Behavioural Interview Question – Tell me about a time you failed


In this post, we will answer the situational interview question: “Tell me about a time you failed.”


In the post, we’ll cover:


  • Why this question is asked


  • What to say when you’re answering/how to answer it


  • And how to wrap

OK, so what’s the point of this question?


Normally, when interviewers ask these types of questions, especially this one, it comes from the theory that your approach to failure defines your success. The question is designed to see how you approach failure, how you think about it, and what your attitude towards failure is.


So, moving on.


How do we answer this question specifically?


So, you’re going to answer it by telling a story, and with that story, we’re going to use a formula. It’s called the S.A.R.I. formula, which we’ll go through in this post. S.A.R.I. stands for: Situation, Action, Result, and (as a bonus) Interesting features. The S.A.R.I. formula is mentioned in many posts and many places online, I’m sure, and it comes from the same place as the S.A.R. formula or the S.T.A.R. formula, which are essentially the same. So, S.T.A.R. is: Situation, Task, Action, Result. And S.A.R. is: Situation, Action, Result.


So, now that you know about that, let’s get right into it.



Step 1: The Situation


So, here is where you’re going to set the stage and paint a picture. So, you’re going to explain what happened, why you failed, and why you thought this was a failure. So, one person might have thought something was a failure, and another person might not have seen it that way, so you’re going to explain what the problem was.


Step 2: Action


This is where the meat of your answer comes in. So, what did you do? Talk about the action that you took—and specifically the action that YOU took. Don’t say “we” or “us.” They want to know what YOU did. Top candidates own up to their part in a failure, and then they come up with options on how to fix it and how to move forward quickly, so present the options that you suggested to fix it, and tell them which one you went with and why.


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Step 3: Result


Explain how it worked out in the end. What happened as a result of your actions? Every story is not complete without a happy ending, so make sure it’s something positive you choose to tell the story about, and the story ends well.


Step 4: Interesting Features


This is a bonus. I know this is all hard to remember all together, but… Interesting features. So, this is what really puts the icing on the cake. Zero in on learning, talk about resources you used to get the results that you did—anything that adds interest to the story and makes the story more fun to listen to.


For example, an interesting feature that you can use to wrap it up is an insightful comment on how you view failure. These make good interesting features and are nuggets of wisdom that highlight how you learn and grow.


Here’s a couple of good ones:


  • You can’t fail if you don’t give up… or


  • You learn more from your failures than you ever do from your successes.

And all in all, failures are rich with experience. They’re rich with growth. They mean character building. They mean learning. They mean tough growth moments, so don’t shy away from talking about them. Embrace them, own them and believe that they make you a better person because they do! If you never tried at anything, you’d never fail, and you’ve never have any experience, and you’d never grow.


And there we have it! What is your attitude towards failure? How do you deal when things go wrong? And how do you take responsibility for the failure, and how do you propose to fix it?


There we have it. You can tell them how it turned out. Don’t forget to tell them how the story ends. Don’t leave them hanging! And as a bonus, add interesting features like telling them what you learned and interesting insights that you learned from your particular story.


So, thank you so much for reading! If you’d like more help with these types of questions, click the link below to get free instant access to the free guide to situational interviewing. Now, this guide took me a long time to put together. It’s throughout my entire life, I’ve gathered all these examples. What you’ll get when you download this guide… You’ll get an in-depth look at the S.A.R.I. formula and the psychology behind it. You’ll get a series of concrete examples, the top-ten most commonly asked situational questions with examples for each, and you’ll get fill-in-the-blank templates for each question so that you can design your own answer. And if you’re still getting stuck—because preparing your own stories is tough—I’ve also included 25 questions to come up with your own stories a lot faster. So, they’re questions you can ask yourself to get your mind going. You’ll get all this information immediately in a beautifully designed workbook designed specifically for you to prepare for your interviews. By the end of working through the guide, you’ll be totally ready for any situational, behavioural interview question that comes your way. Click below to grab it now.


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Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the other side. Have a good week, and thanks for reading


In Work & Life
-Natalie Fisher


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