Expressing What You Learned From Your Mistakes

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Interviewing

There are many questions that an interviewer might present to you during the course of an interview. While perhaps not the most frequently asked, a common question revolves around wanting you to talk about a mistake that you have made in your career and how it was addressed. This is usually coupled with seeking to know what you have learned from the example provided.

If you were wondering about the significance of this question, it is typically asked by the interviewer for at least four primary reasons.

1. The hiring manager wants to see how you react to a thematic change in the interview by placing the focus on something that is different than “selling” yourself. The challenge is, can you adjust and present yourself well to a change in question tone.

2. The interviewer is asking to make a humility check on you. One of the keys to being able to work with others is your ability to admit you could have done something better, to apologize, or just not be arrogant. Finding out more about a mistake you made and how you addressed the error is a good indicator for how you will interact with others. It has also been shown to be a critical character trait of a good leader. Employees want to work for an individual who will own their mistakes, but also learn from them. This makes them more human and approachable to their staff.

3. People make mistakes. A company wants to know that a person will acknowledge when this happens and will own up to it, rather than allowing it to potentially become a much bigger issue. The best way for a hiring manager to know what you will do in a future situation is to find out what you have done in a similar position in the past.

4. It is important to understand the thought process of a person, especially in a stressful situation such as a mistake. Can they identify solution options, communicate clearly with others and implement them in this type of situation. This is a critical skill set, especially for those who are seeking a position in management.

The actual mistake that you made is a critical aspect of answering this question in a successful manner. You want an error that is not so minor that it does not address the question or does not display humility. On the other hand, if you made a mistake and bankrupted one of your previous employers, it is best to also leave that one off of your potential list. A potential avenue to take in producing an example is to select one from much earlier in your career. This way the error can be partially offset by being newer in your career, and you can speak to an important career lesson learned that you have executed the rest of your life.

How you start your response is very important. After the question is asked, pause to show that you are thinking about an answer. I then suggest you open your response with the message you want to convey…something like “let me share with you a mistake I made that I still remember because of the valuable lesson that I learned and still apply today”. This will set you up beautifully for the details of your answer.

It is important for you to show that you owned this error and that you did what was necessary to fix the situation. Such as, you communicated to impacted parties, or you worked extra to redo what was initially incorrect. It is crucial that you did not just leave the error for others to deal with (although it is OK with you to involve others to assist you in fixing) or did nothing in hope the situation would go away.

Finally, you want to be able to express what you learned from the whole issue. What did you put in place so that it would not happen again? Did you change the process or how you approached a certain situation? It can make an even stronger answer if you were faced with a comparable situation later in your career, and you executed what you learned for a much better outcome.

While it is important that you answer this question fully and it is a potentially wonderful way to provide key information to the interviewer, you do not want to over dwell on your answer. You want to be able to go back on the offense, talking about all the remarkable things you have done and will do for this prospective employer. You don’t want to look back on the interview and realize you spent half your time explaining an error you made in the past. This is yet another example of why it is important to properly prepare for an interview, especially by practicing your answers to expected questions.

Mistakes happen. We all make them. The key is how we work to fix whatever needs repair and what we learned from the experience to prevent it from reoccurring. This type of problem-solving is a key trait of a good employee, especially someone in a leadership position. It is important, then, to have an excellent example ready of when you fixed one of your errors and how you successfully did it. A strong response in this area may be just what you need to differentiate yourself from others and land the job you are seeking.

As always, the best of luck in your job search.

The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.

Joe Stein WNY Human Resources Professional

Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at: Joe Stein

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