Although no one likes talking about their mistakes, being able to discuss your past mistakes in a job interview can actually be a great way of impressing the interviewer. So when you encounter a question like, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” during an interview for an internship or entry-level job, you should focus on how you dealt with the mistake and what you were able to learn from it. When the hiring manager asks this question, it’s not because they’re trying to trip you up; rather, it’s a chance for the interviewer to see that you are able to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them, two very important qualities. An employer would rather hire candidates who admit and grow from their mistakes than those who think they never make any.
As with any frequently asked question, it’s important to make sure you have an answer prepared before you go in for the job interview. These tips will help you describe a time you made a mistake in a way that will make it clear you’re the right person for the job.
It’s important to be able to admit that you’re capable of making mistakes (as we all are), and that you’re willing and able to admit it. Therefore, you should refer to an actual mistake you made instead of attempting to appear that you don’t make any.
It’s tempting to catalog how other people’s actions led to your error. But if you spend time during your interview talking about all the ways in which others — or the company itself — failed, you’re not actually admitting you made a mistake. Instead of pointing the finger at others, acknowledge the role you played. Your answer should be related to work; the interviewer doesn’t want to hear about the argument you had with your parents. Nor do you want to reveal any mistakes that could indicate a lack of professionalism on your part. Stick with school or work-related issues that stemmed from a true oversight or misunderstanding:
Highlight the resolution
Make sure to spend time discussing how you addressed the problem and outline the concrete steps to took to rectify it. The interviewer will want to know how you handle complications.
Emphasize lessons learned
Demonstrate that the mistake you made was not in vain. The interviewer wants to know that you can learn from your mistakes and take action to make sure they don’t happen again. By concluding the story of your mistake with what you learned, you can frame the incident in a positive light and show that you’re able to grow from your mistakes.
Say something like: “At my previous internship, I underestimated the amount of time I would need to work on a presentation for a team meeting. I was still getting used to the workflow in a busy office so I didn’t realize that I would need an extra few hours to put a deck together. Luckily, I managed to catch the mistake before the presentation was due to take place and asked my manager for help to complete it in time. It was a valuable lesson in time management and I’ve become better at prioritization and mapping out my schedule as a result of that experience.”
While it can be awkward to discuss mistakes you’ve made, your ability to do so is an asset. Interviewers know it’s a difficult question, and that’s why the right response will signal that you’re the right candidate for the job.