how to turn your mistakes into interview gold

Yes, you read that correctly. You can turn past work-related mistakes into something very valuable at a job interview.

“What is this sorcery?”, I hear you ask. Well, it’s not exactly alchemy but it does require some preparation on your part.

Many of us have had to grabble for a positive response to the question: “Tell us about a mistake you’ve made at work.” But simply listing your errors is a major no-no – this will flip an otherwise good interview into a flop.

Although potentially awkward, being asked about a previous faux pas tests interviewees’ attitude to work and problem-solving skills. So, before you find yourself in that interview hot seat, prepare your responses.

Don’t panic – mistakes can benefit your career

Mistakes at work are normal. As a matter of fact, one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, believes: “You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

It’s an attitude shared by many high-performance business people; they know learning from their own gaffes is one of the secrets to unlocking innovation and success.

So, it’s time to make friends with your mistakes and figure out how to make them work in your favour.

Pick the ‘right’ mistake

In the context of a job interview, the right kind of mistake can help you demonstrate your intelligence. So, choose an example that genuinely provided you with a valuable lesson, and one that has boosted your skillset.

Let’s say you accidentally emailed a client with sensitive information about another client, or you took the wrong agenda to an important meeting. Either error would be rather cringeworthy!

But you can use such examples to show how you dealt with the issue by being adaptable and that you’re capable of thinking on your feet.

Explain how you dealt with the problem

Be confident when talking through how you overcame the issue. Perhaps you immediately rang the client who received the wrong email to apologise and reassure them that their own details were secure, and that you hit ‘send’ before checking the email recipient due to an exceptionally busy day.

Maybe you called a colleague to ask them to email over the correct agenda straightaway so you could print it out. However, in the meantime, you started the meeting as best you could to avoid further delays and inconvenience to attendees.

What lessons did you learn?

Talking about what you did to avoid a repeat incident demonstrates that you accepted responsibility for the mistake and went on to reflect on your misstep. It also tells interviewers that you thought creatively to develop and implement a preventative solution.

Let’s say that now, you only add a recipient’s name to an email when you’ve finished writing the message and double-check the name before you click ‘send’.

In terms of meetings, you decided to only use tablets, so you and your attendees were no longer burdened with reams of documents.

Whatever your solution, highlight its effectiveness, and how the incident has made you a better employee and colleague.


For more job interview advice, speak to one of polkadotfrog’s highly experienced consultants today.