Tell Me About a Time You Made a mistake

TIPS   8 July 2022

Talking about mistakes can be tricky in an interview situation. Particularly, when you’re trying to present yourself in the best light.

Often this question can make candidates flustered, as they struggle to find an example and inadvertently trip themselves up.

So how can you talk about failure without spoiling your chances? We’re asked our expert recruiters to take a look at why interviewers ask this question, how to frame your answer and why it’s important to tackle it head-on.

What does the interviewer want to know?

This question is similar to another interview favourite, ‘what are your weaknesses’.

The interviewer wants to know how you handle tricky situations. Your approach will tell them a huge amount about you, your working style and whether you can remain objective when things go wrong.

This question is essentially asking – ‘Are you someone who can learn from failure?’.

Hiring managers know that everyone makes mistakes – they want to see if you can be self aware enough to identify where you’ve gone wrong and move forward.

How to answer the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” question well.

Preparation is key when it comes to answering ‘tell me about a mistake’. Whilst you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed, you need to have an example ready to use.

For any behavioural question, it can help to use the STAR framework. STAR stands for:


You can use this to briefly describe the situation, your specific task, the thinking behind your approach and the actual outcome.

For this question, you need to add in an L and an N – what I learnt and what I would do differently next time.

How can I pick a good example?

As for ‘what are your weaknesses’, you need to choose a real example of a mistake you’ve made to talk about it credibly.

Try to find an example with a good lesson in it and avoid using anything that could raise questions over your ability to perform the role. All of us will have something that we can use here. A team failure can well work as you share the responsibility, however make sure you don’t just shift the blame onto your team members.

An Example Answer

“At my last job, I agreed to take on an additional project despite having a full workload. I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t handle the work, so I didn’t voice my concerns.

My new client then requested a tight deadline, which meant that work for an existing client looked like it would have to be pushed back, potentially compromising my client relationship.

I spoke to my manager and fortunately we were able to find some extra resource to enable both projects to be completed on time.

Looking back on the situation, I’ve realised how important it is be upfront with my manager and to carefully manage client expectations. If faced with a similar situation, I would ensure that I was realistic about what was achievable so that a solution could be found for both projects from the very beginning.”

Common pitfalls

The most common mistake is not to answer the question. Often candidates will say that they can’t think of any serious mistakes, maybe because they are detail orientated.

This approach is not actually as safe as it seems. Interviewers may think that you are blissfully unaware of mistakes you have made, that you would prefer not to admit to them, or that your standards are simply not that high.

Another way to fluff this question is to panic and blurt out the first thing that comes into your head, using an example that doesn’t present you well.

If you’re preparing for your next interview, our series of blogs can help you prepare.

You can also find more help and advice from our recruitment team or in our dedicated interview and CV tips section.

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