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How to Tell an Interviewer about a Time You Failed in Your Job

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In our last post, we looked at two ways you could answer an interview question about failure. The first way was to “pick a real failure” and the second was to “define failure in your own words.”

Brooke Olson over at HEALTHeCAREERS provides two additional tips for relating the story about how you failed in the past.

1. Tell Your Story.

You’ve got your story. You’re comfortable with your definition of failure. Now, simply tell the story without spending “too much time setting the stage, and get to the punchline quickly. 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,” Olson writes.

According to the article, there are three components to your story: the situation, the challenge, and how you failed at it.

“Do not try to cover up the fact that things didn’t all go as planned,” Olson warns. “It’s impossible to do well in an interview if the interviewer doesn’t believe what you’re saying, so don’t try to sugarcoat things.”

2. Share What You Learned.

Once you’ve told your story, then you have the opportunity to explain how you learned from this incident or as Olson calls it, “the good stuff.”

There are three components to this part of your answer as well: “why you think things went badly…what you would have done in hindsight…what you’ll be doing going forward.”

As always, keep it succinct: “Our big problem was assuming that we would be able to get clean data from users. It’s one of my biggest takeaways from the experience: Never make assumptions about the data. I haven’t made that mistake again.”

Or: “If I had just communicated the first few bumps in the road, we could have managed our client’s expectations, but because we didn’t, we damaged the relationship. Now, I never let an uncomfortable conversation prevent me from communicating the status of a project transparently.”

So, remember: Embrace the fact that you failed and embrace the fact that you learned from it.

As physicians and advanced practitioners who are looking for jobs, feel free to practice your answer on us. How have you failed in the past, and what lessons have you learned from that failure?

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