Man sitting at desk in front of laptop thinkingEveryone makes mistakes. But how you talk about them can turn them from a negative to a positive, especially during a job interview. Learn how to highlight the positives from mistakes and use them as examples during the interview, and how to apply the STAR method to explain your story with clear, concise focus.

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"Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake"

Apr 7, 2021

Man sitting at desk in front of laptop thinkingOur previous blog post in this series was, Behavioral Interview Questions: What Are They? We discussed a general approach to answering these types of questions. Today, we're talking about answering a specific and common question: "Tell me about a time you made a mistake." Everyone makes mistakes, but no one likes to talk about them. So how do you answer this question during a job interview? Go into the interview prepared, and you can turn your mistake into an asset.

Own Your Mistake

The first rule in answering this question is to take responsibility for your mistake. Don't blame someone else. Describe what you did or should have done to fix it. Did you forget to follow up with someone? Did a task fall off your radar because you weren't very organized? Here's an example of how you can address a mistake and take responsibility for it.

Think of a situation in your own experience and break down the key points using the STAR method. You can talk about a volunteer experience or even a specific job you've held, for example:

"At the end of every shift at the shelter where I volunteer, there are certain tasks that need to be done. Otherwise, the other volunteers are left in a bind and can't complete their own tasks. One day I was in a rush to get home and forgot to do everything that needed to be done before I left. The next day, I apologized to my coordinator and the other volunteers and created a checklist to use in the future. Now I can make sure everything gets done before I leave, and nothing gets forgotten. My coordinator liked my checklist so much they asked to share it with the other volunteers to increase productivity within the project."

How this uses the STAR method:

  • Situation: Give the interviewer context to your story and why this event matters.
    "At the end of every shift at the shelter where I volunteer, there are certain tasks that need to be done. Otherwise, the other volunteers are left in a bind and can't complete their own tasks."
  • Task: Define your role in the situation and what you were responsible for.
    "One day I was in a rush to get home and I forgot to do everything that needed to be done before I left."
  • Action: List the actions you took to fix the situation.
    "The next day, I apologized to my coordinator and the other volunteers and created a checklist to use in the future."
  • Results: Explain the results of your actions and the positives that came out of this event.
    "Now I can make sure everything gets done before I leave, and nothing gets forgotten. My coordinator liked my checklist so much they asked to share it with the other volunteers to increase productivity within the project."

Approaching your mistake this way shows that you accept responsibility, but it also highlights how you resolved the issue and helped the rest of your team.

Don't Dwell on Your Mistake

Like the example above, you don't need to dwell on your mistake or whether it affected your job. Instead, emphasize what you learned and how you avoided making a similar mistake in the future like the example below:

"When I was a customer service representative, our main form of communication with clients was via email. When I lost track of a very important email from a client, it resulted in the company losing a big account. To make sure it didn't happen again I started using some tools to help me. For example, I marked emails as unread and flagged them until I followed up on them. I also started using folders in my email program in a way that helped me track where things were. Implementing this system made me more organized and prompt in my communication with clients from then on."

This answer not only briefly talks about your mistake, but it highlights how you have become more organized and applied that skill to other jobs.

Ticket to Work

There's a lot to consider when job searching and it can be tough trying to do everything on your own. Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) Program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SDSI or SSI) and want to work. The Ticket Program is free and voluntary. The Ticket Program connects you with free employment services to help you decide if working is right for you, prepare for work, find a job or maintain success while you are working.

Many Ticket to Work service providers offer help with job interview preparation, including mock interviews that can help you prepare for the questions you may receive during an interview.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Receive Ticket Program Texts

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

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