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A question in a job interview
Describe an instance where you failed or did something you are ashamed of.
I can't imagine what kind of a job would want to know where you thought you were a failure, but I understand the reason behind it. I have battled with low self esteem for years and if I was seeking a job where confidence was important I know I would not do well at it. I think this is why I'm drawn to the field of writing. While I practice writing I'm building a thicker skin all the time as I let people read and comment on my material.
I would say, "I can't think of anything I've done on the job that I would be ashamed of; I would think I have higher standards for my conduct than that. Failure is also not a word I like to use; when something doesn't work out as planned, I prefer to think of it as a learning experience, as we can't always create perfect circumstances or predict an absolute outcome." Then I might relate some project or plan that didn't work out perfectly and describe how that experience was used to improve a product or process or something else.
Remember that job interview questions aren't always meant for a straightforward answer, but sometimes they want to know how you think.
I've actually had that question a few times in an interview. It's usually phrased as, "Name a time when you didn't complete a project or failed to meet a deadline". Interviewers know that you are not perfect and are interested in:
1) Whether you are honest about your answer
2) When you realized something wasn't working, how you handled it.
I was working on a software implementation and was the leader of a team that worked with the project managing team helping our company implement the software. I was young and inexperienced and let the project manager lead the steps, even when I felt that we were not headed in the right direction. Several times I made some comments but I didn't push the issue. Finally, I knew something had to be done and sucked it up and went to my boss. Explained that the process we had designed wasn't going to work and that we needed to stop and start over. I was required to go to my boss's boss as well as present my case in front of the conversion team directors.
Long story short, they agreed with me about starting over and removed the assigned project manager and assigned a new one. We were able to finish the process only 2-3 weeks behind schedule. What I looked on as a failure at the time, was something that I took with me and learned from later on in my career.
This question is looking for you to explain how you cope when things don't go to plan. How quickly can you identify that there is a problem? Do you take appropriate action? Do you have a tendency to blame others or circumstances? Do you sit back and think it's not your job to fix it? Do you panic? Do you learn from the problem and design better checks and processes? Are you confident, resilient, resourceful, determined, results oriented? Can you make the best of a bad situation? These are some of the questions that are really being asked with this interview question and while it might sound negative, it's actually an opportunity for you to highlight your skills and capabilities in managing difficult situations.
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