’t want to talk about in an interview: weakness, failure and mistakes.

This question, which is another version of “Tell me about a time you failed” andWhat are your weaknesses? specifically looks at a time in your career when you admittedly made a mistake and offers you an opportunity to show how you learn and adapt on the job.

Here are four things to consider as you frame your answer to this question:

  • Don’t make it personal. This is not a time to wax on about how your mother wanted you to go to medical school. Reel in the scope of your answer to be specifically about your career field and common challenges that people face within it.

Bad example: “I blew it at my first job and had to find a new job really quickly.”  

Good example: “The first time I was a lead on a project I made a faux pas with our client. I apologized, and the client went on to be a great personal friend. I learned a lot about communication and how to maintain relationships over the long haul.”

  • Be specific. Don’t generalize that you “always” or “never” do a certain thing. Describe a specific action or situation that you characterize as a mistake and explain how you resolved it and minimized the long term damage.

Bad example: “I always find myself running late to work no matter how much I try to plan my morning.” Good example: “For a period of a month I found myself running late to work no matter how much I tried to plan my schedule to be on time. I realized that this was a huge mistake and affected my coworkers, my clients and even my own track record. I took a weekend to focus on the reasons I was late, revamped my schedule, and I’m proud to say I’ve never been late since.”

  • Show that you learn from failure. This kind of behavioural question seeks to provide interviewers with an impression of your character and how you perform on a day-to-day basis. Your primary goal is to show that when you make mistakes (because you’re human and everyone makes mistakes) you learn from them and do not repeat them.

Bad example: “I sent in a report with an error that caused a problem with one of our best clients. I was so embarrassed, but I corrected the report and it turned out alright.”

Good example: “I sent in a report with an error that caused a problem with one of our best clients. This had happened once before, so I knew it was a problem. I worked with my department to establish a review schedule where all of the analysts would double-check each other’s reports before they went to big clients. Not only have I not had an incident since, but the process has reduced the overall rate of incidences for our entire department.”

Don’t let talking about your biggest mistake be a big mistake in your next interview. Use these tips to craft an answer that keeps the conversation on your positive traits of growth and humility.