Let’s Talk about Failure

Tell me about a time you failed. What’s your biggest weakness? Talk about a time when your project didn’t go well.

These questions — and those like them — are often tricky. When we are interviewing, we are scared to reveal too much about our downsides. But the failure isn’t about you being imperfect. The hiring manager already knows you’re not perfect. You’re human, after all, and will make mistakes.

The only people who haven’t made mistakes are those who never try anything outside of their comfort zone.

An analogy here is helpful.

My family was checking in for a trail ride, while on vacation. The ranch hand asked us to rate our horseback riding experience levels. Our oldest son claimed to be an intermediate rider. While he’s only 13, his traditional summer camps have given him ample opportunity to ride. The ranch hand asked one simple follow-up question, “Have you ever fallen off a horse?” Nick laughed and said, “Oh, yeah!” By this simple admission of failure — of falling off and getting back on — he established himself as someone who just might be an intermediate level rider. You see, those who have never fallen off a horse clearly haven’t ridden much.

Don’t worry about admitting failure. Claim your mistakes and failures as evidence of great deeds tried and lessons learned.

Here’s how to answer.

Step 1: Choose something meaningful. The interview process is about getting to know you. Pick a time when something actually went wrong and something that was actually your fault.

Step 2: Talk about how you discovered your mistake. You’re demonstrating your techniques for both self-awareness and the monitoring of your work.

Step 3: Talk about the recovery. How you respond to failure and fix problems is essential. Failure will happen from time to time. You should demonstrate your ability to address the immediate issues and move forward.

Step 4: Talk about what you learned. Henry Ford wrote, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Describe what you learned about your industry, about leadership, about yourself and what you now do differently as a result of your mistake.

If you ride enough, you will fall off. You don’t need to be embarrassed about falling. Just keep riding!