Top Culture Fit Questions

How to Answer: Tell Me About a Time You Failed

Although no one likes talking about a time they’ve failed, the truth is that everyone has experienced failure at some point in their lives. As Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” When employers ask this question during an interview for an internship or entry-level job, they’re interested in learning about your willingness to take risks and your ability to overcome challenges. In order to come up with an answer that shows that you’ve learned from your mistakes, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve successfully bounced back from failure and that you’ve learned important lessons along the way.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to be honest. No one is perfect, and even the most successful people have failed more times than they can count. Instead of aiming for perfection by saying that you’ve never made a mistake, focus on how you can turn a negative into a positive.

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing your answer.

Pick a real failure that you were able to learn from.

Think carefully about some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your life. Did they happen because you took a risk or tried something new? Or maybe you failed at something you’re normally very good at but circumstances got in the way. Whether your biggest failure was the Calculus test you didn’t pass in college or the track meet you lost in high school, the key to coming up with a great answer is to pick a situation where something went wrong but that something wasn’t catastrophic. This will make it easier to keep the story short and to focus on what you learned rather than how it felt to fail.

No matter what you choose, make sure you stay away from personal or overly emotional topics that don’t relate to the job at hand and could make the recruiter uncomfortable.

Outline the steps you took to overcome the challenge.

Once you’ve given some context for the situation and how it developed, outline the steps you took to get back on track. For example, if you’re talking about a test you failed, you can mention that you talked to your professor to get advice, then worked hard and went to office hours for extra help to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Pro Tip: Be detailed when outlining your approach. This will show the hiring manager that you’re not only proactive about problem-solving, but that you’re also able to think through the best ways to overcome a challenge.

Show how you were able to bounce back.

Finally, talk about what you learned. This is a great way to show the interviewer that you’re focused on personal and professional growth, and that you’re able to take even the most difficult situations and turn them into something positive. Most of all, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you’re resilient, a quality that employers always look for when screening candidates.

Say something like: “When I took Calculus my freshman year, I knew that I was in over my head. I’ve always been pretty good at math but the class was really challenging and I found myself falling behind. When I got my final grade and realized I had failed the class, I immediately went to talk to my professor and she helped me put together a plan for retaking the class and passing it. Over the course of the next semester, I went to office hours every week and asked a friend who was good at Calculus to help me with my homework. After struggling with that class, I realized that college was going to be much more challenging than high school, so I made sure to carefully look over the syllabus of every class I took and to set up meetings with professors to go through questions and ask for advice. I found that to be a great way of heading off potential problems and I managed to pass Calculus with flying colors the second time.”

Answering this question might seem challenging at first, but it can be a great opportunity to show the interviewer that you’re able to troubleshoot problems and to learn lessons that will serve you well in both your professional and personal lives.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Stand Out with Business Cards and find answers to common interview questions such as Would You Work Holidays and/or Weekends?