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“Tell Me About a Time You Failed”: How to Answer + Examples

“Tell me about a time you failed” or “What is your biggest failure?” can be scary interview questions to answer, but we are here to tell you how to approach and ace them in your next interview!
“Tell Me About a Time You Failed”: How to Answer + Examples

Questions such as “Tell me about a time you failed” or “What is your biggest failure?” are notoriously difficult to answer. You’d assume a job interview is the place to sell yourself and talk only about your strengths and accomplishments.

And you aren’t entirely wrong. The thing is, your failures are equally important. They shaped you into the professional you are today.

They taught you how to prevail. Ultimately, your failures probably made you a stronger candidate.

That’s what recruiters want to hear about — how you accept your missteps and what you learn from them. Self-aware, resilient candidates are every recruiter’s dream. These are the qualities that will help you absolutely nail your job interview. And we’ll show you how.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why interviewers ask “Tell me about a time you failed” or “What is your biggest failure?”
  • Examples of failures you can mention
  • How to answer the question about a time you failed (with examples)

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Why Interviewers Ask “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”

To assess your self-awareness

As funny as it sounds, some people don’t have the ability to understand that they made a mistake and accept responsibility.

So when recruiters ask you about a time you failed, they want to assess the level of your self-awareness and if you’re able to reflect on your actions and accept consequences.

To ensure you learn from your mistakes

Recruiters want to know how your past failures contributed to your professional growth.

Making mistakes and failing is completely natural. What’s important is that you don’t get discouraged and quit, but get inspired and learn from your failures. It’s the best way to grow, and recruiters want to make sure you have the right mindset for this.

💡 Some studies indicate that we might not always be learning from our mistakes. So don’t feel utterly discouraged if you feel like you haven’t learned enough from yours.

The results are similar across many other studies, and it can be argued that people tend to learn more from their successes or from other people’s failures.

To gauge willingness to take risks and overcome challenges

Questions about failure will reveal your problem-solving skills, your willingness to take risks, and your ability to overcome challenges.

By asking them, the recruiters are interested in how you approach difficult situations, how you make risky decisions, and how you handle their consequences. Being able to deal with challenges, come up with creative responses, and bounce back quickly is one of the most desirable skills in the workplace.

To determine if you’re a cultural fit

Talking about your failures will display several key traits recruiters are looking for, such as accountability, growth mindset, flexibility, and collaboration.

Companies often focus on at least some of these as their key values, so displaying them can show you’re a cultural fit who can contribute to the company in a meaningful way.

How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”

Here’s how to answer “Tell me about a time you failed”:

  • Be honest and address a real failure.
  • Describe what led to it and the consequences.
  • Focus on the lessons learned.
  • Stay positive and take responsibility.
  • Use the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) framework for crafting your answer.

Focus on how the failure aided your growth

It’s not about finding the perfect candidate or analyzing a particular failure in detail. The true objective of this question is about your ability to learn and grow.

Check out the video below:

For your answer, choose a significant failure that’s relevant to the industry and the job you’re applying for. Ideally, you should pick an example that demonstrates your growth in a skill or competency that’s important for the role you’re interviewing for.

If you want to learn how to answer other common interview questions, sign up for our free course.

Be honest and authentic

Choose a failure that really happened, don’t make one up for the interview. Chances are they will sound cliché, you’ll get uncomfortable because you’re lying, and recruiters will sense it from a mile away.

You’ll be much more confident with an authentic failure that is relevant to the job you’re applying for. And because it happened to you, you’ll be able to provide more details and lessons learned.

Highlight the specific things you learned

In your answer, focus on the learning experience: what did you learn from that failure and what skills it helped you develop. Avoid generic statements and talk about particular areas in which the failure in question made you stronger. For example:

  • A major miscommunication might teach you how to communicate in an assertive way at regular intervals with everyone involved in the project.
  • A project that was late, because some people were on vacation, might teach you how to plan time and tasks after checking and confirming each team member’s availability and capacity in the next X months.
  • Ignoring customer feedback might teach you that disregarding people’s opinions affects business decisions and interpersonal relationships, which will make you work harder on establishing and maintaining relationships and be more open to others’ opinions.

Highlight the actions or steps taken to overcome failure

In the workplace, there are usually 3 types of mistakes:

  • Preventable: A mistake made within a strictly defined process or routine, usually because of a lack of attention or incompetence.
  • Complexity-related: Mistakes in a complex system due to the uncertainty of work — a combination of circumstances, people, and needs that never occurred before.
  • Intelligent: A mistake that happens when a particular situation never happened before and experimentation is needed to solve it. These mistakes are considered good because they allow growth.

Try to classify your work mistakes and failures, this will help you draw the lessons learned and prepare steps to improve and overcome them.

It’ll demonstrate your problem-solving abilities and the capacity to turn each bad experience into a valuable lesson.

Be positive

There’s no place for negativity and complaining in a job interview. It’ll leave a bad impression and show you don’t know how to handle difficult situations.

Instead, choose your words wisely. Use a positive tone and emphasize your growth mindset. It’ll show you’re adaptable and thankful for every experience, no matter how bad it is.

Use the STAR formula

“Tell me about a time you failed” is one of the common behavioral interview questions. This means that recruiters are asking for examples of your past behavior to predict how you’ll behave in the future.

The best strategy for answering behavioral questions is using the STAR (situation-task-action-result) framework:

  • (S)ituation: describe the situation and provide context.
  • (T)ask: what tasks you planned on doing to tackle the issue.
  • (A)ction: what you did (step-by-step).
  • (R)esult: what happened thanks to your efforts.

This format will help you tell a story with as many details as possible.

Grab a pen and paper and jot down your main arguments for each component of the STAR method, and then start practicing. The Mock Interview tool will help you perfect your answer. Having recorded your answer, you’ll get detailed feedback on its quality and delivery, after which you can reiterate and practice again. AI interview feedback Check out how Big Interview helped Abby land an offer at Goldman Sachs:

Examples of Failures and How to Talk About Them in an Interview

Common examples of failures you can mention in a job interview include:

  • Failing to meet a project deadline
  • Miscommunication with a team member
  • Unsuccessful sales initiative
  • Taking on too many responsibilities at once
  • Underestimating project budget
  • Ignoring customer feedback

Failing to meet a project deadline

Situation: Provide context for the failure, like tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, or miscalculation.

Actions: Explain the actions or factors leading to the failure, such as poor time management or inadequate resources.

Outcome: Describe the consequences of missing the deadline, like client dissatisfaction or team member frustration.

Learning points: Emphasize the steps taken to address the situation and the lessons learned, like implementing better planning, communication, or collaboration strategies.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Failing to meet a project deadline

One of my biggest failures was when I missed a critical deadline for our major client. They had high expectations and the deadline was really tight, but on top of that, I completely miscalculated the time needed to complete the project. I also failed to predict different complexities along the way and allocate adequate resources. The client was not happy and my team ended up stressed and overworked. I knew it was my fault, so I communicated with the client transparently and took responsibility. I also did a root cause analysis and identified bottlenecks by reviewing the project timeline and checking the main dependencies. My main mistake was not clearly defining project milestones and calculating the time needed for each. This affected team coordination and project tracking, and, together with some technical difficulties, caused a major delay. The situation was difficult but it helped me improve my planning skills and distribute tasks in a more efficient way, but this experience also taught me just how crucial thinking two steps ahead is. Luckily, I learned from my mistake and it never happened again.

Miscommunication with a team member

Situation: Detail a miscommunication between you and a colleague that led to unnecessary conflicts or work delays.

Actions: Explain the causes of the miscommunication, such as unclear instructions, cultural differences, or technological barriers.

Outcome: Describe the negative impact of the miscommunication on work progress or teamwork.

Learning points: Highlight the measures introduced to improve communication, such as using concise language, leveraging technology, or employing active listening tactics.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Miscommunication with a team member

One of my biggest failures was when I miscommunicated with the rest of my team, especially one coworker, which led to duplicate work and unnecessary conflict. The problem was that I didn’t have time to create documentation for the project we were working on, and I obviously wasn’t clear enough during the team meeting. This resulted in my coworker writing a part of the code that one of the other developers was already working on. We caught the mistake and redistributed tasks, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was duplicate work, for which the affected coworker got mad at me. I asked him to grab a coffee that week after work, and I apologized and explained the situation. Most importantly, I never again allowed myself not to provide a clear plan and detailed documentation for each project we take on. It does take time but at least I know the entire team will be more efficient, communication will be transparent, and tasks will be handled correctly.

Unsuccessful sales initiative

Situation: Explain how you launched a sales campaign that didn’t yield the expected results.

Actions: Describe the strategy and actions taken to drive sales, such as a new marketing approach or customer segmentation.

Outcome: Share the disappointing sales figures or loss of revenue caused by the initiative.

Learning points: Emphasize the analysis conducted to understand the root causes and the adjustments made for future campaigns, like refining the sales pitch, modifying targeting, or reevaluating product offerings.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Unsuccessful sales initiative

One of the worst mistakes I made as a sales associate was managing a campaign that didn’t yield the expected results. We tested a new approach that targeted a specific customer segment, but it fell short of our sales projections and we actually lost revenue. This affected the team morale tremendously and our CEO was disappointed with our team. In the aftermath, we realized that our pitch wasn’t resonating with the target audience, plus our customer segmentation wasn’t as accurate as expected, so we offered a package that wasn’t suitable for potential customers. When it became clear, we took a different approach to customer segmentation, changed the tools we used, and made more use of available analytics and customer feedback. Overall, I’m actually glad I had this experience because I learned a lot and there’s no chance I’d let something similar happen again. It was an important lesson for me and the rest of the team.

Taking on too many responsibilities at once

Situation: Describe how you overcommitted to multiple projects, causing delays or reduced quality in your work.

Actions: Explain how you tried to juggle multiple tasks, leading to missed deadlines or burnout.

Outcome: Share the consequences, such as having to reprioritize tasks, disappointing stakeholders, or negatively affecting team morale.

Learning points: Emphasize the importance of delegation, time management, and setting realistic expectations moving forward.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Taking on too many responsibilities

One of my biggest failures has to be when I committed to 5 different projects simultaneously. I wanted to be productive, prove myself, and earn more money. In reality, my actions caused delays for others involved and affected the quality of my work. I was torn between several major projects, constantly reprioritizing and obsessing over them, and my clients were, of course, disappointed. The experience humbled me and taught me to be more careful with my time. After that, I started measuring exactly how much time I need for each component of each project. It helped me determine accurate estimates, so I slowly started to get better. I also learned how to say no and stop accepting projects I know I won’t have the capacity to complete.

Underestimating project budget

Situation: Detail a project where you miscalculated the required budget, causing insufficient funds for its completion.

Actions: Describe how you initially planned the budget and the factors that led to miscalculations or overspending.

Outcome: Discuss the consequences of going over budget, such as project delays, management intervention, or having to find additional funding.

Learning points: Highlight the improvements made in budget planning, cost control, and better communication with team members and stakeholders.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Underestimating project budget

My biggest failure was underestimating the budget for a project, which resulted in insufficient funds for its completion. When planning the budget at the beginning, I took into account all the foreseeable expenses. However, I didn’t consider unexpected costs. When we exceeded the limit our ESP plan covered, it was clear that we’ll need additional resources. This caused some delay and the intervention on our C-suite managers’ side. I was really embarrassed but the experience taught me a valuable lesson on budget planning and cost control. I also started regularly communicating with the stakeholders on budgetary expectations and potential risks that could increase the budget, which helped me improve my budgeting skills over time.

Ignoring customer feedback

Situation: Detail how you disregarded customer feedback, leading to a missed opportunity for improving a product or service.

Actions: Explain how you made decisions without incorporating customer input or dismissing their concerns.

Outcome: Describe the negative impact on customer satisfaction, sales, or churn rate as a result of not addressing their feedback.

Learning points: Highlight the importance of valuing customer feedback and implementing Changes to enhance customer experience and build loyalty.

Sample “greatest failure” answer: Ignoring customer feedback

I ignored our client’s feedback once, and I consider that to be one of the biggest failures in my career. I worked as a designer in an email marketing agency and our biggest client was heavily involved in email marketing production for their brand. During that year’s holiday season, which is the most important period of the year in email marketing, they had several design requirements that differed drastically from what we were doing in the past. I considered them to be too risky, particularly during this time when we tend to see higher unsubscribe and spam rates. So I ignored their feedback, explained why, and proceeded with the initial plan. Those holiday campaigns did not do badly, the revenue was decent, but our relationship with the client deteriorated and I spent the next several months trying to make amends. I kept thinking about what I could do differently and if their design requirements would produce better results. This inspired me to create a slightly different workflow with a complementary QA checklist and regular creative meetings. We continued collaborating with that client for the next 3 years and this experience taught me how much interpersonal relationships matter. I’m definitely more open to feedback and new perspectives.

Want some advice for handling interview questions typical of some specific careers? Give these a read:

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About Failures at Job Interviews

Being overly negative or defensive

Avoid being negative or defensive, and not taking responsibility for your failures. Describe what happened, own your actions, be grateful for the experience, and emphasize the lessons learned.

Placing blame or making excuses

Blaming others or making excuses will show that you’re unreliable and not really a team player.

Instead, you need to take responsibility for your actions and failures. Even if you speak about a team failure, be aware of your actions that contributed to it.

Being vague or avoiding the question altogether

Giving a vague answer or avoiding it altogether will often happen if:

  • You don’t prepare in advance because you didn’t expect the question.

To avoid it, practice several times so that you don’t get caught off guard and your answer sounds natural.

  • You don’t like talking about failures and want to conceal details.

This will show recruiters you’re unable to understand and take ownership of your failures, and that you might be difficult to work with.

The solution is simple: be mindful, responsible, and practice before interviews!

Humble bragging and downplaying

“My biggest failure is that I earned my company only $1M when our target was $3M.”

Don’t go for this approach — it’s obvious you’re humble bragging and not really answering the question.

Similarly, don’t downplay your mistakes, as it shows you have no capacity to deal with negative situations in your life.

Being honest and realistic, no matter how difficult the situation, it will always pay off.

“Tell Me About a Time You Failed”: Popular Opinion vs. Expert Advice

To be honest, no one likes (or knows how) to talk about negative experiences in a job interview. It’s awkward and feels like you’re being tricked into disqualifying yourself from the running. 

Let’s see what job seekers say about how to answer the question about failures on popular forums like Reddit and Quora and how this stacks up to expert advice. 

Deepabaldoshia says: 

To answer this question, I would recommend mentioning something that is not relevant to your MBA or professional life. Each one of us have some or the other thing in life which we are disappointed with, that one time we could’ve done something better. So mention that one mistake followed by what you learned from it (to end it on a good note).

For example, saying I’ve not cherished time with my grandpa, I only realized it after he was gone da da da… I learned the importance of spending time with our loved ones, they’re not going to be with us forever!

Career expert comments:

Generally, this is a nice viewpoint. But in a job interview, this type of answer won’t work. For some, it might be too personal; but the main problem is that it tells nothing about the candidate’s skills and the ability to learn from their failures. 

I’d advise you to do exactly what this person says not to do. I’d definitely talk about something relevant to my education or professional life. That’s the only way to show that I’m humble and able to handle failures and learn from them. I’d just make sure not to choose a catastrophic failure that would indicate I don’t know how to do my job. That one time I accidentally messed up the URL redirection? My manager might have been a bit mad at me, I definitely messed up, but I owned it, apologized, learned how to do it properly, and it never happened again. See? That’s a failure directly related to my job, but it’s still a good answer.

Some people agree that it’s not about what you say but how you say it:


These questions are not good questions, but they are common enough that you can’t just disqualify the employer who asks them. (Though you should disqualify any employers that ask you what type of animal you would be).

If it helps, they are not actually asking you for your biggest failure – don’t tell them that. They are asking if you know how to do corporate double speak. See all the other answers to this thread.


It’s all bull****, so just bull****. Being well-spoken and seeming coherent is all that matters. 99% of people say something incredibly similar to others.

Career expert comments:

This question is commonly asked, and for a good reason. Just because candidates don’t understand the intention behind it doesn’t mean it’s nonsense or that they should avoid speaking about their failures. And just because 99% of candidates have a similar answer just proves candidates don’t prepare for interviews. Imagine how easy it is to stand out and be a part of that 1% if you take a minute to prepare. Try it and see for yourself 😉

Machiavelli127 says: 

I usually talk about a mistake I made when I was new in a position and it was something I wasn’t trained on / explained very well. Then I implemented a new control to ensure that mistake never happens again. Usually throw out a line about “it’s human to make mistakes, but I personally feel I need to do everything I can to ensure mistakes are not repeated” and discuss the new control and how it works. And mention that control has worked well in preventing any future mistakes.

The question is really about taking a negative and turning it into a positive. Not saying to give a fake mistake, but your response to the mistake is what’s most important (i.e. what you did to mitigate damage and to improve the process).

Career expert comments: 

Yup, it’s all about learning from your mistakes and turning negatives into positives. It showcases your learning ability and an optimistic approach to work, which every interviewer loves. And yup, the answer this person suggests can work. I’d just be careful about how to phrase it. You want to avoid blaming others. It looks bad and hints that you’re unable to take responsibility for your actions and failures. Saying “I wasn’t trained to do it so I didn’t know how” puts the blame on others who were in charge of your training. So shifting the focus to something more “objective” would be better. “I failed at X because I was overwhelmed with all the information during onboarding and somehow missed instructions on how to do X. But the fact that I made that mistake made me remember it forever and now I’m always on the lookout. It never happened again” might work. That way, you’re hinting that it might not have been entirely your fault, but you take responsibility for your part.

Final Thoughts

  • “Tell me about a time you failed” and “What is your biggest failure” are common interview questions that often catch candidates off guard.
  • The key to this question is not in the failure itself, but in how a candidate accepts it, deals with it, learns from it.
  • Be honest and positive, draw lessons from the experience, and don’t make excuses or avoid responsibility.
  • Never place the blame on others or try to downplay your failures, as it’ll show that you’re unreliable.
  • Common failures you can mention are failing to meet a project deadline, underestimating a project budget, ignoring customer feedback, causing miscommunication within the team, unsuccessful sales initiatives, and similar.
  • Once you know the failure you want to talk about, make sure to practice! It’s the only way to ensure you’re ready for the big day.


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What are some examples of failures for a job interview?

Some of the failures you can talk about in an interview are failing to meet a deadline, miscommunication, unsuccessful sales initiative, taking on too many responsibilities, underestimating a project budget, and ignoring customer feedback.

What to avoid when they ask me “what is your biggest failure”?

Avoid being negative or defensive. Never place the blame on other people for your failures, don’t make excuses, and don’t be vague. Humble bragging won’t get you anywhere as recruiters will see through your actions right away, so don’t do it.

Is it OK to admit to failing?

It’s totally fine to openly talk about your failures in a job interview. In fact, avoiding to talk about them will raise red flags and make you look bad. Check out this paper that demonstrates how revealing your failures is a useful strategy for building and strengthening interpersonal relationships.

Why are recruiters asking me about my failures?

It’s not necessarily about failures themselves: recruiters are more interested in how you deal with failures and negative experiences, if you have that growth mindset and draw lessons from each failure, and if you’re a reliable person who can take responsibility for their mistakes and actions.

What if I can’t think of any major failure?

If you don’t have relevant major failures, focus on smaller problems or difficult situations you had to go through, like maybe disagreeing with coworkers, a mistake an entire team made, or conflicts of schedule. Describe the context, how you approached a situation, how you solved it and what the outcome was. Highlight the things you learned.

What if I have little experience and haven’t even had the chance to fail yet?

If you don’t have enough relevant work experience, you can talk about minor failures from your academic life or even personal failure such as not meeting a certain goal, having to navigate a difficult situation, or handling an interpersonal conflict.

What if my greatest failure has been so catastrophic that talking about it will likely kill my chances?

You should try to be honest during interviews, but it’s also important to consider the impact that sharing a catastrophic story would have on your hireability. That said, you need to strike a balance between honesty and presenting yourself in the best light. If your failure was so grave that you think you’ll miss an opportunity because of it, then consider picking another, more acceptable misstep. Or, you can try to modify the story a bit — don’t lie, but be careful with words and focus on the learning experience, not the event itself.

Maja Stojanovic
A writer specialized in interview preparation and resume building. Spent 5+ years tirelessly seeking a meaningful, rewarding job. Which is exactly what I’ll help you find.
Edited By:
Briana Dilworth
Briana Dilworth
Fact Checked By:
Pamela Skillings
Pamela Skillings

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