MBA Career News: Answering the Dreaded “Failure” Question

MBA Career News: Answering the Dreaded “Failure” Question - mbaMissionIn this new blog series, our mbaMission Career Coaches offer invaluable advice and industry-related news to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. To schedule a free half-hour consultation with one of our mbaMission Career Coaches, click here.

Interviewing is usually a stressful experience. However, the best thing you can do to quell your anxieties is prepare carefully and be ready to answer any question with confidence and authenticity.

The following prompt is one that tends to concern applicants: “Tell me about a time you failed.” To help you respond effectively to such a request, here is our recommended approach to crafting your reply:

  • Take some time to examine the experiences you might deem failures or setbacks. Think about what your specific struggle was, how you strategized to overcome it, what actions you took, and what you found challenging about the experience.
  • Choose an example that does not highlight a failure that would cast doubt on your skill set for your target role, your work ethic, or your ability to work well with others. In addition, consider sharing an example that did not happen very recently.
  • Be direct and concise when explaining your failure. Do not assign blame to others.
  • Most importantly, focus on what you learned—how you grew and changed as a result of the failure. Highlight the positive steps you have taken to ensure a similar failure does not happen in the future. Also, provide a more recent example of when you used the lessons learned and avoided failure.

Here are a few sample failures to consider. (Note: These are very simplistic examples; yours should be much more specific and detailed.)

  1. Failure: My client presentation went badly.
    What I learned: Always prepare in advance and practice out loud.
  2. Failure: I finished my Excel model too late.
    What I learned: Get manager input at each stage, not just at the end.
  3. Failure: My boss rejected my idea.
    What I learned: Use more data-based research to persuade her next time.

Much of this advice can also be applied to the “Tell me about a weakness” prompt. In both cases, use your response to show your prospective employer that you are self-aware, reflective, and humble, as well as someone who strives to improve and takes proactive steps to do so.

Have you been admitted to business school? If so, do you want to get a head start on defining your career goals? Do you need help preparing for job interviews or learning how to effectively network with your target employers? Or maybe you want to be a top performer in your current role but are unsure how to maximize your potential. Let an mbaMission Career Coach help via a free 30-minute consultation!

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