Life is full of ups and down, successes and failures. The role-coaster ride goes on for most of us, basically since the day we are born until the day we die. In some periods of life successes may prevail and we may feel standing on the top of the world. But sooner or later a huge setback arrives, teaching us a lesson of humility and acceptance.
Recruiters and hiring managers know that we learn the most important lessons when things do not go as planed. It’s then that we have to use our creativity and try to change things, or learn our lesson and quit, starting from scratch on another project, pursuing some other dream or walk of life.
Question about failures makes a perfect sense in almost any job interview. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this question. Below the answers you will find some additional explanations and resources which should help you prepare your genuine and awesome answer to the question.
7 Sample answers to “Have you ever worked on a project that was a failure?” interview question
- Speaking honestly, I worked on many such projects in my life. I have always enjoyed venturing into the unknown, trying new things, innovating, experimenting. In my last job in sales I actually designed some new sales strategies, trying to capture leads on social media, such as Facebook groups. But I didn’t understand the platform well. After all my planning, and implementing, I actually captured only a few leads, and they did not convert anyway. However, I failed to reach my goal, but I learned something new and improved my skills with social media. I believe I will benefit from it in my professional career down the road.
- This is my first job application, and I have not worked on any real projects so far in my life. But I had my fair share of successes and failures, for example in personal life and relationships. Maybe you can call also a relationship with a man a project… If you can, I definitely failed in one. But instead of crying over my misfortune I tried to analyze the relationship and identify things that I did wrong. I wanted to do it better next time. I believe that the same attitude can be applied to failures in work. We cannot entirely avoid them, but it’s our attitude to failure that matters.
- Successful people do not fail. They either succeed, or learn. This is my attitude to both work and life. Surely as a manager I failed to reach my targets repeatedly. If I always reached them, I would not be here interviewing for a job with you… But I did not consider it a failure. It would be a failure if I didn’t try hard enough, which was never the case. I tried my best, and it didn’t work out. Is it a failure? I would not say so. It’s a learning experience, something inevitable in a life of any successful man.
- I remember one demand forecast that went completely wrong. My employer paid the price, losing money in the process. But it was my mistake, I can admit it. What happened is that I underestimated certain market indicators, and was too optimistic in my analysis, predicting much greater demand for a certain product in the summer months. The company bought stock and proceeded accordingly, but my predictions were wrong and at the end of summer we ended up with a lot of stock that we could not sell during autumn or winter. But I prefer not think about it much. It happened, I learned my lesson, and would not repeat the same mistake again.
- I am just trying to get my first job with you, and have no previous working experience. Still young enough to experience some big failures, things that will shape me and teach me the most important lessons. However, you can be sure that I can admit making a mistake, can take responsibility for my actions, and will try to learn from my failures. And while this is an excellent company and you have a renowned training program for new hires, some failures will inevitably come. That’s the way it works in human life.
- My biggest failure so far was when I did not succeed in getting to a college of my choice. I prepared hard for the entrance exams and the interviews, did what I could. It was not enough. At the end of the day I simply had to accept that other candidates were better than me, and move on. But I already learned that a failure can be a blessing in disguise. Maybe I will get this job with you, make a great career in your company, and eventually end up happy that I did not succeed to get to college.
- I have worked on a project that was a failure. It was a failure from start to finish. First of all, we didn’t have a real leader in the team. The goals were not set properly, and we did not understand our target group well. We tried to help the homeless people in the the area to reintegrate into life, and to find jobs. But our methodology was not correct, and we eventually didn’t succeed with a single person. However, I learned that in social work, especially when working with marginalized groups, effort counts more than the actual results. Surely we could do many things better, and all of us learned from our failure. But it makes no sense to dwell on failures for too long. One has to move on and face new challenges, trying to help people.
Avoid blaming others for your failures
You should not say that the project failed because a manager made a mistake (or someone else in the team), while you did everything right. That’s not the attitude employers seek in good job applicants. Oppositely, you should look for mistakes you made, and explain the interviewers how you learned from them.
What’s more, you should not be down because of your mistakes and failures. That would not help you in your new job. Show the interviewers that you take failures as they come, accept them, learn from them, and move on.
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Talk about a failure from personal life if you have no working experience
Your attitude matters for the interviewers, and not the particular failure (or project) you narrate in your answer.
Applying for a first job, you have not yet had a chance to experience failures in work. But maybe you failed at school, in your family, in a relationship, in sports. What matters for the interviewers is that you have experience with failures and can get over them, trying to make the best out of them.
Talking about any failure is a better answer than saying that you have never experienced a failure in your life. And that would not be true anyway. Maybe you forgot, or did not consider something a failure, but you certainly have had your share…
Explain the lessons you learned
Try to analyze the projects in which you failed to reach your goals. Think about things you did (or neglected to do), and which of them had the biggest impact on the final result.
Maybe you did not have enough data, or pursued a goal that wasn’t realistic. Or you didn’t choose right people for your team, or the workers struggled with motivation (you did not motivate them properly), or you didn’t foresee something or unexpected events took place, and so on, and so forth.
Once you analyze the reasons, you should be able to point out two or three principal lessons you learned while working on a project that ended up a failure. Identifying such lessons and admitting that you made some mistakes will make a strong impression on each hiring manager.
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond.
- What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career so far?
- What have you learned from your biggest mistakes?