Job Interview Question: Tell Me About When Something Went Wrong

Remember that time something went wrong on the job? You probably weren’t feeling calm and collected, and you definitely weren’t feeling like you wanted to talk about what happened in great detail. Even if you made a mistake or had to deal with a truly crazy scenario, you can still turn it into a good story for your upcoming job interview. In fact, you might even be asked to tell the interviewer about a time something went wrong on the job.

Here’s a two-part strategy for framing your answer to this tough interview question to make sure you give the interviewer the best possible understanding of how you work on the job:

Explain the situation honestly

Don’t try to sugarcoat what happened or hedge the story in a way that makes you look like a hero and everyone else look incompetent. Both approaches will make it hard for the interviewer to believe what you’re saying, and they may wonder how it played out in real life. Instead, clearly articulate what the problem was and what part you had in it.

Bad story:

I was working late and did all of my closing tasks 15 minutes before we closed. However, my supervisor was really bad at providing a clear plan of who was supposed to do what during closing. As it turns out, she thought I was going to put the mats down, and I thought she was going to put the mats down. Neither of us did, and a customer slipped and fell on the way out of the store. Everything turned out okay, though, and it wasn’t my fault.”

Good story:

“One night, there was a miscommunication between my supervisor and I as to who would perform certain closing tasks. Unfortunately, as a result a customer was injured when they slipped on a matless floor walking out of the building. My supervisor and I both hurried to assist the customer and make sure everything was okay, and later we sat down to speak honestly about what error occurred and how we could fix it. We haven’t had any errors like that since, and I learned an important lesson about double-checking information that doesn’t sound right to me.”

Focus on your reaction and the results

Unless you’re very lucky, it’s normal for bad things happen at work. What distinguishes hirable candidates from unhirable candidates is how they react when something goes wrong and what happens as a result of it.

Focus your story on your reaction and the results to express that you know how to handle yourself when unfortunate or questionable things happen. Show that you approach every setback with a willingness to learn and correct your habits.

Bad story:

“My assistant and I were planning a wedding and on the day of the event we realized the caterer would be late by 30 minutes. This was going to push back the bride’s reception, which would throw off the rest of the event and create a problem with the venue. The bride was really upset, but we pulled it off in the end and we saved the relationship.”

Good story:

“When my assistant and I realized that the caterer would be 30 minutes late to a wedding on the day of the event, we knew the bride was going to be very upset and that the delay might cause an issue with the venue. I decided to proactively contact the bride and the venue to work out the scheduling change. We brainstormed a photo shoot opportunity to make up the delay in the time, and I negotiated with the venue coordinator so that they wouldn’t charge us for the half-hour overage. The client was relieved, and the event went well despite this hitch in the plans.”

In the working world nothing goes as planned. Fortunately, you can use questions like these to show off your ability to keep your cool under pressure and continuously improve your performance on the job.