Ever been asked at a job interview about what failures you’ve had in your working life?
Clearly you didn’t talk about the time a massive hangover caused you to muck up a piece of code or the time you cost the company $10,000 because you made an error.
But if you are asked about failure in an interview, it's good if your answer to have an air of truth about it.
Writing on HireSite.com, job search expert Marco Cepeda says that when someone asks a potential employee about failure they want to find out what the person’s shortcomings are and what their beliefs about failure are — and whether that will help or hurt them in the particular job.
Cepeda says it’s not so much about the failure as about how the person handled the failure and why they made the choices they did.
“It reveals how you will make choices in the future.”
If someone tries to claim they have had no failures then they might be seen as someone who refuses to admit they have any faults — the type of person who will blame failure on others.
Cepeda suggests a possible answer is something like: "I don't know if I would call them failures because I believe you will always get a result... and it's not always what you were after. However, in the times when I didn't live up to expectations, I either took responsibility for what I could, or it was not in my control and there was nothing I could do. When that happens, I simply learn my lessons so that I can make better decisions. Nobody's perfect, right?"
He points out that the answer ends with a statement most people will agree with.
If pushed for specifics, people should pick something that shows vulnerability (but is not necessary a failure) and talk about the decisions they made and why.
“That way, you don't fall into the normal expectations of admitting to faults that may disqualify you or of overcompensating to seem perfect.”
If the question is about weaknesses rather than failures, similar rules apply. According to Collegegrad.com, people should avoid claiming that one of their weaknesses is that they work too much.
“Either you are lying or, worse yet, you are telling the truth, in which case you define working too much as a weakness and really don't want to work much at all.”
Instead, an interviewee should point out, for example, that he had been a poor planner, always overcommitting himself, but had recognised that and had addressed it by planning all appointments. The person could even whip out their planner and show how they now planned their week.
Alternatively, job candidates could try the advice at Career One, which suggests only offering a weakness that isn’t crucial for the job. Kate Southam quotes OfficeTeam Australian branch manager Nicole Gorton as suggesting a skill such as languages (unless of course the job requires fluency in languages). However, Quint Careers warns that only offering irrelevant weaknesses can be seen as shallow.
If someone does opt to use a more relevant weakness and they haven’t already addressed it, then Career One’s Southam says they should talk about how they plan to fix it. “For example, ‘My area for improvement is public speaking and I have just enroled in a Toastmaster's course’.”
Another option is for an interviewee to say they have no weaknesses, which would affect their ability to do the job. However, Quint Careers warns such an answer can lack credibility.
Career One’s Southam quotes Graham Smith of Heritage Recruitment as saying what he really wants to know is that someone can face “a knock back and be robust enough to cope with it and get on with the job”.