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Hi everyone, and welcome to this year’s last episode, during which I show you how to handle interview questions about failures. Before I start, I would like to ask for a small favor. In 2023, I want to create relevant episodes to help you prepare for your interview, so please let me know what topics you would like me to cover. If you use the Spotify mobile app, you can add your suggestions in the Q&A of this episode. Otherwise, please use the link in the episode description.
Now, let’s dive deep into today’s topic. Many candidates feel nervous about questions concerning failures, because they believe interviewers ask these to find an applicants’ weak spots. However, this is usually not the case; rather, the hiring manager wants to determine whether or not you are self-aware, proactively trying to correct your mistakes and learn from them. So, let me show you a simple, 4-step approach to help you confidently answer these questions.
Step 1: Identify your example
List 5-10 work-related situations where you wish you had done better. Then, if applicable, remove those examples where your shortcomings had a large negative impact. For instance, if you are a project manager, an example where your company had to pay severe fines because you missed a major deadline is not a good choice. A better one could, for example, be a project you failed to deliver on budget, but where the project benefits still way outweighed the additional cost. Finally, from the remaining situations, pick one where you learned something important that helped you develop and avoid making the same mistake again.
Step 2: Describe the situation and your task
Aim for a short summary to explain, in 2-3 sentences, the context of the situation, its complexity and the goal you wanted to achieve. For example, “At my current employer, I managed a software development project for a mobile self-checkout app. In the middle of the project, our senior expert, with the unique technical knowledge needed to ship all features, became ill long-term. I had no backup plan to cover for him, which put the project at risk.”
Step 3: Describe your actions
Make sure you explain how you tried to correct the situation to show that you are proactive and take ownership of your mistakes. It must be clear what your individual actions were, so use “I did this and that” instead of “We did this and that.” Outline why you decided to act in a certain way, what data you based your decisions on and how you handled any obstacles or constraints you faced. In our previous example, you could say, “First, I talked to the other project members to find out if someone else on the team had the required skills to take on the tasks of their incapacitated colleague, which was not the case. I also talked to the product owner to understand the impact of potentially not shipping the affected features. Then, I developed three alternatives to handle the situation: we could either remove some of the features, send one of the other project members on a two-week course to close the knowledge gap or hire a consultant with the needed skills. I evaluated the pros and cons of each option and decided, together with the project’s main stakeholders, to go with option three, since it allowed us to launch a complete product while avoiding further delays.”
Step 4: Describe the results
Since the interviewer asked you about a time you failed, you should openly admit which results you could not deliver. But keep this short and focus on how you could mitigate the consequences, what you learned from this experience and how it helped you avoid similar situations. For example, “We launched the app on time and with the full scope of features. Thanks to the improved customer experience, the stores that used it increased revenue by 7%, which far outweighed the additional project costs for the consultant. I learned from this how important it is to always plan ahead for critical resource contingencies. Would you like me to tell you more about how this helped me avoid a similar situation in another project about a year later?
These were the 4 steps for answering questions about failures. I hope this was helpful to you, and please let me know which topics you would like me to cover in future episodes. That’s all for today. Thank you for listening.