How to Talk about Mistakes

In a job interview, you do all you can to put your best foot forward. You get your hair cut, shine your shoes, pop a breath mint, and give yourself that internal pep talk that “I’m perfect for this job!”

And then, the interviewer takes all the wind out of your sales by asking you a question like, “Tell me about a time that you made a mistake.”

But, but, you fret, I’m the perfect fit!

Start by breathing slowly with me here — inhale, and then exhale.

Now that you have cleared your head a little, think this one through. Are you really perfect all the time? Sure, you’re talented and a pretty darn special candidate, but you’ve tripped up a couple times.

It’s okay, really. Even the interviewer you’re talking with has flubbed up during his or her career.

The key to answering this question well is to: a) use it as an opportunity to highlight another one of your attributes, and/or b) show how you learned from your mistake. If you can demonstrate either one of these things, great. If you can work both of them in, even better!

As an example, we’ll use the answer that my husband developed during his job search:

“As a welder, I worked for a company that made tanks for various businesses — pharmaceutical companies, food manufacturers, etc. One time, I had a project that I worked on, and it welded up really nicely. I stood back to look at my work, but still wondered why it welded together so well. I checked my welding equipment and realized that I had used the wrong gas.

“Not sure if it would make a difference, I found the engineer I was working with and told him what I had done. Because this tank was going to have chemicals put in it, the engineer was concerned that there could be a bad reaction that would cause the welds to dissolve when the chemicals were poured in. He recommended that I grind off all the welds and start over.

“It was a lot of work, but I ground off all the welds and then made sure I had the right gas when I welded it up again.

“After that experience, I always made sure that I checked my equipment before I started a project.”

Notice how that answer showed both his honesty with admitting his mistake and the lesson that he learned as a result? Having an answer that ends up showing off an attribute and demonstrating how you improved your work practices will actually be a plus.

What mistakes have you made? What was the positive outcome?

wrong_feet courtesy of mcmrbt

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