1. Why do recruiters ask "How do you handle failure?"
  2. Tips for answering "How do you handle failure?"
  3. What not to say when answering "How do you handle failure?"
  4. "How do you handle failure?" sample answers

HR interviews as we know can be divided into Situational, Behavioral, and open-ended/ common HR interview questions.

Out of the three, behavioral interview questions are the ones that make even the most experienced and confident candidates nervous because it requires the candidate to speak of the most uncomfortable situations they have gone through in their work life.

But that’s not the intention; behavioral interview questions are actually the recruiter’s way of testing the candidate and understanding their progress.

One such HR interview question is “How do you handle failure?” or, “Tell me about a time you failed”. In this blog, we will address all the required tips and tricks to answer this behavioral interview question along with sample answers for a better understanding.

However, before jumping into the ‘How’ part of answering, it is important to understand the reason recruiters ask this question.

Let’s begin!

Why do recruiters ask "How do you handle failure?"

The HR interview question of "How do you handle failure?" can throw even the best candidate off track. You might think that the recruiter is just trying to find an excuse to not hire you, but that's not the case.

When recruiters ask "Tell me about a time you failed", they want to know how you bounce back from a drawback. They want to know how you maintain your composure, focus, and attitude when you fail to succeed in a goal.

In addition to this, by asking this HR interview question, the recruiter wants to see if you have the confidence and honesty to admit to your mistakes, and how have you moved on.

Tips for answering "How do you handle failure?"

Now that we have addressed the recruiter’s motive to ask “Tell me about a time you failed”, let us take you through the ways you can answer this HR interview question to leave a strong positive impression on the recruiter.

Acknowledge the failure

The first step to answering “How do you handle failure?” is to muster up the courage to acknowledge that you have failed to achieve a particular task.

So, the best way to answer this HR interview question is to own up and acknowledge the task that you could have done differently and explain the situation very clearly. This showcases your integrity and your will to learn and avoid making further similar mistakes.

You can practice answering "How do you handle failure" in front of your trusted friend/colleague(s) to gain confidence and have their honest feedback to improve your answer.

Mention your learning from the incident

Making mistakes is only human and even the top players in their respective industries have committed mistakes at some point in their careers.

But what has made them the top players is that they have learned their lessons from their mistakes and used them to improve their game further.

Similarly, when answering this HR interview question ensure to focus on your learning from the episode and how you have used it to work on improving yourself for the better.

Be clear and concise when answering the question

This HR interview question requires you to be able to narrate the episode in a clear and concise manner without getting sidetracked. This once more puts to test your communication skills.

Given you can't take hours to explain the story, you need to keep it brief and in a chronological manner. Your answer shouldn't surpass 5-10 minutes, so practicing to answer an HR interview question like "Tell me about a time you failed" can help you get all the points.

Tip: Use the STAR interview technique to ace this HR interview question.

What not to say when answering "How do you handle failure?"

When answering such an HR interview question, what not to say holds equal importance to what needs to be said to leave a lasting impression on the recruiter.

Do not badmouth others

Whether the failure was a team failure or a personal failure shifting the blame to other people or factors will only put you in a negative light.

Recruiters ask such difficult HR interview questions to test your integrity, honesty, and whether or not you are a team player.

So, throwing a teammate under the bus will most definitely send your application south as it negates all the characteristics the recruiter is looking for in their ideal candidate.

Do not be fixated on the negative

Even the most experienced candidates have stories where they have failed in a task, but they know to move on from the mistake as well.

When answering this HR interview question, ensure not to dwell too much on the negative as it can raise questions on your competency. Instead, ensure your story highlights how you learned from the mistake and eliminated your weakness.

Do not try to be over-smart

Talking about failure can be a tough task for every job seeker. However, trying to deny or presenting a manipulated success story as a failure will not impress the recruiter.

It is best to be 100% honest and narrate the story of your failure when asked "Tell me about a time you failed."

"How do you handle failure?" sample answers

In this section, we will provide sample answers to give you an idea of how to incorporate these tips to ace this HR interview question.

Sample answer #1:

“In my first job as a junior copy editor, I was yet to learn about time and project management, and unknowingly made the mistake of not re-checking one of the client’s names and designation. This led to a lot of backlash from the client’s end.

Given it was caused by my mistake, I went ahead and sat down with my manager to chalk out a plan to avoid such mistakes in the future. Ever since that day, I made it a point to make a to-do list for the next day and kept it on the computer to help me stay on track and ensured that I do not miss out on re-checking the client’s name and everything related to them.”

Sample answer #2:

“As a fresher, I was not accustomed to time management on a professional basis which led me to procrastinate a lot. This procrastination led to faltering in the quality of editing of stories, and in the larger picture, the magazine’s quality.

So, I sat down with my boss to draw a timeline for the submission of stories, production start date and drew up a schedule accordingly. This helped not only address my procrastination problem but also put a structure for the entire team.”

It is understandable that answering questions like “How do you handle failure?” can be extremely tough for a jobseeker. But if you follow these tips and practice answering such HR interview questions before the interview, you can turn your nervousness into confidence.

Also, make sure to follow the correct interview dress code and decorum when at the venue.

Relevant read: How to introduce yourself in an interview

All the Best!

HR Interview Questions & Answers