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“Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” - 5 Sample Responses for Answering This Interview Question Without Ruining Your Chances

When the interviewer says, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” you’ll probably start sifting through your mind for the safest experience to share. But how do you say it in a way that doesn’t disqualify you from getting the job? Read on to find out.

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When the interviewer says, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” you’ll probably start sifting through your mind for the safest experience to share. But how do you say it in a way that doesn’t disqualify you from getting the job? Read on to find out.


We all make mistakes, whether personal or professional. After all, to err is human. Most of the time, we can be too hard on ourselves when we make mistakes and bury these experiences deep in the back of our minds, never to be excavated again.

However, when it comes to mistakes made during our careers, we may need to pull them out and dust them off when interviewers say, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake.” I know the last thing you want to do is start recounting any of your past professional mistakes. Especially when you took the time and effort to ensure you didn’t make any mistakes throughout the interview - the irony of it all. However, even though it is an uncomfortable topic, you need to know how to discuss your past career mistakes because the answer can either help you land the job or get you disqualified. 


Why interviewers ask candidates about their mistakes

The phrase, “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake,” can throw any job candidate off their game, so why do interviewers ask it? Simple - they want to gauge your capacity to self-correct, willingness to take feedback, self-awareness, and accountability. So if these are not things you’re familiar with, strap yourself in and take notes. 

Interviewers only have a short time to get to know each candidate during each interview - 15 to 30 minutes if we have to put a number on it. During this time, they want to determine if your skills align with their hiring needs and if you can blend in seamlessly with their team. Questions like this or about your weaknesses are simply shortcuts that help them get this info faster. 

In this case, when the interviewer asks you to tell them about a time you made a mistake, they want to know these 5 specific things:

How you address personal mistakes

I don’t think there’s a person alive (or dead) who has never made a mistake. It’s all about knowing how to address them using the tools mentioned above, like taking accountability or feedback and self-correcting. Answering this question can show the recruiter your commitment (or lack thereof) to self-improvement. 

Your capability to self-reflect

When interviewers ask you to tell them about a time you made a mistake at work, it is a way to know if you can learn from these experiences. So when you say things like, “I taught others through my mistake” or “I can’t recall any such incident,” it suggests that you can’t objectively analyze your actions. 

How you work with teams 

Knowing what to do in a crisis shows your ability to work with a team while reflecting your leadership abilities. Basically, how you remember other people’s actions in past crises can tell interviewers how you’ll get along with their current team. 

What does this mean? It means you should be careful not to make it seem like you took full responsibility or pass the blame to your past teams when talking about mistakes when this isn’t the case. This can make the interviewer think you’d rather blame your team than take some of the blame. You will also seem unable to handle criticism or work well with others. 

Whether you are overconfident or self-aware

According to a series of surveys conducted by Organizational Psychologist, Tasha Eurich, for her book, Insight, only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware, while a whopping 95% THINK they are. Interviewers want to know if you fall among the select few. They also want to see if you have an overconfidence bias, which is the tendency to be overconfident in your abilities than is reasonable. I know many of us have probably been guilty of this. 

Good thing you can easily check this behaviour by observing if you’re externally and internally self-aware, which is what the recruiter is looking for during an interview. 

Being externally self-aware shows you understand how other people see you, value peoples’ opinions, and have empathy. On the other hand, internal self-awareness involves knowing your goals, weaknesses, strengths, values, and the impact of your actions on other people. 


5 rules and sample answers for responding to “Tell me about a time you made a mistake.”


1. Honesty is key

Such questions are meant to assess soft skills and leadership traits such as critical thinking and accountability, which can be more important to recruiters than other qualifications in some cases. 

So when talking about mistakes concerning your professional achievements, never fabricate details. Remember, HR can conduct a background check, and if they find out you lied about anything, it can create complications. 

Example: “We ended up having a last-minute time change for this event due to business needs; so I had to quickly update all the logistics and I forgot to update the calendar invite for the Senior VP.”


2. Choose the “right” mistake to share

When it comes to questions that are a bit more personal on topics like your hobbies or why you left your previous position, you need to be very strategic. For example, instead of saying you left because of questionable management, you could say you’re looking for new experiences. As for your hobbies, it’s best to keep your answers at a surface level so it doesn’t seem like they will distract you from work. 

When choosing a mistake to discuss, go for minor ones or a team mistake for which you could claim collective responsibility. You could also talk about a more recent mistake or come prepared with a story in mind. Just remember also to consider how you reacted to the situation. Select a mistake that shows your ability to problem-solve, create a self-improvement plan, take feedback, and own your errors, all while sharing the lessons you learned from the experience. 

Example: “I’m the kind of person who tries to learn and grow from every mistake. Years ago, a team I was working on failed to land a sale, and we were told it had to do in part with our ineffective visuals. Over the next six months, I spent much of my free time learning how to use various software programs to create enticing visual presentations. Since then, I’ve been continuously praised for my visuals in meetings and sales pitches.”


3. Don’t dwell on it

When talking about a mistake during an interview, avoid dwelling too much on it or adding unnecessary extra details. Otherwise, you could end up:


  • Highlighting a character flaw

  • Taking attention away from the solutions you applied

  • Cutting into your interview time

The point on character flaws is particularly important. Make sure you don’t share a huge oversight that can make it seem like you won’t be able to handle the responsibilities of the role you’re interviewing for. So when talking about a career mistake, make it as brief as possible. 

Example: “When I first became an assistant manager of a sales branch, I tried to take on everything myself, from the day-to-day operations of the branch to making all the big sales calls. I quickly learned that the best managers know how to delegate effectively so that work is done efficiently. Since then, I have won numerous awards for my management skills, and I believe a lot of this has to do with my ability to delegate effectively.”


4. Explain what you did to fix it

This is the best time to show off your problem-solving skills, communication, and critical thinking. Highlight the measures you took to resolve the issue. Share your initial reaction and how you developed a plan and executed it. 

When responding to this question, pay attention to your phrasing to ensure you don’t unintentionally blame your clients, managers, or co-workers. Also, as tempting as it may be, try not to criticize yourself when recalling the incident. So phrases like “could have,” “would have,” or “should have” mustn’t be anywhere near your vocabulary at that moment. They were unhelpful then and won’t do much now. 

Once you explain your solution, show the positive results achieved from your actions. Emphasize your ability to own up to your mistakes and turn things around if you or your team ever make a mistake. 

Example: “As we were preparing to go live, our speaker wasn’t there. The second I realized this I contacted their admin, we located them quickly, and they were able to join just a few minutes late. As a result, the event went on with just a few minutes of delay in start time.”


5. Talk about what you learned from the mistake and what you’ve done to avoid repeating it

The most important part of making a mistake is how you bounce back and the lesson you take away from it. Otherwise, it just becomes that embarrassing thing you did but can never think about again. This is why it is important to talk about what you learned, and the steps you’re taking to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again. It shows your initiative and capacity to objectively analyze events while indicating that you understand what caused the mistake. 

Also, don’t leave out details mentioning how you addressed negative behaviour, protocols, misunderstandings, or a lack of skills that contributed to the issue. This will tell the interviewer that you’re always ready to adapt and improve and not a repeat offender. 

Example: “This taught me that I have to be better prepared for last-minute changes. I created a checklist for all the major components of events I was coordinating going forward—including everywhere various pieces of information had been communicated or recorded—so the next time something similar happened, I had something that I was able to refer to easily to make sure I had everything covered and wouldn’t miss a beat.”

When in doubt, use the S.T.A.R method in your response. Describe the situation, task, action, and result of the error to make it evident that you learned from it. Don’t forget to put a positive spin on your answer by framing “mistakes” as “learning experiences” that increased your workplace competency. 


With these tips and sample answers at your fingertips, you’ll be able to show the recruiter that you’re the sharpest tool in the box and not the rusty one they should throw out. 

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

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