How to Think about Mistakes you've Made in a Constructive Way

Estimated reading time ~ 2 min
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MGH Center for Women's Mental Health

Interview questions may seem arbitrary, but they’re carefully prepared in advance to make sure a short meeting gives a company the ability to fully assess your fit for an organization and measure your potential as a future member of a team.

Hiring managers are particularly interested in understanding your ability to bounce back from a mistake or a failure, as well as what you learned from this type of experience. To this point, you’ll most likely be asked some version of the question “Tell me about a time when you failed” or “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.”

Your interviewer understands that people make mistakes (and may be distrusting of someone who portrays themselves as infallible!) They aren’t looking to catch you here, but rather to learn how you demonstrated ownership of the outcome and took something positive from the situation.

Use this acronym to help you craft your response to this type of question: A.R.R.O.W. - Accountability. Review. Resilience. Openness to Feedback. Willingness to Learn.

Accountability - The situation you share should not position you as a victim of circumstance. Your story should demonstrate accountability by assuming responsibility for the said shortcoming. You want to address your role in the situation.

Review - Briefly review the situation and the factors that led to the problem.

Resilience - Yes, you might have made a mistake. Yes, you may be underwhelmed with the outcome. Yes, you may have fallen short of a deadline. Regardless, these outcomes are not strong enough to take you off track for your career path. After providing an example, you should also mention how you managed to still thrive as a member of the team and how you remained flexible despite the challenge faced.

Openness to Feedback - Feedback received during a difficult situation is integral to your success moving forward. Share any feedback you received during or after the mistake. Then, list the steps you took to incorporate this feedback in future situations. Employers value individuals who prove that they are teachable and can respond to advice.

Willingness to Learn - Close your response by outlining the lessons learned, continued improvements, and increased responsibility in your work. You want to instill confidence in the interviewer that you are adaptable and always looking to improve.

Preparing for your interview is a necessary exercise that allows you to know your story, expand on your skills and experience, and communicate your values. By demonstrating your ability to exercise accountability, review/reassess your circumstance, remain resilient, show openness to feedback, and by displaying your willingness to learn, you can surely use this question to prove how you can contribute to your dream team.

Don't miss your target, Remember A.R.R.O.W.

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