How to answer "How do you handle failure or setbacks?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

Employers ask this question to assess your ability to handle challenges and recover from mistakes or failures. They want to know if you have a growth mindset, a positive attitude, and can learn from your past experiences. Hiring managers are looking for candidates that can work well under pressure, take responsibility for their actions, and have the resilience to bounce back after encountering setbacks.

Furthermore, employers need to make sure that you will be a good fit for the company culture. Most organizations have a failsafe system in place to mitigate risks and ensure that employees handle mistakes efficiently. Therefore, hiring managers ask this question to gauge if you are comfortable in taking ownership of your failures and if you can work within such systems.

How to Answer the Question

  1. Be Honest: Always answer this question truthfully, but don't dwell on negative details.
  2. Explain Your Process: Explain how you analyze the situation, evaluate the potential impact, and determine what actions are necessary.
  3. Show Your Growth Mindset: Demonstrate how you use failures as a learning opportunity and work to develop a positive attitude.
  4. Give Examples: Resort to past experiences and give specific examples to illustrate your answer. This shows that you have been able to tackle challenges effectively in the past.
  5. Highlight Your Recovery: Emphasize how you developed a recovery plan, executed it, and ultimately overcame the setback.

Finally, consider the values and culture of the company you are applying to, and craft an answer that aligns with their expectations. By offering an honest and thoughtful answer, you show that you can deal with challenging situations and that you have what it takes to thrive in the company's environment.

Sample answers

Good answer: I believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. When faced with setbacks, I take the time to reflect on what went wrong and identify the areas where I can improve. I also seek feedback from others and use it to adjust my approach moving forward. For example, in my previous role, I worked on a project that didn't meet the client's expectations. Instead of getting discouraged, I met with the client to understand their concerns and implemented changes to address them. This ultimately led to a successful outcome.

Bad answer: I typically get really upset when things don't go my way. In the past, I have been known to blame others or make excuses for my mistakes. But I'm working on developing a thicker skin and taking more ownership over my actions.

Good answer: I handle failure by keeping a positive attitude and focusing on solutions. For example, when a problem arises, I take a step back to assess the situation and consider all possible options. Then, I work collaboratively with my team to develop a plan of action. In my previous role, we were faced with a project that was significantly behind schedule. Instead of panicking, my team and I put in extra hours and came up with innovative solutions that allowed us to deliver the project on time.

Bad answer: Honestly, failure really gets to me. I tend to shut down and withdraw from others. But I think it's important to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, so I'm trying to be more open to constructive criticism and take a more proactive approach to problem-solving.

Good answer: When faced with setbacks, I stay calm and focused on finding a solution. I also try to maintain perspective and remind myself that one setback doesn't define my overall performance. In one instance, I was leading a project that hit some unexpected roadblocks. Instead of becoming discouraged, I took the opportunity to reevaluate our strategy and make necessary adjustments. Through open communication and creative thinking, we were able to overcome the obstacles and deliver a successful project.

Bad answer: Failure is one of my biggest fears, so I tend to avoid taking risks or stretching outside my comfort zone. But I'm trying to be more resilient and develop a growth mindset.

Good answer: Failure is a natural part of the learning process, and I believe that each setback is an opportunity to get better. When things don't go as planned, I take a step back to assess what happened and figure out what I can do differently next time. I also seek out advice and support from mentors and colleagues. For example, when I was working on a complex project with tight deadlines, I reached out to a former colleague who had experience with similar projects. His advice and guidance were invaluable, and we ultimately delivered a successful project.

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