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Interview Question: "Tell Me About a Time You Failed"

June 27, 2021

During the interview process, recruiters and hiring managers often ask a series of competency-based interview questions. It helps interviewers gauge if you’d be a good fit for the company. One of these questions interviewers often ask is, "Tell me about a time you failed." It sounds straightforward, but this type of question can be tricky if you don't know how to approach it correctly.

This interview question is asked to see how you recovered from failure and what you learned from the experience. The interviewer is mainly trying to uncover how you think when faced with obstacles, and how you might handle balancing multiple tasks in a new job. Continue reading this article to have an answer ready to tell the interviewer about a time you failed, and how you overcame that failure.


1. Pick a failure

To get started, think about something real that failed because of something you did. While you shouldn’t pick a massive failure that will make you look bad, you also shouldn’t pick such a small failure that it’s inconsequential or irrelevant. Interviewers are interested in knowing how you define failure so think deeply about what makes something a failure to you so you can clearly describe what happened and why it was a failure.

2. Take responsibility

Since you should choose a failure that was caused by yourself, prepare to take full responsibility for your mistake. Don’t shrug it off and say “I was blamed when it was someone else's fault.” Demonstrate maturity by holding yourself accountable. Doing this will show self-awareness which is a soft skill that interviewers look to see in job candidates.

3. Show growth

Think about what you could have done differently or better. It’s important to show that you can learn from your mistakes by taking the steps to ensure that you don’t mess up again. Interviewers want to see that you are someone who can learn from failure. Also, don’t forget to be happy about the experience you had and the lesson learned--positivity when showing growth is a must.


Once you’ve picked a story about a time you failed, make sure you tell it in a way that makes sense. To tell a concise story, your answer should be formatted into the 4 following parts:

1. The situation/task

Here you describe the backstory to what happened or the task at hand that you grappled with.

2. What happened

Say exactly what happened or what you lacked that made the situation/task unsuccessful. Make sure to take full accountability and not blame or bad talk anyone.

3. The Failure

Clearly state the result of what made the situation/task a failure. Quantify your failure if you can.

4. What you learned

This is the most important part of your story in which you give a walk-through of the actionable steps you’ve taken to learn in order to not make the same mistake again. This part of your story should show that you are capable of growth and challenges.


1.  Be humble

The goal isn’t to show that you made a mistake and how you’re infallible. The goal is to show growth and eagerness to learn. Make sure to not speak with overblown grandeur and to stay humble when talking about how you overcame your failure.

2. Tell a concise story

If you ramble on or get sidetracked, it will alert the interviewer that your communication skills need improvement which will raise concern.

3. Tell the truth

Never lie in a job interview--even a small one. Interviewers will thoroughly verify your story to make sure everything checks out.

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