How To Talk About Past Mistakes In An Interview

One of the most difficult questions you'll ever be asked in a job interview is to discuss one of your biggest professional mistakes. While uncomfortable, it's a way for your potential employer to understand your ability to work under pressure and get insight into how you handle less than ideal outcomes. Everyone makes errors, whether you're a marketing assistant or a vice president, and most people have a hard time talking about their errors productively. Here's how to formulate an answer that will give your interviewer enough information without damaging your reputation as an employee.

Choose appropriately

Mistakes are inevitable when you're working long hours and trying to accomplish as much as possible. Chances are you've made a few that range in severity. When choosing one to discuss in an interview, it's important to pick an error that was handled especially well and had positive results overall, recommended AARP. Picking a situation that highlights your proactive qualities and stellar damage-control skills is essential to nailing your answer. 

Own up to your part

It may be tempting to put all of the blame on a heavy workload or a boss who lacked communication skills, but that would come across negatively to your interviewer. Many employees feel challenged with the amount of work they're expected to perform on a daily basis, so the former excuse isn't productive, and speaking ill of a former boss is wrong for its own reasons. U.S. News & World Report noted that pointing out a manager's flaws can cause an interviewer to think you're difficult to work with and quick to pass blame – both of which are qualities that could prevent them from hiring you.

Rather than point fingers, it's important to take responsibility for your actions. Discuss where you went wrong and, if others played a role in your error, and subtly mention it. For example, instead of attempting to justify a typo by explaining every detail of your past employer's proofing process, simply add that the error was never caught in any of the final reviews.

Keep it brief

When explaining your mistake, it's best to keep it short and sweet. By covering the main parts of your error, you'll prevent yourself from divulging unnecessary details. It will also imply that you've moved on from your error. Business Insider recommended being direct in your delivery to gain trust and show that you're not trying to cover anything up. Simply stating that a deadline was missed or a typo was made is much more direct and respectable than delivering a long, convoluted speech that explains the entire context. While it's important to note key reasons why a mistake happened, it's best to keep the details limited, as it could come off as an attempt at buffering the severity of the situation.

Explain what you learned

Here's where you can elaborate freely. One of the main reasons why an employer asks to discuss a mistake is to test whether you're able to learn from your wrong​-doings. Errors can happen to anyone, even seasoned professionals at top marketing firms, and they should be seen as opportunities to grow.

"We learn from mistakes; rarely do we learn from our successes," Mary Hladio, a workplace expert and president of Ember Carriers leadership group, told Business Insider. 

When discussing certain skills that came of a professional failure, it's essential to stay realistic. For example, giving an inaccurate report to your marketing director in the past didn't necessarily make you better at pulling reports, but it could have taught you the importance of fact checking. Make sure the lessons you explain are genuine and easily relatable, and you'll be able to build trust with your interviewer.

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