Answering the “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” Interview Question for Interns | Chegg Internships (2023)

Dana Guterman

Answering the “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” Interview Question for Interns | Chegg Internships (1)

Updated: June 17, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Understand how to answer the interview question, “Tell me about a time you failed.”
  • Know why employers ask about your failures.
  • Be prepared for the interview with various examples of common mistakes and failures.

For the most part, an interview is all about your academic and professional excellence. But then, there are those questions about your weaknesses, missteps, and failures. One of the most frequently asked questions is “Tell me about a time you failed.” These types of questions are a bit trickier to answer.

Today, we’ll look at how to talk about your failures and mistakes in an interview.

(Video) How to Answer Tell Me About a Time / Behavioral Interview Questions - Student Example

How to respond to “Tell me about a time you failed”

So, how do you respond honestly without making the interviewer think you’re a human disaster? It requires careful planning and diplomacy—and using the STAR method, since this is a behavioral interview question.

Here are the key points to hit:

  1. Briefly and clearly share an example of a time you failed.
  2. Take responsibility for what happened and don’t blame others.
  3. Then, focus the majority of your response on how you learned from the experience.
  4. Highlight how this experience allowed you to improve certain skills or qualities relevant to the internship or job for which you’re interviewing.
  5. End by summarizing how the experience made you a better worker and led to future successes.

Handling Follow-Up Questions about Failures in Interviews

Interviewers often delve deeper into your responses, especially those concerning failures, to gauge your self-awareness, problem-solving abilities, and capacity for personal growth. Here are some tips to effectively manage these follow-up questions:


Consider possible follow-up questions the interviewer might ask about your failure, such as “What would you do differently now?” or “How did this experience influence your future actions?” Plan your responses ahead of time to answer confidently.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Remember, the follow-up questions are not meant to corner you but to understand your learning process and growth. Stay positive, focusing on the lessons learned and how the experience helped you improve.

Stay Consistent

Your responses to the follow-up questions should be consistent with what you initially shared about your failure. Any inconsistencies could raise doubts about your honesty.

Be Concise

Like your initial response, your answers to follow-up questions should also be concise and direct. Stick to the facts and avoid unnecessary details or rambling.

Reinforce Your Learning

Use follow-up questions as an opportunity to reinforce what you learned from your failure and how it made you a stronger candidate for the role. This helps to end the discussion of your failure on a positive note.

Follow-up questions can provide an excellent opportunity to further showcase your problem-solving skills, ability to learn from past experiences, and commitment to personal growth, all of which are qualities employers value.

(Video) INTERVIEW QUESTION: Tell Me About A Time You Handled A Difficult Situation? (The BEST Answer!)

“Tell me about a time you failed”: Sample answers

Here are two sample answers for talking about a time you failed.

Example 1: Engineering internship

In one of my engineering classes two years ago, our final project had us working in teams of four to design the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems for different historic buildings. I designed the electrical, and I promised my team I’d get my designs done three weeks early, so the rest of the team could design theirs based on my work. My team was surprised that I could turn it around that quickly, but I brushed off their concerns. Then, I got three new assignments that same week. I couldn’t get my part done on time, and I felt terrible. My team worked together to finish the project, and we got an A, but I felt like I let everyone down.

After that, I knew that I needed to manage my time better. I started using project management software, and I learned to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the other way around. This semester, I had a similar group project, and I gave myself several weeks to complete my part. When I delivered everything a week early, my team was thrilled.

Example 2: Entry-level product manager

I’ve had a part-time job doing data entry and scheduling for healthcare providers for the past three years. I started when I was a freshman in college, and balancing my coursework, extracurriculars, and a new job was challenging. During finals period in my freshman year, I was pretty overwhelmed. I’m a careful person, but I was trying to rush through my forms so I could get back to studying. I made a mistake inputting the client information, which led to a real headache for the provider. To fix it, I spent hours on the phone with the client, taking full responsibility. We got everything fixed. I was determined to avoid a mistake like that ever again.

I met with my supervisor, and she helped me develop strategies to improve my attention to detail. These actually benefited the whole company, as we all began a peer editing process to minimize errors. My supervisor also suggested a schedule where I didn’t work for the two weeks prior to finals. Now, I’ve been at the job for three years, and I’ve been promoted—and I’ve never made a mistake like that again.

(Video) Tell Me About a Time You Wished You’d Handled a Situation With a Coworker Differently | [Examples]

Need more inspiration? Read on.

Other examples of failures for your interview

Just like people define success in different ways, everyone has their own definition of failure. Here are some general examples of regrets, blunders, and failures to jump-start your brainstorming process. Chances are you’ve experienced at least one of them.

Remember: The best examples of failures allow you to tell a compelling story because you learned something and grew from the failure.

  • Not meeting others’ expectations.
  • Missing a deadline.
  • Taking on too much/over-promising.
  • Failing an assignment.
  • Not getting a job.
  • Not getting into a club or making a team.
  • Losing a customer.
  • Staying in an unsatisfying job/major/class too long.

Tips on talking about your mistakes and failures

  • Don’t ramble. Your answer should be less than two minutes. Don’t drone on about every aspect of the failure. Choose a clear, concise example, and then focus on the outcome.
  • Keep it positive. This isn’t about the failure itself; it’s about how and what you learned from your failure.
  • Don’t go too small or too big. It should be a real failure, but not a total disaster. Getting a B+ is too little, while losing your company hundreds of thousands of dollars is too much.
  • Share a one-time mistake. No one wants an intern who makes the same mistake again and again. Let the interviewer know that you learned from the experience and it’s in the past.
  • Don’t say you haven’t failed. Everyone fails, and saying you haven’t makes you appear oblivious and risk-averse.

Common Mistakes When Answering “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” and How to Avoid Them

Blaming Others

One of the common errors applicants make is to shift the blame onto others. This sends a message that you’re unable to take responsibility for your mistakes, which is not a trait employers appreciate. Always make sure to accept your part in the failure, no matter how tempting it might be to blame others.

Choosing an Insignificant Failure

Another common mistake is downplaying the situation by choosing a failure that is trivial or irrelevant. This might make it seem like you are avoiding the question or that you have not faced any substantial challenges. Be honest and select a real example where you learned something valuable.

(Video) Tell Me About Yourself: How to Answer this Medical School Interview Question

Neglecting the Learning Aspect

Some candidates make the mistake of focusing too much on the failure and not enough on what they learned from it. Remember, the purpose of this question is not to dwell on the negative but to demonstrate your ability to learn and grow from your mistakes.

Choosing a Recurring Failure

Discussing a mistake that you’ve made repeatedly could indicate to the employer that you struggle with learning from your mistakes. Choose an instance where you failed, learned from it, and subsequently improved your performance.

Saying You’ve Never Failed

This is possibly the worst response you can give. Everyone fails at some point; it’s a part of life and learning. Saying you’ve never failed might make you come across as either dishonest or extremely risk-averse.

Remember, discussing failure in an interview is about showcasing your ability to take responsibility, learn from your mistakes, and implement changes that improve your future performance. It’s not about highlighting your shortcomings, but about demonstrating your resilience, adaptability, and personal growth.

Answering the “Tell Me About a Time You Failed” Interview Question for Interns | Chegg Internships (2)

Meet the author

Dana Guterman

Dana Guterman is a content strategist, writer, and researcher, specializing in higher education and career development. Her clients span the business, tech, academic, and nonprofit industries. Dana graduated from Brown University, with a BA in East Asian studies, and now lives and works in Portland, Oregon.


How do you answer interview question about time you failed? ›

How to Respond to “Tell Me About a Time You Failed”
  • Focus more on the learning than the failure. ...
  • Choose a miscalculation, not a mistake. ...
  • Don't draw extra attention to the failure. ...
  • Look for a we, not a me. ...
  • Aim toward low consequence, not high consequence. ...
  • Keep the failure story short. ...
  • Don't defend a failure.
Jan 10, 2023

What is an example of tell me about a time when you failed? ›

I missed my deadline and had to change the delivery window. The client wasn't happy with the extra time I needed. While I did finish the project, it took much longer than it should have. Had I taken those steps to test changes at every stage, I wouldn't have had to go back to the drawing board to make changes.

What is a good example of failure for interview? ›

Common examples of failures you can mention in a job interview include: Failing to meet a project deadline. Miscommunication with a team member.

What is your biggest failure example answers for students? ›

My poor listening skills led me to lose one of the most significant projects of the organization. It had a negative impact on my appraisal, and I realized where I lacked, I discussed the issue with my manager, and he helped me to teach how effectively can I handle projects.

Can you tell us about a time you failed? ›

Tell your story.

Interviewers don't ask this question to see you squirm, they want to know how you handle setbacks—so get to the part where you're dealing with the failure as quickly as possible. Start with the situation, and explain why it was challenging. Then go into what you specifically did to try and rectify it.

What is your biggest failure best answer? ›

Pick a real failure that happened in the workplace, specifically a failure related to the work you're doing now. Look for a story where something didn't go as planned. Choosing the right story is important, as you want to explain a situation where only one thing went wrong.

How do you handle failure sample answer? ›

Ways to Manage Failure
  • Recognise and accept your emotions. Failure hurts, at least in the first instance, and you need to accept that. ...
  • Don't make it personal. ...
  • Don't worry what anyone else will think. ...
  • Take the right amount of responsibility. ...
  • Use failure as a way to improve.

What is an example of a successful failure? ›

Many notable success stories began in failure: Henry Ford went bankrupt before starting the Ford Motor Company; Thomas Edison and his colleagues tested thousands of materials before creating the carbon-filament lightbulb; J. K. Rowling received twelve rejections before the first Harry Potter book was published.

How do you handle failures provide examples? ›

How to deal with failure
  • Acknowledge your feelings. ...
  • Recognize irrational beliefs. ...
  • Release the need for approval. ...
  • Accept responsibility. ...
  • Don't take it personally. ...
  • Channel negative emotion productively. ...
  • Adopt stress management skills. ...
  • Boost self-esteem.
Feb 3, 2023

What is your greatest failure as a student interview question? ›

This is a behavioral type question, where the interviewer will check how: what exactly do you consider as a failure, why it is considered a failure, what actions of yours led to the failure and most importantly what you learned from it and implemented the lessons later in your life.

Can you give me an example of a time when you were wrong about something? ›

A good response to a question about your past mistakes should go something like this: One time my boss came up to me and asked why he wasn't receiving emails from certain clients. At first, I explained to him that I didn't know and that I hadn't heard from the clients either.

What does failure mean to you interview question and answer? ›

Short Answers

"Failure is when I do not reach my goal." "I think to fail at something is making a mistake and not learning anything from it." "To me, failure means to have a goal and not do anything about it." "I think failure is not reaching your potential.

What are examples of failure for students? ›

Examples of failures
  • Receiving poor or failing test grades.
  • Not getting accepted into a degree or certification program.
  • Interviewing for a position but not securing a job offer.
  • Getting a bad performance review.
  • Missing a deadline.
  • Not making a team.
  • Losing a client, sale, project or money.
Feb 3, 2023

What question can help you reflect on a failure? ›

Questions to Reflect on Failure: What was the most important thing you learned? What was the most interesting discovery you made? What was the most challenging part?

What are common responses to failure? ›

These three represent the classic stress responses you've undoubtedly heard of before: fight, flight, and freeze. In all three cases, fear of failure activates the sympathetic nervous system.

What is a good example of failure? ›

Example: “(Situation) In my last job, I was assigned a project that had an unrealistic deadline and not enough resources to complete it. (Task) I knew the project was doomed to failure from the very beginning, but rather than negotiating for additional time or resources, I agreed to take it on to impress my manager.

How do you handle an example of a time you did something wrong? ›

The best way to answer this question is to talk about a specific example of a time you made a mistake: Briefly explain what the mistake was, but don't dwell on it. Quickly switch over to what you learned or how you improved, after making that mistake.

How do you answer what is your biggest failure for a fresher? ›

Focus on what you learned

Explain what you think went wrong and led to the failure, what you may have done better, and the changes you made for the future. For instance, suppose the failure arose from you assuming the customers' needs. In that case, you may have learned to not assume the clients' needs.

How do you respond to a failed interview reply? ›

How to respond to a job rejection letter
  1. Thank your interviewers. You can show appreciation for several things when you write a reply to an interview rejection letter. ...
  2. Express your disappointment. ...
  3. Show continued interest. ...
  4. Ask for feedback.
Jan 30, 2023


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