Everyone makes mistakes. You can read the biographies of billionaires, or of people successful in endeavors that are hard to measure with money (art, spirituality), and you will see that even the best of the best made some big mistakes in their life. And they often paid the price. But they leaned from their mistakes. Failures haven’t broken their spirits. On the contrary, they made them stronger. Perhaps this is what makes the difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful one, or at least it seems so… Anyway, interviewing for a job, or even for a place at a college, you will often face questions about the BIG mistakes of your life, and what you have learned from them. Let’s learn how to deal with this one!

Several things matter for your interviewers. First one, that you can actually admit making mistakes, without blaming someone else for them. Second, that however hard or painful your failure was, it didn’t break you down. And third, that while you have an ability to forget the setback and move on, you do not simply forget it. On the contrary, you try to analyze your mistakes, and learn from them, making sure that you’ll do things better next time around. That’s the impression you want to make on the hiring managers, or on anyone else who asks you about your biggest mistakes.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the questions. Bear in mind that in this case, you talk about the lessons you learned, and not about the mistakes. At least not in detail. If you want you can also check sample answers to a question “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?“. But let’s move to the answers now. I hope at least one of them will resonate with you.


7 sample answers to “What have you learned from your biggest mistakes?” interview question

  1. I have learned from my biggest mistakes that you should not bet everything on one card. Sure, it is great to love your trade and devote everything to one profession. But things change, what is super secure today can be highly insecure in 5 years. And if you do not have any other qualifications, it can easily happen that you change $100K/year job for $30K/year job. But I’ve learned my lesson, and I do not blame fate or God or anyone else for my present financial struggles. I have the job I have now. And I keep working on mu education and skills, to be able to get something better, and to make myself more flexible on the job market.
  2. People change. That’s what I learned from my biggest mistakes. They both relate to relationships. I have divorced two times, which isn’t a great resume for someone in their early forties. But here we go. I also learned from my mistakes that one should not do things they aren’t mature for yet. But I want to assure you that I am not bitter because of my failed marriages. First of all, there’s more to life than marriage. For example you can have a job you like and see a meaningful purpose in. That’s also important, and can bring a lot of happiness and joy to your life.
  3. I am still very young, only 21, and it is hard to say whether I made some really big mistakes in my life. Sure, I haven’t always decided as I should have. And I said some things I regreted later. But it is also true that when you’re still at school parents decide many things for you… From the smaller mistakes I’ve made, however, I learned that nothing is permanent, and every day is a chance to try from scratch, to start something new. Maybe it is just a naivety of youth, but I feel that one should not dwell too much on their mistakes. We should live in the present, not in the past.
  4. The  most important lesson I’ve learned from my biggest mistakes is that they belong to life. The only people who never make big mistakes are people who never really leave their comfort zone to try something extraordinary. I often aimed for perfection, and ventured into the unknown. Had some successes, but also big setbacks. Nevertheless, I see it all as a part of a journey, because I know that mistakes and failures belong to each exciting journey.
  5. My biggest mistakes are management mistakes. I would say that I became a better manager because of them. Of course, I could have done things right the first time around. But then I also believe that regardless of how many books on management you read, and how many experienced people you talk to, certain things you can only learn from your own mistakes. Now I already know that empowering people works only if you have right people in the team, and that individual approach to each person or project you manage is the key. And I sincerely hope to benefit from these lessons in my new job with you.
  6. My biggest mistakes were a lesson in humility for me really. Had a great GPA, always considered myself intelligent, and sort of thought that the world belonged to me. But I made many mistakes as an analyst, and I also lost a good job because of one of them. But maybe from a long time perspective it is the best thing that could have happened to me. Because now I am humble and know that I can never stop learning, and never become complacent about my abilities.
  7. I’ve learned that greed and desire are bad masters. We didn’t have enough savings to go for a big mortgage, and yet we went for it. Because we wanted a good house for our children and also prestige. Other people had big houses, so why wouldn’t we get one too? Of course, problems happened, my wife lost the job, and suddenly we weren’t able to pay the bills. Lost the house, experienced a lot of stress, family problems. It was just horrible, and only because we were greedy and not happy with what we had. I know that I am not going to make a similar mistake ever again. And though it was a painful experience, I am grateful for it. It taught me an important lesson that I will never forget.

* 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!

Regardless of your mistakes and how much they hurt, try to stay positive

Many people spend half of their lives mourning about missed opportunities, or things they could have done better. But what happened happened, we cannot turn back the clock, and miserable people only bring miserable atmosphere to the workplace. Hiring managers are aware of it, and try to hire people who think positively, regardless of their mistakes.

Ensure them that you are over it yet. Had your share of pain and disappointment, but eventually you try to get the best out of the situation, which means learning from your mistakes, and looking forward to better future ahead. That’s the attitude they hope for, and you should do your best to show such in an interview.

Do not limit yourself with mistakes you made at work

For someone in their mid thirties it is easy to come up with some big mistakes they made at work. But what if you are just starting your professional career? In such a case, you have two options. One is saying that you haven’t made any big mistakes yet (check sample answer no. 3 on my list). The second one is actually referring to some mistakes you made in your school life, relationships, etc. At the end of the day, your attitude matters more than anything else to the interviewers. It doesn’t matter for them much whether you talk about mistakes you made at work, or mistakes you made in your personal life…

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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