How past mistakes can have future value in job interviews

By Liam Horan, Sli Nua Careers

Q: I am going for a job interview with a well-known company next week. A friend of mine works

Liam Horan
Liam Horan, BALLINROBE Tel: 094 95 42965

there already and he says there is one question that the manager always asks in interviews: “Tell me about a time when you made a right mess of something in the work place”. Alas, like everyone else I’m sure, I do have examples where things haven’t gone well for me. But how do I answer this question without incriminating myself? (LL, email).

A: We asked three of our career coaches to give their opinion on this interesting question.

MARK MCDONALD, DUBLIN NORTH: LL, there are a number of certainties in life, one of which is the fact that we all make mistakes. The workplace is no exception. The key to delivering the right answer to this question is for you to demonstrate how you are confident enough in your own ability to speak about an instance when something went wrong, but provided you with an opportunity to learn and ultimately improve.

Explain the issue in detail and outline where the problems occurred. Once you have done this, begin to explain how you may have put a corrective measure in place to prevent a recurrence, or you learned a vital lesson which ensured the issue would not be repeated. Demonstrate how the incident enabled you to become a better employee by providing you with an experience from which you have learned.

A-difficult-questionAOIFE PRENDERGAST, DUBLIN SOUTH: It is important to identify the actual problem in your example to the interview board. Working your way through the process of problem identification and outlining the process of solving the issue will be key to your success.

Honesty is the best policy. Once you have assured the interview board that you solved the problem you can reflect on your overall performance.

MICK O’CONNOR, ATHLONE: LL, firstly, look at this situation from a positive angle. You now know at least one of the questions which is likely to come up in the interview. Secondly, you have time in your overall preparation to formulate your thoughts and put together a coherent response to this question.

The tone of the question can come across as being very blunt and understandably can unsettle an interviewee who is not expecting it. However, if you stand back and look at a the question from the interviewer’s perspective you will see that what he is trying to ascertain from you is not just your experience of a work situation when you made a “right mess of something”  but, more importantly, how you addressed/retrieved the situation and the lessons which you learned.

None of us get through life without experience(s) of getting in to some kind of “mess” or difficulty. How we react in such situations says much about our character and this is what an interview setting is designed to reveal.

In the coming week look at some of the  situations from your past where things may not have gone well, but you managed to correct them. Make sure you are able to outline the process you used. Remember this question is really about your problem solving skills, how you react to pressure and what lessons you have learned from difficult situations.

If you would like to make a booking with any of our career coaches mentioned above, see HERE for CV Preparation and Interview Training.