“Tell me about a time you made a mistake”: best answers and examples

Behavior-based interview questions can make anyone nervous, but good preparation and understanding go a long way to interview success and job security.

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

In this article, learn the best strategies for answering behavioral questions that will help you ace the interview and leave a lasting impression.

Why Interviewers Ask Behavioral Questions

A resume will tell an employer a lot about what you’ve accomplished, but it won’t show how you think, how you act day-to-day, or how you react to issues that arise at work. Behavioral questions help an interviewer learn more about your thought processes.

Of course, it can feel vulnerable to share your biggest weaknesses or to admit a time when you’ve made a mistake. But the employer is also human. We all slip up from time to time, and it’s not the end of the world. What really matters is how you react. Are you pointing fingers or taking blame? Do you get into problem solving or do you sulk and complain?

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

It is crucial to understand that the interviewer is not trying to trick you or admit all your wrongdoings. Instead, they just want to see how to react to different situations. Here are some of the top behavior-based interview questions and answers, along with tips for understanding the meaning of the question and advice on what not to say.

1. The question: Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

What this means:

Everybody makes mistakes. The employer wants to know why the error occurred, but more importantly, how you followed up. Did you acknowledge and take responsibility for the error? Do you blame it on other colleagues? What logic did you follow to clean up the error and prevent it from happening again?

How to answer:

Be honest and generally stick to small mistakes rather than something big and detrimental to the business.

Start by describing the situation. Explain how the error occurred, how you identified the problem, and how you resolved it. Also, follow up on how you made sure the mistake wasn’t repeated by you or another team member. Have you written documentation explaining how to properly use new software? Did you start asking for help or delegating work when you noticed things slipping through the cracks?

What not to say:

It’s best not to describe huge mistakes that will keep you from doing a good job in the new position you’re interviewing for.

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

2. The question: Talk about a time when you had to prioritize some projects over others

What this means:

Businesses often work on multiple tasks, short-term goals, and long-term projects at the same time. Therefore, the employer wants to know how you manage your time and if you do it wisely. This question can help you discuss your time management skills and how well you meet deadlines.

How to answer:

Describe a time when you juggled multiple tasks and how you decided to work on them to make sure they were all done before the deadline. Perhaps you have delegated or automated some of the easier daily tasks. Share how you chose which projects to focus on first.

What not to say:

Because it is not about weaknesses or mistakes, it is better not to focus on a period when several responsibilities have slipped through the cracks.

Again, don’t blame others for putting too much work on you or for not taking on 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 when you arrived very early, worked through lunch, or stayed late. While an employer might like to know how dedicated you are, it could set you up against high expectations that will lead to burnout if you get the job.

3. The question: Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague or boss

What this means:

A workplace brings together a variety of minds, but that means disagreements and conflict are inevitable.

This question aims to dig deeper into how you communicate. The employer hopes to know if you are strong and confident in communicating and working on different ideas or if you tend to shut up or overwhelm others with your own opinions.

How to answer:

Share a time when you had a minor disagreement with someone at work. Maybe your boss wanted to implement some new software that you think is inefficient, or a colleague created a slogan for a marketing campaign that you didn’t think was working for the public. Have you spoken, and if so, how? Did you email your thoughts, call a meeting, or some combination?

Explain the situation and how the team compromised. Also, share the result. For example, did you find different software with similar features that boosted team productivity? Did you change the tagline and get a collaborative and successful marketing campaign?

What not to say:

As with any interview question, there is no need to put others in your answer. Instead, you want to show that you understand other points of view and want to communicate and collaborate to find the best solution as a team.

Avoid responding with a scenario where you have decided to remain silent, as this may show that you are not confident in your work or that you are unwilling to communicate with your colleagues for the good of the company.

4. The question: Discuss a time when you received criticism

What this means:

Maybe your boss gave you a negative annual review or a client called and complained about you. You may have had a day off or made mistakes on a project. It happens to everyone, but what matters to a potential employer is how you reacted and corrected your behaviors in the future.

How to answer:

Focus on more minor criticisms, such as missing a deadline, not delegating work, or receiving a customer complaint. Share your response: Did you apologize or appreciate the comments? Next, explain how you decided to improve.

For example, you may have received criticism for not being aware of SEO, so you decided to take a certification course and improve that skill.

What not to say:

The response should focus on a time when you received criticism at work rather than outside of work. Don’t criticize the person who gave you a negative review; Instead, show that you understand where the criticism came from and how you initially responded. Then, dig deeper into what you’ve done to improve your actions and turn criticism into praise in the future.

5. The question: share a moment when you motivated your team

What this means:

It’s a question about your leadership style. The interviewer wants to know how you inspire your team to be productive and successful, even if you’re not necessarily interviewing for a leadership position.

How to answer:

Focus on a time when you motivated your team to achieve an important goal, meet a tight deadline, or increase sales or productivity.

Did you offer rewards or words of encouragement? Did you jump in to help out even though it wasn’t technically your job or your responsibility? Discuss how you got your team to achieve an important goal and share the details of how you met or exceeded that goal without sacrificing quality work.

What not to say:

You don’t want to show that you’re a malicious leader who has been unnecessarily strict in pushing colleagues to work harder. Of course, you also want to focus on successful motivators. You should have solid evidence that your leadership actions have produced concrete results.

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

Behavior-based interview questions aren’t meant to confuse you or make you look bad. Instead, they’re a way for an interviewer to know how you communicate, respond to issues, 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 stay open, honest, and upbeat in your answers.

Originally posted Jan 19, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated Jan 19, 2022

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