Interview Questions: “Tell me About a Project You Worked on That Failed”

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Interview Questions: “Tell me About a Project You Worked on That Failed”


These kinds of questions are common in job interviews. Asking these, “Tell me when you failed . . .” questions are as important as finding out about a candidate’s accomplishments. In the real world, success is often the result of a series of failures that motivated someone to push themselves to learn more and succeed next time. When an interviewer asks an applicant about a project that utterly failed, it lets the interviewer know the candidate better. It reveals whether they are driven, passionate about their work, resilient and focused on turning out quality work.

The following are some helpful tips to prepare you to answer this question constructively:

Write a list all your work-related failures. This will jog your memory regarding the projects that were not as successful as others. When you make a list it helps you recall those discouraging times that may have, in the end, motivated you to prevail on the next project.

No matter what industry you’re in, it is important to keep going no matter how badly you stumble and fall. Everyone experiences screw-ups and we all have an opportunity to learn from them. We avoid making the same mistake next time. Has your computer ever shut down erasing a report you neglected to “save” and you had to do it all over again? It went a lot faster the second time around, correct? That’s because you had a practice-run, even if all was lost. You made sure you “saved” your report and avoided past problems.

Pinpoint the projects you put your heart and soul into that failed, and the ones that ended up on the scrap heap out of carelessness. Most people have worked diligently towards a goal, and despite all the time and effort, they failed to achieve their goal. Avoid discussing situations that turned sour due to personal issues or office politics.

For example, if one of your projects failed due to a dispute with your manager or because you got sick, don’t mention this in the interview. There was no real learning experience to teach you anything, so it’s better left in the past.

Scrutinize each failed project to figure out exactly why it went south. This exercise will help bring these events to the forefront of your mind to help you determine what you may have done to cause the failure. You’ll have to take a hard look at yourself, being honest about the gravity of the mistakes you’ve made along the way.

Try to recall what you did after each failure. You can share these experiences with your interviewer regarding how you handled the failure, what it taught you so that it wouldn’t be repeated, and what it was that motivated you to press on. This information helps the hiring manager get a feeling for what you’d be like to collaborate with.

No sense in feeling humiliated about it. If you’ve made a major mistake in the past, you can discuss it with the interviewer. It can be the defining moment in your career that spurred you on to subsequent successes.

Steer the conversation back to all your achievements. There is nothing to be gained by dwelling on your failures and when you talk about them, avoid sounding bitter or negative. The point you want to make is that you’ve moved on and prevailed after such significant failure.

Don’t forget that the formula for success is to keep going when you’ve failed and this is the reason for your current successes.


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