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“Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”: Best Answers and Examples

“Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”: Best Answers and Examples

Behavioral-based interview questions can make anyone nervous, but proper preparation and understanding go a long way into acing the interview and securing the job.

By prepping for some of the most common behavioral interview questions, such as, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” you can answer transparently and confidently. The key? Use logic and problem-solving skills to navigate these tricky behavioral-based questions to impress your potential employer.

In this post, learn the best strategies for responding to behavioral questions that will help you nail the interview and leave a lasting impression.

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Why Interviewers Ask Behavioral Questions

A resume will tell an employer a lot about what you have achieved, but it’s not going to show how you think, how you act day to day, or how you respond to issues that arise at work. Behavioral questions help an interviewer see more into your thought processes.

Sure, it can feel vulnerable to share your biggest weaknesses or confess about a time you made a mistake. But the employer is human, too. We all slip up from time to time, and it isn’t the end of the world. What really matters is how you respond. Are you pointing fingers or taking the blame? Do you jump into problem-solving or sulk and complain?

There are many variations of “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” examples, with that exact phrasing being one of the most common interview questions.

It’s crucial to understand that the interviewer isn’t trying to trick you or confess all your wrongdoings. Instead, they just want to see how to respond to different situations. Here are some of the top behavioral-based interview questions and answers, plus tips on understanding the meaning behind the question and advice on what not to say.

1. The Question: Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake

What It Means:

Everyone makes mistakes. The employer wants to get an insight into why the mistake happened, but more importantly, how you followed up. Did you own up and take responsibility for the mistake? Are you blaming it on other coworkers? What logic did you follow to clean up the mistake and prevent it from happening again?

How to Respond:

Be honest, and generally, stick to smaller mistakes rather than something large and detrimental to the business.

Start by describing the situation. Explain how the mistake happened, how you identified the issue, and how you fixed the problem. Also, follow up with how you made sure the mistake wouldn’t be repeated by you or anyone else on the team. Did you make documentation explaining how to properly use new software? Did you start asking for help or delegating work when you noticed items slipping through the cracks?

What Not to Say:

It’s best not to outline huge mistakes that would keep you from doing a good job in the new position you are interviewing for.

For example, if you lost a major client, you wouldn’t want to focus on that mistake in a behavioral interview question. Still, be honest — don’t make up a story because it’s easy to get caught in a lie. Don’t say that nothing comes to mind because we all make mistakes from time to time. Also, take responsibility for the error rather than blaming it on your former manager or teammates.

2. The Question: Talk About a Time You Had To Prioritize Some Projects Over Others

What It Means:

Businesses are often working on multiple tasks, short-term goals, and long-term projects all at once. As a result, the employer wants to learn how you manage your time and if you do so wisely. This question can help you discuss your time management skills and how you meet deadlines.

How to Respond:

Outline a time when you were juggling multiple tasks, and share how you decided to work on them to ensure they were all completed by the deadline. Perhaps you delegated or automated some of the easier day-to-day tasks. Share how you chose which projects to focus on completing first.

What Not to Say:

Because this is not a question about weaknesses or mistakes, it’s best not to focus on a time when you had several responsibilities falling through the cracks.

Again, don’t blame others for pushing too much work on you or not upholding their own responsibilities. Instead, stay positive and share how you tackled an overwhelming to-do list. Another thing to remember is not to share times that you came in extra early, worked through lunch, or stayed late. While an employer might like to hear how dedicated you are, it could set you up against lofty expectations that lead to burnout if you get the job.

3. The Question: Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With a Coworker or Boss

What It Means:

A workplace melds together a variety of minds, but that means disagreements and conflicts are bound to arise.

This question is meant to delve more into how you communicate. The employer hopes to know if you are strong and confident in communicating and working through different ideas or if you tend to either keep quiet or steamroll others with your own opinions.

How to Respond:

Share a time that you had a minor disagreement with someone at work. Perhaps your boss wanted to implement new software that you felt was inefficient, or a coworker created a slogan for a marketing campaign that you felt didn’t work for the audience. Did you speak up, and if so, how? Did you email your thoughts, call a meeting, or a combination?

Explain the situation and how the team compromised. Plus, share the outcome. For example, did you find different software with similar features that boosted team productivity? Did you tweak the slogan and end up with a collaborative and successful marketing campaign?

What Not to Say:

As with any interview question, there’s no need to put others down in your response. Instead, you want to show that you understood other points of view and wanted to communicate and collaborate to find the best solution as a team.

Avoid answering with a scenario where you decided to stay quiet, as this may show that you aren’t confident in your work or aren’t willing to communicate with your colleagues for the good of the business.

4. The Question: Discuss a Time You Received Criticism

What It Means:

Perhaps your boss gave you a negative yearly review, or a customer called and complained about you. You might have had an off day or made some mistakes on a project. It happens to everyone, but what matters to a potential employer is how you reacted and rectified your behaviors moving forward.

How to Respond:

Focus on more minor critiques, such as missing a deadline, not delegating work, or receiving a complaint from a customer. Share how you responded—did you apologize or show appreciation for the feedback? Then, outline how you decided to improve yourself.

For example, perhaps you received a critique for not being up to speed on SEO, so you decided to take a certification class and boosted that skill.

What Not to Say:

The answer should focus on a time you received criticism at work rather than outside of work. Don’t bash the person who gave you a negative critique; instead, show that you understand where the criticism was coming from and how you initially responded. Then, delve into what you did to improve your actions and turn the criticism into praise in the future.

5. The Question: Share a Time You Motivated Your Team

What It Means:

This is a question about your leadership style. The interviewer wants to know how you inspire your team to be productive and successful, even if you aren’t necessarily interviewing for a management position.

How to Respond:

Focus on a time that you motivated your team to hit a big goal, meet a tight deadline, or boost sales or productivity.

Did you offer rewards or words of encouragement? Did you jump in to lend a hand even when it wasn’t technically your job or responsibility? Discuss how you got your team to meet an important target, and share the specifics of how you met or exceeded that target without sacrificing quality work.

What Not to Say:

You don’t want to show that you are some malevolent leader that was unnecessarily strict to push coworkers to work harder. Of course, you also want to focus on motivators that were successful. You should have solid evidence that your leadership actions produced real results.

Answer behavioral questions thoughtfully, honestly, and confidently to impress interviewers.

Behavioral-based interview questions aren’t meant to leave you stumped or make you look bad. Instead, they’re a way for an interviewer to get to know how you communicate, respond to problems, and how you think.

It’s a great way to give depth to who you are outside of the resume, and you can really shine if you remain open, honest, and upbeat in your responses.

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