What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?

What to say when it comes to talking about failures and lessons

This question is mostly asked in the job interviews “What is your greatest failure?”

No one likes talking about their own failures and specially when it comes to interview, one gets nervous. We try to fret it, avoid talking about it as some of us feel shameful. For everyone to discuss their failures is not quite simple for them.

There is a saying “We are all failures – at least the best of us are.”

So, When you encounter with this  question, don’t hesitate while talking about your failures and relate them positively with the lessons that you’ve learnt from them.

  • Talk about the lesson or mistakes from which you have learned something.
  • Tell the interviewer how to handled the situation

***Points To Keep In Mind While Answering The Question***

While answering the question about your failures it is very important to understand and comprehend the distinction between good and bad failures. If a failure resulted in a loss or undesired results with no lesson, it’s best you avoid counting on them as an answer.

Choose only those failures that have been constructive and helpful to guide you through your life. The lesson learnt should be significant and worth sharing.

How to Answer the Question

Knowing how to represent yourself during an interview and what to say will only lead you create a better image in the yes of the interviewer. Read the points below to understand what can be suitable for you.

  • Learn to take the responsibility of your actions instead of blaming it on others
  • Show and reflect how you’ve learned from it
  • Elaborate on the steps you’d take to not fall into the same trap again
  • Show Your Strong Character
  • Share your story and focus on what you learned
  • Try to sound modest and acknowledge your shortcoming.
  • Be positive about the answer. Using words which reflect negativity or avoidance will not help
  • Do not defend yourself on the same. Accept it.

Some other Ways of Framing the same Question

The interviewer might always ask a direct question to you. Going easy isn’t always in mind of the interviewer. So you should know how and what variations of phrases can be used to to ask a simple question about ‘failures’ or ‘mistakes’

  • What’s your greatest professional failure?
  • Tell me about a mistake that you made and learned something from it.
  • What was your biggest mistake and what lesson did you learn from it?
  • Let’s talk about a decision that you regret.
  • What’s your greatest professional regret?

Best Possible Answers for
"Do you have any question for me?"

Possible Answer:

“I have faced different challenges in my career. I have stood up to them to my full potential. In one of these tasks, I feel I did not deliver the expected outcome. It was during the initial years of my career. I was a part of a team with other experienced co-workers. We were given the responsibility to improve the target by 20% at the end of three months. Each one of us worked with great zeal to achieve it. At the end of the quarter, we could only manage to hit 16%. Although we were praised for the collective effort, I personally felt disappointed with my team’s collective effort. During the course of the task, I gained experience required for working in a corporate environment but I feel I could have given better results at the end of it. I took it as a motivation to yield improved numbers in the coming years. And when the next target was given to us, we managed to attain the given figures with ease. The team acknowledged my effort and growth at the end. Although it was not exactly a big failure it ended up being a guide for me in tough circumstances.”

Possible Answer:

“Once I was given the responsibility to enter client data into the system. I had done similar data entry work previously. I was given significant time to wrap up the task. I split the work according to my deadline. When just 2 days were left, I shut down the system without saving my work. I quickly realized the mistake and restarted the work just to finish it in time. Most of the lost data was recovered and I managed to complete the task successfully with a few mistakes. Thereon I have been observant on saving the work before shutting down my system. Although I am not proud of this callousness, it has improved me professionally as well as personally.”

Possible Answer:

“I took a job where I was responsible for building a sales team that would fix the major revenue problems the company was having. I was overly confident in my abilities and certain I would be able to accomplish the goal. After arriving, though, I realized the problems were not just in revenue but in the way the company was organized. I knew within one month that I wouldn’t be able to make the impact I anticipated. I briefly considered quitting when I knew I wouldn’t come close to the sales goals I promised, but instead, I decided to focus on the things I could control. I met with the company’s executives and altered our sales goals for the year. We also decided to scale back the size of my team and bring on a consultant to fix some of the company’s deeper problems. Being in this situation reminded me of the importance of focusing on what you can control and collaborating to find solutions to complex problems. I also learned a hard lesson in humility and of not jumping in and making promises before fully understanding the scope of the problem.”

Possible Answer:

In my previous work – I worked there as a customer executive profile and there was my target to selling products. And I have used my convincing skills, and based on negotiating, I sold that product to the customer without any kind of trouble but somewhere I forgot to tell entire terms and conditions of product services. However, we all know every industry work on their customer service. But after sold product, there was fear in myself or it was the failure of the situation in my life in customer support profile and it could be raised to escalation from the customer side. On an instant basis.

Possible Answer:

While working in my previous position- I was diligent about setting goals and striving to meet them on time. There was a quarter last year when my department failed to meet the expected quota- and I take responsibility for that failure. I believe that I pushed my team too hard to meet deadlines- instead of taking time to cheer them on for their accomplishments. In retrospect- I feel that employees need to be nurtured in a professional capacity in order to be as productive as possible. I learned to break goals into smaller segments and offer incentives and rewards to the hardest workers.

Possible Answer:

“At some point in your career, you commit a mistake which can cause you embarrassment. I faced it once. Our team was given a task to prepare a presentation about ideas which can improve revenue generation. Each one of us was asked to use a particular font type and font size. By the end of the day, I had totally forgotten this little yet important detail. I prepared the presentation with great zeal but I did not pay any heed to the formatting. On the day of presentation, I went ahead to present my slides. When I finally opened the presentation, the font was not clear enough. It was a highly humiliating experience for me as my audience could not read anything. I quickly excused myself, unplugged the HDMI cable and within 5 minutes made a standard formatting change to manage my show. Later my team members appreciated my ideas, which was a great relief! Everything turned out to be fine at the end. Anyway, it was surely a day of enlightenment for me as I learned that attention to detail is important.”

Possible Answers:

When I was working with previous organizations the manager of the company gave a task that was unable to do by other team leaders. They gave me to handle a team of a group of members and asked to complete a target within a day. It was our most important client for our company. We started working on that but after half a day I realized that this method of doing work is not working and if I will continue of doing work like this then I will lose that important project, and I realized it is the failure of the situation in my life. Then I planned a strategy and started working according to that. I divide the task between a group of two and started working and at the same time, I was observing the whole task. And at the end of the day, we achieve a target a make backup ready for that. I have acknowledged the teamwork and its attempt and improvement at the end. Even if it was not perfectly a big failure it refined up being a lesson for me in the unforgiving situation of interaction.

Possible Answer:

“Early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson when I under-communicated with a client. Ultimately, this led to a loss of revenue for the department. When I realized what I had done wrong, I immediately took responsibility. I went to the client and explained the missing details and why I had overlooked communicating these details. The client respected my honesty and even though it took a little while, we finally got the client to work with us again. I learned the value of communicating, even the tough or negative information, and why it’s important to establishing trust and holding on to clients. I only had to make this mistake once to learn from it, though it was a tough way to learn.”

Possible Answer:

“In a corporate work environment, the basic foundation is built on trust. A client must develop trust with the service provider. And to build that trust, one must clear out each and every detail of the deal in advance. Once, I was dealing with a client for a particular product. To secure the deal, I purposely hid some crucial details. When the pact was in an advanced stage, my client backed out all of a sudden. On inquiring, I came to know that this was a result of hidden costs and terms which I had not explained. To make amends, I apologized to the client. Tough the client did not sign the deal, he appreciated my honesty. After a year, I was finally able to bring him onboard and got him to sign the deal. Although it was a success, I knew I had failed at some point. From that day on, I have been adhering to the ethics of work. You can say it was unprofessional of me. It has been my memorabilia to never walk that path ever again.”

Frequently Asked Questions


Should I be honest while answering this question?

Yes, being honest during your interview always helps but remember not to over do it. Getting extremely casual and just rambling about your mistakes without any sense wouldn’t fetch you interview points.

Why does the interviewer asks questions about your failure?

The interviewer aims at knowing about your potential in understanding and rectifying the mistakes that you might make during your tenure in the company. Hence these kind of questions float in during the interview.

  • Are you a person who can learn from failure?
  • Are you self-aware enough to acknowledge failure and weakness?
  • Do you take smart risks?
  • How do you view success, failure, and risk in general?