The important thing that you need to remember when answering this interview question is that the fact you made a mistake is not as important as the fact that you learned from it.
When asked about what you have learned from mistakes, they don't really want to know about errors you have made in your personal life or in previous positions. They want to know that you hold yourself accountable for your actions and can turn mistakes into growing experiences.
Points to Emphasize
You need to be sure to put a positive spin on the situation when talking about your past mistakes.
- Highlight your strengths. Show the interviewer how you have grown from the mistake.
- Emphasize the things that you learned. This needs to provide the bulk of your answer. Do not gloss over the mistake that you made but mention it and then move on to explain what you will do differently going forward.
- Incorporate valuable keywords. When talking about your mistakes, be sure to incorporate strong keywords such as "accountable" and "motivated" to share how you overcame mistakes.
- Stay positive. Make sure that you speak confidently and although you do need to address the mistake, you do not need to dwell on it.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
This can be a difficult question since it particularly involves addressing something negative you have done in the past. Put a positive spin on it by avoiding the following mistakes.
- Avoid focusing on the wrong thing. You need to put your focus on what you learned from the mistake rather than the mistake itself.
- Do not stammer through the question. You are talking about a mistake you made, but this is no reason to lose confidence.
- Stick to the facts and only what is important. Do not waste words by explaining away the mistake or rationalizing it.
- Avoid negativity. It might be easy to get down on yourself when talking about previous mistakes but it is essential to stay positive.
The mistake that you mention is not nearly as important when answering this question as it is to emphasize what you learned from it, as in the following example:
In a previous position as a receptionist, I accidentally double-booked the executive I was working with. What I took away from this was the importance of maintaining a schedule and making sure that I schedule enough time between appointments. I learned also how to deal with upset clients and customers and diffuse an awkward and tense situation.
It is key when answering this common interview question to remember that the mistake itself is not as important as the fact that you learned something valuable from it.