What to say when an interviewer says, ‘Tell me about a mistake you made’

What to say when an interviewer says, ‘Tell me about a mistake you made’

Source: This article was originally published on CNBC.
Written by: Courtney Connley, CNBC Make It

Being prompted to discuss a career mistake may catch you off-guard during a job interview, but employers want to know more about you than resume highlights—so be prepared.

Many interviewers ask the question not because they want to hear a great comeback story, but because they want insight into your character. They’re trying to figure out if you own your career mistakes or if you’re the kind of jerk who passes blame around.

Why interviewers ask about career mistakes:

Hiring managers want to know how you react when things don’t go as planned.


Will a mistake knock you for a total loop? Or, do you have the grit and resilience, and maybe even the sense of humor, to get up and say, ‘OK, how do I fix things?’

It’s important to pick the right career mistake to highlight. If you pick a trivial error like, “I once ordered catering for the wrong day,” you’ll come off as evasive. But if you discuss a significant mistake, like, “I lost a key client,” you’ll come off as a risk.

This is not the time to humble brag by citing a mistake that can actually be seen as a virtue, like a time you worked ‘too hard’ on a project or didn’t delegate because you wanted to keep a close eye on quality. It’s way too phony!


Instead, choose a mistake that’s big enough to show you’ve got the bumps and bruises of real experience, but small enough to convey you are generally highly competent.

Even with the right mistake in mind, your delivery can ruin your chances of landing the job if you focus on the negative for too long.

Spend the majority of your answer to this question on the aftermath of your mistake, what you learned, the ways you changed and how you grew.

To truly stand out, the key is to make your recovery “one worth cheering for.”

Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator, and public speaker. Through its online MBA program, the Jack Welch Management Institute transforms the lives of its students by providing them with the tools to become better leaders, build great teams, and help their organizations win.

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