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How To Answer ‘What’s Your Biggest Mistake?’

In my latest job search advice post for Life Reimagined at Work, I tackle one of the most dreaded interview questions: What’s Your Biggest Mistake?

Most job interviews include at least one negative question: What is your biggest weakness? What was your least favorite job? What is the biggest mistake you made? The interviewer is probing for vulnerabilities that might hinder your ability to do the job. At the same time, the interviewer is looking for improvement – everyone comes with deficiencies; are you self-aware enough to acknowledge yours and coachable enough to improve them? As with all interview questions, the objective is to assess whether to hire you. Prepare your mistake or failure story in advance of your next job interview using this two-step process:

Pick the right story. As an experienced professional, you have multiple stories to choose from – hopefully not too many mistakes, but certainly more than one. If you don’t pick a mistake in advance, you will default to the one that you remember – an emotional story, perhaps something that is still raw and unfinished. This isn’t a good choice because you don’t want to get rattled during the interview. More important, you don’t want an unfinished story because you need a clear mistake with a clear resolution. What did you learn? How did you turn the situation around? Also, you must have the right role in the story. When I was a recruiter, a candidate who was a project manager told me about a client that cancelled a project but eventually began working with his firm again. Yes, this is an example of a project gone bad and then turned around, but there was no direct involvement by this candidate or specific lesson learned, so it wasn’t a good example to use.

Read the second step in my latest post for Life Reimagined at Work: How To Answer “What’s Your Biggest Mistake?”