Talking about a time you failed may seem like a way to mess up your interview, but for anyone, and especially as a recent graduate, your answer to “talk about a time you failed” should be an opportunity to be honest and focus on growth.
The interviewer isn’t trying to embarrass or undermine you, instead they’re trying to build some knowledge about yourself beyond your resume. Particularly they want to know how you get past setbacks when you’re faced with them. When answering this question you want to choose a failure that led to a learning experience relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you didn’t hit a deadline, that’s a universal problem to talk about, but if you couldn’t get interviews for an article then that won’t be relevant for all jobs.
It's important to be honest in your answer also, trying to dodge the question will be obvious and doesn’t give the interviewer the information they’re looking for. Consider that stories don’t end when the hero meets an obstacle, the story is how the hero overcome the obstacle. That’s how your answer should be structured. The failure becomes a footnote setting up your story of being adaptable and resilient.
You may consider structuring your answer as briefly describing the failure and then how that became the inciting incident for you to take responsibility or learn a lesson for the future.
✏️ Example Answers
“During my time as a freelance student journalist I was hired to write an article that involved one key interview, I wouldn’t be able to write it without it. I was given a deadline, everything seemed to be going well, but then the interview was cancelled last minute. To overcome this I needed to be prompt to communicate the set back to my client so we could come to some sort of conclusion. In that case it was an extension but in the past it’s also been changing the articles direction. Being flexible was a particularly important skill I learned in that time while also maintaining clear communication and transparency with the client.”
“I’ve always been of the mind that you should say yes to everything, that led me to being a social media manager for a local festival. In that position I needed to use multiple social media platforms, one of which, Facebook, I wasn’t as familiar with at the time. To do my job effectively I needed to learn the platform because that’s where we got the most eyes on our content. To do this I reached out to peers working in a similar field, plus used online resources, to further my skill set to match the expectations of the position.”
See more common graduate interview questions and how to answer them here.