The “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question has the purpose of evaluating job applicants’ sense of accountability and responsibility.

While the goal is to present yourself in the best possible light at a job interview by talking about your accomplishments and expertise, you may also be asked to reflect on your professional mistakes.

This question can also be worded differently, such as “Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you handled it” or “Tell me about a time you made a mistake that affected a colleague.”

However phrased, the question is pretty clear, although it’s not an easy one to answer. Stay tuned to learn how to approach it and get the best “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” example answers.

Key Takeaways

  • The “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question aims to assess your sense of responsibility and accountability, as well as your learning potential.
  • When you talk about your mistakes at an interview, do it strategically—choose a minor mistake, emphasize the lesson you’ve learned from it, and end your answer on a positive note.
  • The answer to the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” question depends on the industry and job position.
  • Avoid bringing up mistakes that highlight your character flaws or involve integral skills required for the job you’ve applied for.

Why Employers Ask About a Time You Made a Mistake at Interviews

Employers ask about a time you made a mistake at interviews because they want to know whether you can take responsibility for your actions. They also want to assess your problem-solving skills—that is, what actions you took to fix the mistake you’d made.

Everyone strives to present themselves in a favorable light at a job interview, which likely comes as no surprise, considering the competition. However, it’s easy to sing your own praises, and interviewers are aware that no one is perfect and above making mistakes.

Moreover, mistakes can be excellent learning opportunities, and if you answer this situational interview question correctly, you can showcase your potential for professional advancement, which is a valuable trait to have as a job applicant.

Therefore, when recruiters ask the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question, they aren’t trying to knock you off your game or write you off as a candidate. Rather, they’re giving you a chance to demonstrate your commitment to improvement and will to learn and grow as a professional.

How to Answer the “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” Interview Question

You should answer the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question honestly yet strategically.

Despite its simplicity, this is one of the trickier interview questions, as it requires you to do the opposite of what you would normally do at a job interview—emphasize your skills and abilities.

However, talking about your mistakes doesn’t mean you can’t leave a good impression on an interviewer. We’re going to give you some tips on how to answer the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” question, so read on.

#1. Explain the Mistake

Begin your answer by explaining your mistake and the context in which it was made so that the recruiter can understand how you were in the wrong. Describe the situation briefly without going into unnecessary details. For example, lay out the project you were working on at the time, emphasizing its goal and your responsibilities.

Moreover, choose a minor mistake that doesn’t make you seem unprofessional or incompetent and that you were able to resolve by using your professional skills. Otherwise, the interviewer may decide you pose a risk to the company and choose not to hire you.

#2. Explain the Actions You Took to Remedy the Mistake

As soon as you outline the context, focus on explaining the actions you took to remedy the mistake in question. First of all, own up to your mistake and take accountability for it to show the interviewer you’re a mature adult who doesn’t evade responsibilities. Simply put, make sure not to blame anyone else for your mistake if it was, in fact, yours.

Then, describe the steps you took to address the mistake and fix it by using your knowledge and expertise. That way, you’ll come across as a reliable employee who doesn’t let their errors affect their coworkers and projects.

#3. Discuss What You’ve Learned

You should conclude your answer by discussing what you’ve learned from a certain professional mistake. In fact, the lesson you’ve gained ought to be the main point of your story. Not only does it demonstrate the skill of storytelling in interviews, but it also lets the recruiter know you’ve grown professionally.

Moreover, talk about how you’ve applied the knowledge you acquired in similar situations to make sure not to repeat the same mistake. The interviewer will appreciate your ability to make course adjustments as well as your commitment to career advancement.

#4. Remain Positive

How to Answer the “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” Interview Question

It’s paramount that you remain positive when answering the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question. Don’t dwell on the error you made, but focus on the positive results of the actions you took to fix it.

Explain how your solution to the problem at hand benefited the project you were on or the company you worked for at the time. That way, you’ll showcase your creative thinking skills and the ability to turn things around when they’re not going according to plan.

8 Sample Answers to the “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” Interview Question

Now that you know the structure, let’s review some sample answers to the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question. They come from several different industries, ranging from nursing to marketing and beyond.

#1. Nursing Answer Sample

While I was still in training, there was an especially busy day on the ward, and I was responsible for setting up procedural supplies. I wanted to increase efficiency by carrying all the items at once. However, I made an error in judgment and ended up dropping all of them on the floor.

Understandably, that caused a delay while I went to get new sterilized supplies. Luckily, I managed to get them all in time and prevent further problems. Since then, I’ve always made sure not to cut corners or rush to get things done.

#2. Finance Answer Sample

As an intern, I was afraid to ask questions so as not to disrupt other people’s work. When the time for my performance review came around, my superior said she felt I hadn’t made enough progress. In her feedback, she advised me to ask questions to expand my knowledge and skill set.

I took her advice and started taking notes on everything I was unclear on so that I could ask the right questions and learn from experienced colleagues. Now, I make sure to ask my clients everything I need to know to help them improve their finances.

#3. Teaching Answer Sample

When I first started working, I was a typical by-the-book teacher. I focused too much on what the right answer was and neglected the importance of the process. I thought that approach would prevent me from making mistakes, but I was wrong.

One time, a student got the wrong answer to a math problem on a test, but their process was correct. It was then that I realized that asking my students to walk me through their process instead of focusing on the answer was much more beneficial to their learning.

Now, I strive to discuss each assignment with them, encouraging them to share their ideas and insights. I can say the new approach has much better results—the students are more engaged and achieve better results.

#4. Engineering Answer Sample

As an intern, I was highly ambitious and wanted to stand out. Due to my desire to get noticed, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the team designing a guidance system and took on more work than I could manage. As we were nearing the deadline, I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish my part of the job on time.

I discussed the issue with my supervisor, and together, we strategized to complete my work on time. As a result, I learned how important realistic time management is. Now, I make sure to structure my tasks to meet deadlines without compromising the quality of my work.

#5. Management Answer Sample

When I first started working as a team manager, I believed all the responsibility for decision-making was on me. As a result, I struggled to accept ideas and advice from my team members, which led to them feeling overlooked.

One of them reached out to me to discuss the issue, and I realized my approach was negatively affecting team morale. Since then, I’ve made sure to take everyone’s input into account, which soon reflected on the overall team performance and productivity.

#6. IT Answer Sample

While I was still in college, I had to complete a group assignment with some of my classmates. I assumed everyone was clear on what their task was, so I failed to communicate with my team members until the project was due.

That’s when we realized I’d missed out on an essential part of the project. As a result, we turned it in late and got a lower grade. Since then, I’ve made sure to communicate proactively and ask for clarifications instead of making assumptions.

#7. Copywriting Answer Sample

In my role as a junior copywriter, I once misunderstood a client’s requirements. As a result, I delivered a copy that didn’t satisfy their expectations. While that was disappointing, I openly communicated with the client in question and made sure we were on the same page moving forward.

Fortunately, I managed to realign the project and meet the deadline. From the mistake I’d made, I learned how important it was to include the client in the process and regularly communicate with them to prevent any misunderstandings.

#8. Marketing Answer Sample

One time in my early career, when I was working on an important campaign, I stayed after work to complete it before the deadline. I managed to do it, but when I came to the office the next morning, I realized I hadn’t saved the progress I’d made the previous evening.

Consequently, I had to redo an entire day’s worth of work and stay late again to finish it. Luckily, I managed to meet the deadline, but since then, I’ve made sure to always double-check my work and pay attention to details in all its aspects.

Tips for Answering the “Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake” Interview Question

advice for interviews

Now that we’ve covered some common “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” answer samples, let’s briefly summarize the tips on how to approach this question correctly.

  • If possible, choose a mistake you made as a student or at the beginning of your career when you were inexperienced.
  • Don’t get defensive; instead, admit your mistake and emphasize its positive impact on your work ethic and productivity.
  • Prepare your answer in advance (a mock interview is a good way to do it) so as not to get blindsided by the question.
  • Don’t humblebrag by attempting to present an achievement as a mistake.
  • Research the company before the interview so that you can tailor your response to it.
  • Don’t mention mistakes that may raise questions about your integrity and work ethic.
  • Explain the mistake concisely and focus on the way you fixed it and the lesson you learned from it.
  • Don’t assign blame; instead, take accountability for the mistake you made.
  • Structure your answer using the S.T.A.R. method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result).

Final Thoughts

Answering the “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” interview question isn’t easy, but doing it correctly can increase your chances of landing the job. Your response can paint you as either a reliable employee dedicated to their professional advancement or an undesirable job applicant.

To achieve a positive outcome, carefully choose the mistake you’ll talk about and structure your answer properly to include the actions you took to solve the problem and the lesson you learned from your error.