During your interview session, your employer may ask you to directly address some of the stumbles and setbacks from your professional past. In some cases, your interviewer may ask you to explain a resume gap (which can be tough to do if you were fired). In another common scenario, you may be asked to describe the “greatest failure” in your working life, or simply discuss a time in which you let your team down, missed a deadline, lost a client, or otherwise fell short of the expectations placed upon you. What should you do when these questions come your way? Start by keeping these tips in mind.
Go all in.
When you answer this question, don’t hedge. Jump in with both feet. Instead of timidly choosing an event from your past that doesn’t qualify as a “failure” (“I was almost five minutes late to work once!”), choose a serious disaster. Going all in will help you achieve two key goals: it will demonstrate the depth and breadth of your experience, and it will also get your interviewer’s attention. The bigger the failure, the better the story.
Your darkest moments and biggest failures felt truly terrible… at the time. Five minutes after they happened, you may have wanted to go home, crawl back into your bed, and never come out. But no matter how bad they felt, those dark moments are long in the past now, and your story has arrived at a happy ending. So focus on the rain that followed the rainbow. Before you even begin telling your tale, recognize that this is a tale of triumph, not tragedy.
Emphasize the personal qualities that turned your ship around.
When the worst happened (you lost, failed, crashed, etc), you had nowhere to go but up. And you climbed back to victory by relying on your rigorous training. Or your hard-earned experience. Or your tenacious nature. Or your special talents. Or your innate courage and determination. Let this quality—whatever it may be—become the hero of your story. Explain how the better elements of your nature came to your rescue.
Share the credit.
Of course you’re great (that’s why your story ends happily), but you’re also aware that you couldn’t have pulled
out of your spin without the help, knowledge, generosity, kindness or competence of those around you. Whatever you do, don’t throw anyone else under the bus or blame another person for your shortcomings and problems.
Describe what you learned.
No matter how your story plays out, make sure your take-home message is clear: your failure provided you with valuable lessons that you won’t ever forget. Explain what the entire experience taught you about the nature of your industry, the keys to success, or what you might have done differently and will surely do differently the next time the situation arises.