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

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Behavior-based interview questions can make anyone nervous, but proper preparation and understanding help a lot to pass the interview and secure the job.

By preparing 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 difficult behavior-based questions to impress your potential employer.

Learn in this post 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 will not show how you think, how you act on a daily basis or how you react to problems that arise at work. Behavioral questions help an interviewer to see more in your thought processes.

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

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

It is crucial to understand that the interviewer is not trying to deceive you or confess all your transgressions. Instead, they just want to see how they respond to different situations. Here are some of the top behavioral interview questions and answers, plus tips for understanding the meaning behind the question and advice on what not to say.

1. The question: Tell me about a time when 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 have your own right and accept responsibility for the mistake? Do you blame it on other colleagues? What logic did you follow to clear the bug and prevent it from happening again?

How to respond:

Be honest, and generally stick to smaller 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 solved the problem. Also follow up with how you made sure the mistake is not repeated by you or anyone else in the team. Have you created documentation that explains how to use new software properly? 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 sketch major mistakes that will keep you from doing a good job in the new job you are interviewing for.

For example, if you have lost a large client, you do not want to focus on that error in a behavior interview question. Be honest though – do not make up a story as it is easy to get caught up in a lie. Do not say that nothing comes up to us, 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 certain projects over others

What it means:

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

How to respond:

Make an outline of a time in which you rushed through various tasks, and share how you decided to work on it to ensure they were all completed by the deadline. Maybe you have delegated or automated some of the easier day-to-day tasks. Share how you chose which projects to focus on first to complete.

What not to say:

Since it is not a question of weaknesses or mistakes, it is best not to focus on a time when you had multiple responsibilities that fell through the cracks.

Again, do not blame others for putting too much work on your pressure or not fulfilling their own responsibilities. Rather stay positive and share how you tackled an overwhelming to-do list. Another thing to remember is not to share times you came in extra early, worked through lunch, or stayed late. While an employer may want to hear how committed you are, it can set you against high expectations that lead to burnout when you get the job.

3. The question: Tell me about a time when you did not agree with a colleague or boss

What it means:

A workplace fuses a variety of thoughts, but this means disagreements and conflicts are likely to arise.

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

How to respond:

Share a time when you had a slight disagreement with someone at work. Maybe your boss wanted to implement new software that you feel is ineffective, or a colleague has created a slogan for a marketing campaign that you feel does not work for the audience. Have you talked, 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, have you found different software with similar features that have increased team productivity? Have you adapted the slogan and ended up with a collaborative and successful marketing campaign?

What not to say:

As with any interview question, it is not necessary to put others in your answer. Instead, you want to show that you understand other points of view and wanted to communicate and work together to find the best solution as a team.

Avoid answering with a scenario where you have decided to keep quiet, as it may show that you do not have confidence in your job or are not willing to communicate with your colleagues for the benefit of the business.

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

What it means:

Maybe your boss gave you a negative annual review, or a customer called and complained about you. You may have had a day off or made some mistakes on a project. It happens to everyone, but what matters to a potential employer is how you reacted and corrected your behavior to move forward.

How to respond:

Focus on more minor criticisms, such as missing a deadline, not delegating work, or receiving a complaint from a client. Share how you reacted — did you apologize or appreciate the feedback? Then sketch how you decided to improve yourself.

For example, maybe you received a critique because you were unaware of SEO, so you decided to take a certification class and give that skill a boost.

What not to say:

The answer should focus on a time when you received criticism at work rather than outside of work. Do not hybridize the person who gave you a negative critique; rather show that you understand where the criticism came from and how you initially reacted. Then delve into what you did to improve your performance 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 to inspire your team to be productive and successful, even if you are not necessarily interviewing for a management position.

How to respond:

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

Did you offer rewards or words of encouragement? Did you step in to lend a hand, even if it was not technically your job or responsibility? Discuss how you got your team to reach an important target, and share the details of how you reached or exceeded that target without sacrificing quality work.

What not to say:

You do not want to show that you are some malicious leader who was unnecessarily strict in forcing colleagues to work harder. Of course, you also want to focus on motivators who have been successful. You need to have good evidence that your leadership actions have produced real results.

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

Behavior-based interview questions are not meant to make you dumbfounded or make you look bad. Instead, it’s a way for an interviewer to learn how to communicate, respond to problems, and how you think.

This is 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.

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