How To Answer “Can You Tell Me About a Time You Failed?” (2021)

Do you have an upcoming job interview? Then you might stumble on the “Tell me about a goal you failed to achieve” or “Can you tell me about a time you failed?” interview question. On this page you’ll find the perfect example answer and additional interview tips to tackle this question. 

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The interviewer might ask you this question to see if you can reflect on your mistakes, learned from it and care about doing better. It’s a tricky interview question that catches many candidates off-guard. Therefore, make sure you use the CARL technique to structure your answer:

Example Answer

Context: “Let me think for a couple seconds… I remember when I first became a project manager and was eager to make a good impression. I was responsible for managing a construction project and informed the client that my team was able to finish the project within one month. 

Action: Right off the bat, we experienced significant problems because of poor contractor management, lack of resources, shortage of labour, planning and scheduling deficiencies. Our team had to work overtime to prevent further delays. 

Result: As a result, the project had a delay of one week. The client was satisfied with the end result, but clearly disappointed about the project delay. 

Learning: What I’ve learned from this experience is to be more conservative in my predictions to the client. It’s better to meet client expectations by including a time margin of approximately 20% of the total project estimation. By doing so, I can avoid disappointment when the team fails to deliver on time.

Interview Question Tips

  • Don’t ramble or talk negatively about a former employer or colleague
  • Don’t reveal a big mistake that resulted in significant losses
  • Don’t say you’ve never failed because that will only show your lack of awareness
  • Do provide an answer that shows you’re accountable and responsible for the outcome
  • Do explain what you’ve learned from the failure and what you’ll do differently in the future
  • Do give an answer that is clear, concise and to the point (don’t ‘beat around the bush’)