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How to Answer Interview Questions – Learning From Your Mistakes

What have you learned from your mistakes?

Your answer to this question gives you the chance to show a hiring manager that you're a person who learns and can benefit from your mistakes. That's a desirable skill.  It shows that you are developing into a stronger, smarter, new-and-improved version of yourself.

This is a good time to keep your answer fairly general and focus on universal truths or character traits.  You can admit that you've made mistakes in the past, then add that you realized that there are certain universal tactics that apply in pretty much any given situation:  Evaluating the circumstances, considering more than one opinion, sleeping on it, not making rash decisions, being persistent. All these show that you've matured and learned.

If you are pressed for an example, you need to be able to provide one, so think of an example ahead of time, and remember, it should have a happy ending.

The best answer to this question is told in the form of a story.  Use the STAR format: Talk about the Situation or Task you faced, then tell the Action that resulted in the mistake, and then go into the Results- what you learned from it.  Then, if you are able, add an extra "plus" to your story and explain how you implemented this new knowledge in different circumstance and succeeded.  Now, you've got an even happier ending to your story. 

Here's an example of a great story:  You tried something, it didn't go quite right, you made adjustments or did something different, then based on what you learned you did it again and succeeded.

If a situation has not arisen that has allowed you to use your new-found knowledge, then your story is about what you learned and why you won't make that mistake again.

Either way, the structure of the story will serve you well in an interview.

When deciding on the specifics of your story, you don't want to say anything that pertains to the fundamental responsibilities of the position for which you are interviewing. Choose an example of a mistake that isn't so crucial, and then tell what you learned.

One good example would be, "I made a mistake when I accepted my last job.  I wasn't as discerning as I should have been about the nature of the job. Once I got into it, it was completely different than what I expected. I realized it was not a position I was comfortable in.  Because of that, I wasted some time in my career, and it cost that company, as well.  Since then, I've learned to research companies and positions and ask more questions before I commit myself to a job."

Here's another example: "I once missed an important work event because I didn't write down the correct date and time.  (Or, "I didn't listen to my voice mail" or whatever).  Because of my lack of communication, I missed the meeting. Through this experience, I learned to be meticulous about my communication, because so frequently, it's the little details that make or break the whole thing."

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