Before & After Answers to Commonly-Asked Job Interview Questions.
This week’s question is about mistakes, weaknesses, flaws, failure:
Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you handled it.
All these questions about mistakes, weaknesses, flaws, and failure are directed at your ability to:
1- recognize when you’ve messed up,
2- take responsibility for it,
3- make it right, and
4- put a plan in place to avoid similar problems in the future.
You accomplish all four of those things in an interview by providing a short, clear, specific example in the form of a story about a mess up and what you did to take responsibility and make it right in that situation. Then say what you learned from that experience, how you’ve changed your behavior or put a system in place to avoid repeats of that problem. Conclude with the value that your experience with failure adds to your candidacy and how it will benefit the specific organization.
To see an example of this, watch the “before and after” answers this candidate gave. In the “before” answer, she had no idea what question was coming her way and she gives too many details in an example that is too student-centered and never gets to the lesson learned and steps taken to remediate the situation going forward.
This is exactly what will happen to you if you don’t practice and prepare for the most commonly-asked job interview questions. Sure, there will be some curve balls, but this isn’t one–you have to be ready to answer a question about mistakes, weakness, flaws, or failure. It doesn’t look good to be caught off guard by commonly-asked questions!
After a few minutes of brainstorming, workshopping and practicing her answer to the question, this candidate had a great answer she had an “after” answer that she was able to deliver in fewer that 60 seconds.
This time, the interviewee is expecting the commonly-asked job interview question and has an answer ready. She tells a shorter story then goes straight to the workplace context and two fundamental keys to success: 1) organization / planning and 2) networking / maintenance of good relationships.
Much improved! Good work!
She isn’t able to talk about her candidacy for a specific position or how her “lesson learned” will benefit a particular organization, but you’d want to include that in a real interview context.
Throughout the spring, I will add more of these “before and after” videos that contrast spontaneous answers to commonly-asked interview questions with more practiced, prepared answers. Look for more next week…
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org The mock interviews were conducted with University of Illinois Urbana Champaign students from Ann Abbott’s “Spanish and Entrepreneurship” course who worked with me on my social media presence as part of their course project in spring 2015.