My favorite interview question. As an HR representative I have interviewed thousands of candidates over the years. I love this question.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. This isn’t a trick question. However, the reaction of candidates is an interesting case study in human behavior. Some are comfortable answering the question and deliver a nice, honest answer. Others outright tell me they cannot think of one mistake they ever made in their career. Others give an example, but they blame their team or a co-worker or their manager for the mistake.
I am not concerned with the impact of the mistake. I am looking for an error you made, and whether or not you owned up to it. Then, what did you learn from it and what steps did you take to prevent a recurrent mistake? Many companies look for employees who model accountability. We are not looking for people who are going to cover their mistakes or blame others.
My favorite example as an answer to this question was the time when I “forgot” to get an offer finally approved by the General Manager. (It had already been approved a few weeks back, but this GM liked to be heavily involved in the salary, offer details, etc.) I went ahead and offered the candidate the job. The GM then told me he was not approving it. I had to call the candidate and rescind the offer. I made a negative impact on another person’s life. I was mortified. But, you better believe I never forgot to get approval several times from that particular GM before I even thought of offering a position.
In conclusion, do not fear this question. Be honest and provide a specific example of what you learned, and you will be in a great place.