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2 Ways to Answer a Job Interview Question about Failure

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No matter how much you prepare for a job interview, chances are you’ll still be caught off-guard by the way a question is phrased or how a follow-up question is asked or by an unconventional question that other employers rarely ask.

One of these questions that isn’t common, but still might pop up in an interview is: “Tell about a time you failed,” Brooke Olson over at HEALTHeCAREERS writes. “How do you answer this honestly while also not scaring away your potential future employer?”

Here are two ways to answer this question in a way that shouldn’t trip you up. Oh, and you should also prepare your answer in advance, just in case this question is asked.

1. Pick a Real Failure.

“Don’t try to weasel your way out of this by talking about that one time you got a B in a college class,” Olson writes. “You’re not fooling anyone. At the same time, you probably also want to shy away from any colossal failures related to the kind of work you’re applying for.”

However, it’s a solid bet most employers want you to give a failure that’s work-related. Olson advises that you “try to at least pull the story from something that happened a long time ago. Choose a story in which something fairly important didn’t go right due to your personal actions (or lack of actions).”

The use of the word “something” is deliberate, she adds. It’s not “everything” for a reason. In fact, “the reason people so frequently trip up on this question is because they’re looking for a situation in which everything went wrong. You only need one thing to go wrong for your answer to work.”

2. Define Failure in Your Own Words.

Get it out of your head that you have to assume you know what the employer means when they use the word “failure.” As with most words, there are many levels and degrees of failure.

“After you’ve picked your story, define failure in a way that works for it. Once failure is defined, your story no longer needs to be an obvious failure; it just has to be whatever you define failure to be.”

Your definition of failure may be “not meeting expectations” of yourself and others, or it could be when something at work catches you off-guard and unprepared, or it could be “about not meeting a goal with the resources you’re given.”

No matter how surprising an interview question may be, stay in control of your answer. Consider the many different angles and slants that could be used within your answer, especially since many interview questions are open for interpretation.

As physicians and advanced practitioners, how would you answer a question about failure? For that matter, how do you define failure?

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