Much of job-search communications involve articulating vocally and in writing what makes you great – bragging rights.
It’s equally important to reflect on your not-so-great moments – those where you would have liked a do-over. We all make mistakes, but for many folks, these mistakes are tough to talk about. Practice, because during the interview process, you will likely be asked to talk about an oops or mistake you’ve made at work.
There are two reasons to go through the process of knowing and articulating your mistakes:
- Sometime during the hiring process, you likely will be asked, “Tell me about your least proud career moment,” or “Tell me about the biggest mistake you have made in your career.”It will serve you well to have internalized some specific examples, as it can be hard to come up with a failure when you are in the middle of a job interview.
- This type of brainstorming will likely point to tasks you do not want to be doing. Often, your biggest career bloopers involved activities you do not like, and therefore, aren’t as good at. This is important. Don’t be afraid of this question. It’s an opportunity for you to solidify what you do not want in your next job.
When people ask this question, they want to know that you’re aware of your mistakes and that you learned from them! They want to know specifics, so don’t talk in general terms.
Leo’s mistake story:
In his third round of interviews with one employer, Leo was asked, “Tell me about your biggest career mistake.”
“I was at XYZ Company as a Business Analyst. I was given a project by a SVP of another division. This SVP was known as a difficult, demanding guy, and I said, “yes” immediately. But I knew I should have first okayed it with my direct manager. And when my boss found out, he was quite angry with me. ‘Why are you working with him without consulting with me,’ and ‘Do you know you just messed up another system by doing this?’ were questions he threw my way. He added that my current project with him was more high profile than the one I’d accepted with the SVP. Both my boss and I were made to look bad.”
What he did to fix it:
“I apologized profusely, promised my boss I would not do that again, and asked what I could do to fix it. He told me to take the new release out of operation immediately. I did that, and then I walked into the office of the SVP and told him what had happened. I took accountability, told him that I should have stopped and asked the right questions. I told him I would work with the Senior Architect to create a solution. Then I went to the Senior Architect to beg forgiveness and asked for help. I asked him for ideas on how we could give the SVP what he wanted without jeopardizing the other systems. Once we worked out a plan, and couple of options, I called a meeting with the SVP, my boss, and the Senior Architect to walk through the new options.”
What Leo learned from this experience:
“I learned to trust my gut. Follow procedure and etiquette. If something does not feel right, I need to stop and start asking questions, no matter how the person making the request reacts. It’s much easier to handle confrontation when problems are small. It was much harder to sit down with that SVP afterwards and tell him that I was taking his project off the table.”
I reiterate that it is OKAY to have made a big mistake. It can show the interviewer that you are insightful and are interested in learning and preventing bloopers in the future. It shows that you are someone who will stand up and be accountable, and work collaboratively to fix things. Your career history is not benefitted by burying mistakes. Here are questions to help you prepare for the “mistake” questions!
YOUR LEAST PROUD CAREER MEMORIES
What are those times in your career you wish you could do over again?
Mistake #1 (write down as many as you can think of, answering the same questions)
What was your job or role?
What was the mistake?
Did you “own” it at the time, or try to hide it?
Did you try to fix it, and did you succeed?
What did you learn from it, and what would you do differently next time?
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