Interview Tips – Addressing Mistakes

You are in the midst of an interview and you think it is going well when the interviewer asks you to talk about a mistake you’ve made and how you handled it.  Your instinct is to avoid talking about mistakes and to focus exclusively on the positive.  But let’s face it, we are human so we’ve all made mistakes.  If you are prepared to discuss a mistake it can work to your advantage in an interview.

Acknowledging a mistake is important to demonstrate your self-awareness and growth.  We all make mistakes but it is in how we handle them that we differentiate ourselves.

Own It

Briefly describe the situation and what you did wrong.  It is not necessary to go into significant detail but provide enough of an overview to put the error in context.  Take responsibility for your error.  Don’t blame others.

What Did You Do?

You then want to focus on what you did when you realized the error.  Did you notify someone?  Did you take responsibility?  Did you address the issue?  What was the eventual outcome?

What Did You Learn?

The most critical aspect of your response is what you learned from the experience.  Were you able to add a new review step to avoid doing something similar again?  Did you identify a way to verify the input or confirm the information to be sure you were working with the right data?  Did you identify a weakness in how you work that you’ve had to overcome in some way?  If you can demonstrate that you learned something and it has impacted your behavior going forward, then you have turned the mistake into a positive.

Similar to a behavioral interview question where you want to respond using the STAR method – Situation/Task, Action and Result you want to be sure to explain the situation, define your actions and focus on your results and learning.  Managers want employees who can recognize their mistakes and learn from them.

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