Failures are a part of our life. They accompany our reality like a counterpart to the brighter side of what we do and learn. In simpler words, failures are the shadowy part of burning light. No matter how bright and glowing the luminosity of the lamp of our life is, there remains one place where darkness prevails. That is the shadow cast by the very light flames and is called the region of flops and rejections. It is an inevitable phase of one’s life, and unless we don’t fall and get defeated, it is not possible for us to get back up and come back with a stronger will. There is a pattern that follows in people who fail and those who haven’t yet. When compared to the latter group, the first set of people are more creative, surpass others in terms of determination, are known to find improved solutions to tricky problems, and can handle themselves better when they face any obstacles. The reason behind it? Their failures made them analyze their flaws and mistakes and inspired them to work harder for their next attempt.
And it is not only that the ordinary people fail and fall behind in their life. Everyone, be it the rich, the intelligent, or the gifted comes across defeat countless times. Here are some famous people who went through copious amounts of hardship and were once considered failures in their past:
- Abraham Lincoln failed as a businessman and couldn’t succeed as a lawyer in Springfield. He was constantly defeated in the field of politics from 1954 to 1958.
- Lady Gaga was called off from a label record three months after they had signed her. This was going to be her first appearing album. Also, her school and college students constantly bullied her and called her a loser and someone who would never succeed.
- Many people, including his father, called Charles Darwin a man below the intellects of what the commoners have.
- J. k. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers for the Harry Potter books. They called the story absurd.
- Thomas Edison’s teachers called him stupid and he was fired from two jobs for being unproductive. He went on a trial of 1000 failed attempts at making the light bulb.
- Oprah Winfrey was kicked out of her debut job as a TV anchor.
- Walt Disney lived in bankruptcy for years and was called unimaginative and lacking ideas by his upper men at work.
- You can see how failure entwines our life. You must’ve seen others around you fail, and you must’ve gone through the same scenario on multiple occasions. But what differentiates everyone is how one embraces the failure and works harder to rise again. Let us take a small example of the mythological creature Phoenix. It is the Greek mythical bird of immortality and reincarnation. This beautiful bird is associated with the sun and elegant fire. When it is nearing the end of its life, its body burns down in a majestic show of flames until it is turned to nothing but ashes. And immediately, another Phoenix in a baby form is born out of its predecessor’s ashes. It grows up to become the majestic bird of transcending life and dies again to give birth to a newer form of itself. We, the mortal human beings can learn so much from this folklore creature.
- When you think about it, Phoenix represents the sun and the endless cycle of life that is indestructible. The same applies to ourselves. The sun has been the source of life for all of us and it gives us endless ability to keep growing. The sun can also be represented as our goal or dream. And just like the bird, to achieve our ambition, we transform endless times. Phoenix rises from its ashes and is reborn again and again. We can take the ashes as our failure and the burnt bird as the old version of ourselves that got defeated and put aside. But we can always be born as a newer version of ourselves by learning from our failures and using it as a womb to learn our shortcomings and gain nutrition to face this world once more.
- Just like this bird of flames and fire, we are also born again and again in our life as we struggle to be victorious. The cycle of immortality is nothing but a representation of the tough journey that follows us. The only choice we have is to decide for ourselves that whether we wish to stay in that ash forever or be born again and rise like a majestic Phoenix to touch the sky and reach the successful height as elegant as the sun?
- Failures occur in every part and domain of this world. They are not gender, work, age, religion, or nationality specific. People fail every time. One such common area where defeat is distributed abundantly is the working sector and job market. Whether it be someone’s first job, an internship, or part-time work, failure occurs and teaches us how we can improve ourselves. Therefore all the interviewers add this one question for their examinee. “Tell me a time when you failed.” This interrogation always panics the person to whom it was directed. And many consider it as a means to implore their weakness in their profession. But do not take this question in a negative sense. It is meant as a means to understand your core values and how you have emerged as a person after failing.
- The examiners are more mature, well-researched, and experienced than their examinees. They know that there doesn’t exist a single person who hasn’t failed in their life. And so they toss this question to see how honest you are and what did you learn from your defeat. They intend to look for specific traits in people they wish to hire and the way we present this question’s answer gives in a lot for them to decide. Answering this question is both easy and tricky at the same time. People fumble at this crucial point and end up saying things that cast a bad impression on them in the room. But then is there a correct and simple way to answer it? Well yes, it is!
Words of Thought
By grasping and following a few quick and simple words of thought, you will be able to appropriately tackle this inquiry.
- Choose a past failure in advance so that you don’t have to think about one when you are questioned.
- Be honest and truthful about what had happened, because employers seek truthfulness and transparency from their employees.
- Keep your narration simple and quick. Around 50 to 70 seconds is more than enough to share your story. If you make it longer, it might turn bland and lose the attention of the listeners.
- Lastly, do not panic. Stay calm and express yourself. Humbly talk about your experience and how you grew from this event.
- Focus on being concise and clear with your words and speech. Communication is important while working in a company and it reflects your personality.
Do’s and Don’ts
Now that we know what the basic Do’s and Don’ts are, let us consider some common scenarios and how we can answer them professionally –
CASE 1 – “The employees were being assigned a series of short projects in my previous company. The target was to select a few tasks we sought comfortable to us and submit them in a complied format on the stipulated deadline. As I saw other coworkers taking only a couple of them, I opted for completing five assignments in an eager attempt to impress my senior. At that time I had thought that I’d pull it off easily with shining colors despite my feelings of being overwhelmed with this tough choice. But the deadline approached and I was only able to submit three of the projects. My employer was not happy. I was allowed to submit the remaining two tasks a week later but by then, I’d already failed with my words and promise. This experience taught me to never take more than what my hand can hold and I stopped trying to over accomplish just to impress others. It leads to failures and people are let down. So when we were given another set of projects, I opted for only what I felt I’d be able to finish. And this time, I was able to submit all my work much before the deadline as I was not stressed and struggling to overdo something. The seniors were impressed with my improvement and I got lucky enough to have my project shortlisted by them.”
CASE 2 – “While I was working in my previous firm, we were given a group project in which we could select the teammates of our preference. Our target was to scale the profit value of our task from the current 15% to 20%. In an ambitious rush, I chose the people who were known to submit their work before the deadline. As I did not thoroughly check my coworkers, my plan backfired. All of us ended up having conflicting thoughts and ideas with each other. We found it hard to adjust together as I hadn’t set any ground for our understanding and cooperation. We were able to submit our project on time but its performance was lackluster. It was messed up and nobody was satisfied. This made me realize how vital it was to not rush headfirst into work for the sole purpose of completing it. And how not all the people with the best abilities don’t always fit together. Keeping this in mind I tackled my next team project carefully. I double-checked on my team members and we put the effort into understanding each other to cooperate as one for this assignment. Our task came out perfect and was well-received by the client. Through this, I learned the importance of right teamwork and collaboration.”
CASE 3 – “During the hiring season in my previous company, I was tasked by my senior colleague to document the list of the shortlisted candidates and prepare a brief about for each of them. I’d to compile a report on them and further narrow down the more suitable applicants for another assessment. My manager had asked how long would I need to which I’d said I would require only a couple of days. I’d wanted to create a good impression in front of others. And in this ambition, I ended up underestimating my work. I took one whole week to submit the report and my manager was unhappy with this. From this, I learned not to overestimate my abilities and make rash decisions when presented with an opportunity. Through this experience, I got better at managing my time and the expectations of my employee. So the next time when I was given another assignment, I told my superior that it would take me a week to complete it. I finished it in four days and they were happy with my performance and punctuality. Since then I haven’t faced any such problem regarding my submission and I’ve helped my seniors to hire fresher in my company after that. That failure was not the best part of my life but it taught me well in my career.”
CASE 4 – “I had overtaken a big project for my company with an important client. And in a zest to stand out, I’d assured them that my project would display a success rate of 100%. I thought that this was easy and pretty doable but when my assignment was finished, it gave a success rate of 88%. This disappointed my client. From this I came to understand how important it is to be humble with one’s words and boasting about a future result even before it is done isn’t a good way to negotiate business. After that when I took another such project, I told my client that I would give them an output of 85% and once I completed it, my task had a 91% success rate. My client was impressed with this result. Since then I have worked with plenty of patrons and none of them have complained of being unsatisfied with my work output. I learned to be humble and appreciate others’ demands and necessity in the working sector and this has made me work more selflessly now.”
The above stories tell how failure occurs in the simplest forms of events and how one can overcome it. They show what you came to learn in the process and how you used it to become a better version of yourself.
Do not make up the failure stories
It is well-known that the examiners who interview us are more experienced than us and know a lot in their field. So it is not a good idea to lie in front of them and tell them an incident that has never occurred in your life. They will most certainly sniff out the falsehood of the answer and cross you out from their list. Being honest is a well-appreciated and virtuous act that is admired in the working sector. So do not make up random failure stories. They show your irresponsible and untrustworthy side. Simply select one from your past and narrate it using good communication skills.
Avoid praising yourself too much
While it is okay to make your interviewer realize that you have learned from your defeating obstacle in your life and have used it to come this far, it is never a good choice to boast about how great of a person you are now. Be humble with your words when you tell them what improvements you have done and the things you have achieved instead of exaggerating your abilities and telling them that they’d be at a loss if they didn’t hire someone as unique as you. Such is the example of arrogance and it is known to lead a person to their gradual downfall.
Acknowledge your faults during failures, if any
We tend to rely on those people who are responsible and own up their share of fault. By doing the same while answering, your interviewers will appreciate your honesty and determination to learn from your bad experiences. It is necessary to acknowledge the previous mistakes that led to us failing because it shows that by accepting your weakness, you’ve meditated on it, learned from it, and grown to be a better person. Without accountability, there is no ground for success and trust in a company.
Don’t talk about something that was a disaster
Yes, being honest is important. But you need to be smart while answering your questions, especially the one that talks about your failure, for you wouldn’t want to put yourself in a negative light. So choose an incident where the damage was not that big of a deal and you managed to correct yourself after this blunder. Avoid the situations where your fault had caused a disastrous loss to your company or institute. Remember that you are not lying, you are being honest here with your story but you’re just hiding the messiest part that would rather be left untouched.
Did you know that a professor at MIT offers a course on failure? He decided on this subject because failures is a more common occurrence than success. It was his way to teach the younger generation about embracing and using it as a stepping stone to cross the turbulent river of uncertainties. Through failures, we come to appreciate life, discover new traits about ourselves, learn of our true latent strength, and embrace ourselves as a whole despite our shortcomings. Failures at work is just a part of success and it teaches us to reevaluate our thinking skills and working style. Employers look for such traits while hiring new people as they want to see how beautifully the fresh bud can bloom in their firm and glorify their workspace. It isn’t meant as a question to disturb or trick you in your interview, but as a safeguard to see where you stand and what did you gain from that. Only those who can find the brightness in defeat can think to change this world and leave behind a long-lasting impression. That’s why, failures is not the end of the road for any one of us but if we do not learn from its lessons, we will certainly be unable to move ahead from that frozen spot.
Some of the Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ)
- How do I answer “What has been my biggest failures?”
Ans. The best way to tackle this question is by choosing honesty and owning your fault. Then comes the step-by-step method to break down your answer and present it in a simple form. Here’s what you can follow for building up your story:
- Select an incident where the failures wasn’t overly bad and didn’t cause a loss in your previous company. It should be of a time when it wasn’t that troublesome and you could easily solve it.
- Be precise and use clear words to narrate yourself. Your communication skills matter here.
- And express what you learned from this experience and how it helped you grow and improve.
- What are some good weaknesses that are responsible for a project failures ?
Ans. People are different, and so are their quirks. But a common set of weaknesses leads to failures at work, or during studies, or in a real-life scenario. Here are some examples:
- Being inept in letting go of a task.
- Overdoing something and being unable to say ‘no.’
- Not coming up to ask for help when required.
- Having a hard time planning and recognizing the requirements.
- Is it alright if I failed an important task in my previous company?
Ans. It is completely alright and understandable to fail and mess up a project. Sometimes they are small and sometimes they are significant. What matters is how you face your situation and fix up what you did. What counts in a failure are the 5 vital steps – owning your fault, understanding your situation, taking steps to improve it, learning from it, and moving ahead in your life.