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How to Answer ‘Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake’ in an Interview?

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Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake

Interviews, even for a seasoned professional, can be a stressful situation because of the uncertainty of the questions that the interviewer may put forth. Every interview holds the potential to take you by surprise with something that you haven’t seen coming your way. Even after putting lots of effort into preparing for an interview, it can become quite stressful for a candidate to answer a simple question such as “Tell me about a time you Made a Mistake”. In this blog, we will assist you in understanding the best approaches to respond to the straightforward but one of the most common interview questions.

Also read: How to crack an interview?

Why do Interviewers Ask “ Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”?

The very purpose of this question “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” is clear. The interviewer knows that nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes along the way. Telling her/them/him that you made a mistake in the past isn’t gonna make the interviewer put you out of consideration for the job. What she/they/he wants to understand via this question is how responsible you are and how well can you handle adversity and challenges and overcome them. By posing this interview question, an interviewer is also interested in understanding whether you have an ownership mindset or not, and do you take accountability for your actions or not. 

Also Read: Handle Tough Interview Questions with Ease

How to answer this question?

In order to answer this question, there is a very specific strategy that can help you to ace your answer of the same known as the STAR- method

S- Situation

T- Task

A- Action 

R- Results

Lay out your answer in the above-mentioned format along with modifications as and when required. Below is the way to make sure your interviewer can get all the information he/she is looking for via your answer.

Choosing the mistake to talk about.

Choose a minor and recent mistake. Select the one that actually reflects your ability to ownership of your mistake, then make observations, and then improvements in the same. Some of the mistakes that you can take up in answering the question “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” are mentioned below:

  • Misunderstandings
  • Fumbled presentations
  • Knowledge or skill gaps
  • Errors in the work you submitted
  • Missed deadlines

Properly explain the situation

Before getting to the actual mistake, make sure your interviewer understands the situation properly. Don’t unnecessarily add extra details, just lay out the overall situation clearly and briefly. 

Also Read: How to Prepare For An Interview Using Storytelling

Tell the interviewer what mistake you made

Be direct about it, explaining what led to the mistake. But also keep in mind to not blame anyone and also don’t get offensive. 

Explain how you handled the situation

The interview is most of all interested in understanding how you actually addressed the situation and overcame it eventually. Making mistakes is a basic aspect of every individual, but not every individual owns up to it or takes steps to rectify it. 

Talk about your takeaways from the situation and what you learned from the same

It is essential to include your key takeaways from the same and what you understand so as to prevent the same situation from recurring. The interviewer will be extremely pleased to hear that you actually grew from the situation and turned it into a learning experience. 

Also Read:- How to Ace an Online Interview?

Sample Answers for “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”

Here are some sample answers to help you get started and be prepared with a question like ‘Tell me about a time you made a Mistake’.

Sample 1: For Experienced Professionals

Situation: A manager who may have acted too quickly when dealing with a direct report.

As a woman in the software engineering industry,  I’ve always felt the need to speak up to make sure I’m respected by my colleagues as well as coworkers. This has usually worked quite well and I’ve also helped other female engineers feel more comfortable doing the same. However, when I was first promoted to engineering manager, I took it too far. When one of my team members failed to complete his part of the sprint in time, I called him out in a team Zoom meeting.

Later on, he slacked me and explained to me that he had been dealing with multiple cases of COVID in his family and friends. After hearing that, I apologized to him for how I had brought it up and asked about his current situation. When he was ready, we discussed why he had not talked to me ahead of time and how important it is to know when someone is falling behind so that we hit our overall goals. He has been more forthcoming ever since, and at our next huddle, I told the team that I shouldn’t have called the engineer out like that, while still maintaining his privacy. Since then, I have developed a policy of always checking in one-on-one first. Along with that, I have also learned that while being assertive is important, it is absolutely never necessary for that to come across the line into putting someone on the spot like that. As a result of this situation, I have now gotten some of the highest management scores in the company and that engineer is now one of our top performers.”

Also Read: 65+ HR Interview Questions and Answers You Must Know

Sample 2: For Freshers

An entry-level graduate might draw their experience from the school/college duration.

“For my neurobiology class, our final lab reports had to be written down on an individual basis, but based on the experiments run by each of the members of our lab group. We quickly divided it up as to who was doing which experiment and decided we would all have our experiments completed by April 15, so we would all have time to write. I did not thoroughly look at my section until I was literally walking into the lab and only then realized that I needed results from other group members before I could start. I quickly reached out to my group to let them know what I had done wrong, apologized, and to see if they had their results yet. One person did not have time in their schedule to do their experiment until April 14. 

Luckily, we were able to switch sections, and I was able to complete their original part and compile all the results they needed so that they could complete my original part. Since then, I’ve always made sure to lay out all of the steps and requirements for each step of a project before starting and be super clear on what I am responsible for and how it fits into the larger picture as a team.”

Also Read: 20+ Phone Interview Questions + Sample Answers

Mistakes to avoid while answering “ Tell me about the time you made a mistake”

There are certain things and statements that you should keep in mind and don’t say to the interviewer as they may directly or indirectly have a negative impact on your profile and may even lead to you not getting the job. So, avoid the things mentioned below while answering the question “Tell me about a time you made a mistake”:

  • Avoid saying that you have never made a mistake or can’t recall any.
  • Avoid talking about ongoing flaws such as “ I am always late”.
  • Don’t talk about the issues that fall into the category of ethical or otherwise controversial issues.
  • Don’t play the blame game and never throw anyone under the bus.
  • Don’t keep circling back to the mistake. Explain the mistake and then provide the solution. Don’t leave the interviewer vague on the solution front.
  • Don’t claim perfection, it is a universal fact that everybody makes mistakes. Hence the phrases, Real people aren’t perfect, and perfect people aren’t real. 

Also Read: Strength and Weakness in Job Interviews

Key Takeaways

  • Follow the START response method i.e. Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Following this will allow the interviewer to know how you evolved from your mistake, learned, and eventually benefitted from the same.
  • Be careful while responding to the question. Choose your mistake wisely enough so that it won’t affect or impact your candidature for the current job opening. 
  • Turn the mistake around with your words making it less of a mistake and more of a learning experience so that you come out of there looking like you have grown from the same.
  • Don’t put blame on others while answering the question. 

FAQs

What is a sample answer for ‘tell me about a time when you made a mistake’ in an interview?

Here is a sample answer: “In my previous role, I led a team on a tight project deadline. While coordinating tasks, I misunderstood a crucial requirement that led to a misalignment in our deliverables. I recognised the error when a team member pointed it out. I immediately scheduled a team meeting, acknowledged my mistake, and outlined the steps to rectify it. I also implemented a more robust communication process to prevent similar issues. This experience taught me the importance of active communication and thorough requirement analysis, and I’ve since been more diligent in ensuring clarity and consensus within the team.”

What do you say when you make a mistake?

The first thing after making a mistake is to own it and not decline it or blame it on others. After you have owned your mistake, look for the reason behind it and work towards fixing it. After that, keep in mind the learning you got from this mistake so as to avoid it in the future. 

What are three common mistakes we make in a job interview?

Here are the three common mistakes to avoid in an interview:
1. Being unprepared
2. Being dressed inappropriately
3. Failing to arrive on time

We hope that this blog helps you answer the Question “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” in an interview. Follow Leverage Edu for the best tips on How to prepare for your interview.

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