Life is an endless succession of ups and downs. Good decisions mix with mistakes we make, and successes and failures add up on our imaginary resume of life. We are human beings, not robots. We aren’t immune to mistakes. But why do interviewers inquire about the biggest mistake we’ve ever made?

Your answer to this question helps them to understand several things. First of all, your attitude to mistakes. Can you admit making one, or do you blame other people for your failures? And have you learned from your mistake, or have you repeated the same one several times?

The perspective you take on your answer also tells a lot about your priorities. Do you talk about a particular mistake you made in work, or do you consider your job choice, or even your career choice the biggest mistake?

In my opinion, the question makes sense in most job interviews, and it can definitely tell a lot about who you are and what matters to you. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, to understand which one you should choose for your particular interview.

 

7 sample answers to “What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?” interview question

  1. I made a terribly wrong forecast in my last job of an analyst. I wasn’t careful enough and mixed two datasets together. The managers used the results of my analysis and my sales forecast to make buying decisions, and purchased a lot of stock. We ended up unable to sell it. One may say that things change quickly on the market, and that many things are unpredictable, and forecasts can’t be accurate. But this was not the case. I made a mistake, and that’s the reason why we ended with a full warehouse at the end of spring. I believe I learned from this experience, and won’t repeat the same mistake again.
  2. Speaking honestly, I do not believe in mistakes. Said more precisely, I do not dwell much on them, thinking what could have been or should have been, if I made another decision somewhere in the past. At the end of the day, we try our best. We decide according to the information and knowledge we have. Of course our dreams and priorities change as life progresses. But I think it would be stupid to say that it was a mistake that I did not accept some job in the past, or the promotion they offered me in the company. I simply made a decision which I considered best at a moment of making it. We cannot turn back the clock, so it makes no sense to return to the situation…
  3. I wouldn’t really say that I’ve made any big mistake in my career yet. I have drafted my careen plan years ago, when still studying at high school. Specifying the field I wanted to pursue in my studies and the jobs I wanted to have, I had something to adhere to, some point of reference. Up to this point, I’ve been able to follow my career plan successfully. The job I am trying to get with you is the next step on the plan. Things have been going great up to now, but I realize that mistakes and failures may come. If they do, I am ready to bear them and adapt to the new situation.

 

  1. I’ve made many mistakes in my career. Following the dream of my parents instead of dreaming, I studied Law, and I never really enjoyed it. Then I applied for a job I didn’t like, just because it paid well and matched my education. I could go on an on, but everything really started with my decision to study Law, the impact my parents had on me. It’s the past anyway. I decided to change my career, and now I finally want to pursue my own dreams, and do something I will enjoy doing everyday.
  2. The biggest mistake I made–and repeatedly, is falling for the next shiny thing syndrome. As a mechanical engineer with a diploma from an A-level University I always had many offers on my table. I was approached by headhunters and recruiters, always getting a better salary offer, or a promise of a more creative work. I fell for it several times, changing my employment. But now I see that it was a mistake. It looks badly on my resume, but also I never really belonged somewhere, never really made strong ties with other people in the company. It is time to change it.
  3. I relied on justice in my last job–and that was a mistake. Everyone knew that I had the best results from the entire department. But I didn’t flirt we the managers or drank “as if there was no tomorrow” during the team building events, eventually ending up in someone’s bed. That wasn’t my style. When a day came to promote someone to a position of an operations manager, I thought I would get a job. But my colleague got it. She didn’t make half the sales I did, but she flirted with the managers and was the biggest party maker. On that day I felt like I wasted two years of life in the company, and I left them soon afterwards…
  4. I’ve made some small mistakes here and there, and perhaps I could choose another job in the past, or prepare better for some interviews. But I do not like this attitude to life, to think much about the past. So many things have an impact on our decision, and maybe the entire concept of “making decisions” is just an illusion. I did what I had to do, in any moment of my professional career. Thinking today whether it was a mistake does not make much sense to me…

 

Do not be afraid to be philosophical in your answer

If you say the same thing everybody says to the hiring managers, you won’t stand out with your answers. Aiming for mediocrity is not a wise strategy in most job interviews.

When they ask you a question that offers some room for philosophizing, do not hesitate to take it. Look at sample answers no. 2 or no. 7 from my list as a great example. Make them think a bit. Challenge them intellectually. Do not make it another boring interview for the HR managers.

Say something they will remember a long time after the end of the interviews. It can pay big time once they are comparing the answers of different job candidates and deciding about the winner.

Focus on the future, not the past

Perhaps you followed the dream of your parents, and studied a field you didn’t enjoy studying at all (sample answer no. 4). Or you changed many jobs, always seeking something better, and eventually finding yourself with a bad resume and a status of a job-hopper (sample answer no. 5).

You are neither the first nor the last person who experienced this. The key is to ensure the interviewers that is is in the past. You learned from your mistakes, and want to start a new chapter right now–with their company. You do not want to be a job hopper anymore.

There’s not need to well on the mistakes and bad decisions you made. Speak about them in a formal way, without emotions. It simply happened, and it hasn’t ruined you. You are ready for a fresh start…

 

Humility and confidence can go hand in hand

Maybe you are lucky enough, and didn’t make any big (or even small) mistake in your short professional career. You set a career plan many years ago, and you’ve been following it successfully up to this point of your life.

It is all right to say this to your interviewers, as long as you add that you are not immune to making mistakes, and know that you’ll make some. When it happens, you will try to remedy them or adapt to the new situation. You were lucky enough to avoid mistakes up to this point, but you are humble enough to admit that it was mostly luck :).

Ready to answer this one? Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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