This question should be divided into two answers, two very different answers. Questions about success help the employer learn about how you achieved accomplishments and your general work ethic. Questions about failure show how you manage difficult situations and how you personally grow when you feel defeated.
Questions about success
If you get asked this question, consider yourself lucky. It’s the perfect opportunity to “show off” and talk about your most impressive experiences. Unfortunately, a lot of candidates are uncomfortable praising themselves. I’m sure a lot of us experience the common Imposter Syndrome (especially in this industry), but this is your chance to forget about it.
The story you decide to tell will say a lot about you, such as clues of what you value most. Are you proud of a big closure deal? Leading a great team? This will give the interviewer an indication if you’re a good fit for the job and the company's culture. This puts power in your hands to impact how the interview sees you, so make sure to prepare as much as possible.
Remember the list we created earlier (there were lots of them) about the job position's requirements and skills, because we’re using it again. When you come up with your story, try to have it demonstrate those skills. This shows that you have what it takes to succeed in the desired position.
It is also important to focus on the values of your success. Try to show how you have helped others or a company, and not just yourself. I’m not going to give an example for this question, for it is completely personal and dependent on your own story.
Questions about failure
HONESTY! Honesty is the key here. These types of questions are similar to “your weaknesses”; they make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. So how do you talk about failing without sabotaging your chance of landing the job? First, we should realize what the employer might be looking for —
- Are you someone who can learn from failure?
- Are you self-aware enough to recognize your failures and weaknesses?
- Do you take risks?
- How do you view failure and success in general?
In order to give a good answer, try to answer these questions within your experience. The steps to answering could be:
- Choose a real failure. Most of us have failed multiple times, so try choosing one that is more minor (one that didn’t lead to a complete disaster). Make sure the story is real!
- Don’t raise any red flags. While you want to keep complete honesty, you still don’t have to share your deepest and darkest secrets. Make sure the failure is something professional and not related to personal issues (relationship with someone, etc.).
- In the end, focus on how much you learned from this experience and how it shaped you to become better. Instead of remembering the failure, the interview will realize you have the ability to turn difficult situations into learning experiences. You can also discuss how you would do things differently, and what things you can do to avoid the same situation happening again.
What things should you not say?
- Don’t blame others. Try keeping it positive, and blaming other people does not give the best impression. Try finding a real story where you’re at fault (to a certain degree).
- Don’t make excuses! No one likes this, and I’m sure you’re aware of that. If the failure is pretty bad, try focusing on how you would like to solve it or change the experience. It’ll show that you’re proactive, flexible, and willing to move forward when things aren’t looking good.
- Don’t provide too much information. If this failure caused you to be fired, you can leave that part out :)