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How To Answer: “How Do You Overcome A Mistake Made At Work?”

A mistake made at work… everybody makes them but not everybody likes to admit it. So, figuring out how to answer this interview question can be difficult. The more detail you go into the more problems and questions the interviewer could have. Whereas denying any previous mistakes will look defensive and risks losing credibility.

It’s not all about the mistake

The hardest part of your interview question, what mistake did I make? Whilst it may be difficult to think of an incident, in no way should you let this dominate your answer. The focus is on the resolution and how you deal with difficult situations in a work environment.

However, it will help your answer if you can think of a specific scenario. This will make your answer more believable and genuine. Just make sure you don’t go into too much detail in your answer.

For example:

“I previously worked independently but following a merger of teams, I found myself working alongside others on mutual tasks. At first, I was hesitant and didn’t embrace the change. But I later learned it is far more effective to help and have help from others, in that specific work environment.

I still feel self-motivated and confident enough to work alone but now I have the skills to be versatile and still work effectively alongside my coworkers.”

The risks of revealing too much

A complete backstory on why the mistake occurred, whose fault it was and the consequences that followed, is completely unnecessary. Instantly the interviewer knows ‘too much’. Allowing them to create their own opinions on your mistake, which may differ to your own…

An example of how not to answer:

“In a previous accounts role, I dealt with transactions on a daily basis. I once made a mistake with payments to a key client. The failure led to them discontinuing their partnership with the company. Costing the business thousands of pounds in monthly revenue.”

This does not answer what is being asked of you. Instead, you have avoided the question and gone into too much detail about the actual mistake itself.

Example two:

“I was once told by a manager to go ahead on a project and following their direction I did so. However, it turned out to be wrong and cost the company time and money to reverse the changes. I overcame this mistake by making the new alterations and learnt to question my manager’s direction in the future.”

Don’t play the blame game! No matter whose fault it is, your potential new employer won’t be impressed that your bad-mouthing and doubting previous management. Causing conflict does not make an ideal new employee.

Example Answer:

“I have always taken great detail and care in my work. In a previous junior role, I would take time to ensure tasks are completed to a high standard. However, when my workload increased, I found myself rushing tasks and not completing them to my usual high level of care. Luckily I was able to get help from my fellow co-workers but I realised this isn’t always an option.

So from this, I learnt to be a bit more flexible in my work style. Whilst its great to be cautious, at times sometimes you can be overly cautious and this isn’t always time-efficient. Its all about finding the right balance, which now I think I can confidently say I have found.”

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