January 7, 2019 at 7:15 pm #2578JeffAltmanCoachKeymaster
Today’s tough interview question–“Tell me about your failures.”
Whoo! And this is geared towards senior professionals.
Now, culturally, at least in the US, there is a norm that gets created from the time we’re relatively junior and even going back to school that goes along the lines of “we don’t make mistakes We really don’t. A mistake is failure. Oh, we can’t talk about that. Oh, mistakes are bad. After all, if you get too make mistakes on a homework assignment, you get a bad grade …whoooo! And here’s the truth of it. Once you get into the professional ranks, you are going to make mistakes.
Thus, the question becomes, “what do you learn from them?”
Now, if you noticed the language of the question, it doesn’t say “professional failure.” It just talks about, tell me about your failures.
And for you as a senior professional, I want to encourage you, you can rattle off a whole bunch of personal failures that you’ve had. And you can even rattle off a couple of professional ones, too. But, the important thing is, what you take away from it.
In effect, what you’re doing is creating an origin story for yourself–how you got to be where you are today. Because where you are today is not just on the basis of your successes, but it’s from what you learn from your failures. Got that?
So, you need to reveal the failures and the takeaways from them and how you applied it in subsequent dealings. So, for example, let’s say you’re in a situation when you were relatively junior and you forgot to communicate to your boss that you were having trouble with suppliers.
Okay, so, eventually, what you learned from that is there’s an inter dependency on the workforce and that even the most junior person will make mistakes and try and hide them. So, what you do today is you go to the junior people in your team and encourage them to fess up at the earliest possible point that they’re having problems, not because you don’t want them to persevere, but because of the impact of what they might do or not do will affect the the work of others, the team, the deliverable, and the weakest link can take down everything. At one point, you were the weak link so you become aware of teaching people the benefit of being forthright.
You can talk about mistakes in your marriage. Let’s not get to affairs (we’re not going down that road). You can talk about mistakes as a parent that were very harmful. Not so dramatic but, you know, you made mistakes and you can see how it has affected your son or daughter.
Lots of different things that has given you heightened awareness of certain things and causes you, as a leader, to be more conscious of stuff and vigilant of things, knowing that you can’t prevent every mistake, but you can be alert to how people respond because you were in their seat before.
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