Each of us has bad days, each of us makes bad decisions. Regardless of how hard we try to follow our moral, or religious principles, we will at times do things that we will regret later. Things we aren’t proud of. Stupid things. We’d love to turn back the clock, do things differently. Perhaps say something we didn’t say, or didn’t say something we said. Alas that’s not possible. And it is all right, because we are human beings, not saints. But why do they inquire about such situations in a job interview? And what do they want to heat from you?

First of all, they want to see whether you are honest. Because everyone makes stupid thing, for example when overcome by emotions, or by a magnitude of the situation, be it in work or in personal life. Pressure can get the better of any man or woman. Secondly, they want to see your attitude to such a situation: Can you admit making a mistake? Do you feel sorry for it? Can you apologize to the people you harmed with your behavior?  Or do you always blame someone else for your mistake, perhaps the circumstances, perhaps injustice of the world, perhaps higher powers, or simply one of your colleagues, always looking for excuses? Last but not least, they try to understand whether you can overcome this, forgive yourself, learn from the situation, and move on.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. I tried to include in my selection answers for both experienced managers people who lack previous working experience. Because you do not necessarily have to talk about something work-related. Just as we make mistakes at work, we make them in our personal life. And it is your attitude which matters to the hiring managers, not the particular situation you narrate in the interviews.

 

7 sample answers to “Tell us about a time when you did something you were not proud of” interview question

  1. I recall such a situation from my last job in XYZ corporation. Without pretending anything, I told an outright lie to my manager. I had my reasons—I wanted to protect a colleague, my good friend, who made an important mistake at work. But I told the manager I knew nothing about it, and suggested someone else was to blame. Looking back, my decision was more emotional than rational. Actually after few hours I already regretted it. I have to honestly admit that I was too weak to go and tell the manager the truth, that I knew perfectly well what happened. I was afraid of the consequences for my own career in the company. But I felt terrible about the entire situation and made a vow to myself that I would never make the same mistake again
  2. I am applying for my first job with you, and cannot speak about a situation from work. But I recall such situations from school, situations I am not particularly proud of. I cheated a couple of times during the exams. Do not want to look for excuses, but realistically it was hard for me to handle the part time job, personal issues I faced at the time, and prepare for the exams. I knew my likelihood to pass was rather poor, and I didn’t want to take risks, since the degree was incredibly important for me. To say it how it is: the situation got the better of me… It is something I am not proud of, but at the same time I believe we should not dwell on the mistakes of the past. I did it, learned my lesson, and it is time to move on.
  3. I am not particularly proud of leaving my boyfriend after we spent seven years together. We were engaged, and he hoped to spend the rest of his life with me. But I realized that my priorities have shifted, that all of a sudden we didn’t have much in common, and that we had to go our separate ways. It hurt him a lot, and I knew in a way it wasn’t fair from me. But I also realized that in a bigger picture, it was the best decision for both of us. And so I left him. Of course, I tried to explain everything, but you can imagine the situation was charged with all sorts of emotions, and he was crying more than listening. Yet here we are, and we both have to move on. At the end of the day nothing is eternal, and breakups belong to life.
  4. There is one situation I remember from my last job in a fast food restaurant. A homeless person came, basically in rags, asking for food. I knew the directions were clear, and we were not allowed to donate any food to anyone. The restaurant had a charity program in place, and they were donating some meals every week to a local community of single mothers. I do not know why–maybe it was the day, the emotions inside me, the meetings with the customers, or something more profound, but I made a burger for the guy and gave it to him. I broke the rules. Nobody found out, and I didn’t tell anyone, but I didn’t feel particularly proud either. I was still asking myself whether I actually did the right thing. It probably depends on the point of view. Anyway, I am over this episode now, and definitely want to stick to the rules in my new job. Instead of breaking them with simple acts of pity, I can advocate for a better involvement of the company in charity activities, and in that way help even more people in need.

 

  1. Well, I am not particularly proud on the results in my last job in sales. And it is actually the reason why I am here in this interview with you. Because I lost my job. You see, I had high expectations on myself. After all, sky is the limit for a great salesman. I hoped to make fortune on sales commissions. But even though I spent more hours on the call than any of my colleagues, I wasn’t successful in closing deals. It hurt, but it was also a lesson in humility. It is important to know our strengths, but also to accept our weaknesses, and failures. I failed terribly as a sales manager, and I am not good in selling services. That’s simply how it is, and I accept it. Time to move on, and try my luck in another field.
  2. One time in my last job I couldn’t hold myself and told very bad things to my subordinate. I shouted on them in a meeting, in front of the entire team. And even though I was right, and they were just wasting time on their smartphone instead of working, I should have done it in a different way. I should have had a one on one meeting with them, explaining things face to face, without humiliating them in front of everyone, and at the same time exposing my weakness as a manager. Anyway, afterwards I apologized to them. I didn’t help, eventually we both left the company, but at least I felt a bit better. I think I learned my lesson, and would not do the same thing again. You know, I am someone for whom the results matter a lot. And I expect the same level of commitment from the people who work under me. Yet I should share my feedback with them in a different way, making sure my emotions do not get the better of me, and I do not make things personal.
  3. To be honest with you, I try to get over every situation rather quickly. Sure, I made mistakes, stupid things, but instead of dwelling on them, and thinking what I should have done differently, I always moved on quickly, and focused on the present moment. Having big responsibility and managing a team of people, one cannot always do the right thing. We have to make decisions quickly, we make mistakes, we sometimes say stupid things. When it happens to me, I apologize, and simply move on. Because there is always another task on the list, another meeting to lead, another decision to make. One cannot live in the past, unless they want to lose the most precious thing, and the only real one: the present moment…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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