Personal Failure Examples for Job Interviews

monty09's picture
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Curious what is a good reply to this common interview question.

What Was Your Greatest Failure Interview Question?

The greatest failure is a common interview question on Wall Street and it is important to construct a solid answer to this question. When selecting a failure to answer this question it is very important that you select an actual failure and that you explain in a way that teaches the interviewer a bit more about you and how you deal with difficult situations.

Biggest Failure Examples

Our users supplied some good examples of failures to use in interviews. A common thread among answers is the quality of persistence.

  • I was overconfident in one of my classes and failed the first test. It was a wake up call and I knew it would be a challenge to save the grade. I then talk about how I turned it around, studied hard, set goals, aced the second and third exams and passed with an A-. - User @GOB
  • Starting a business that failed but led to another opportunity could also be a decent example, as you gained valuable attributes and were able to leverage them into a new career, etc - User @rufiolove - An Investment Banking Vice President
  • Failing to make a sports team but then going on to excel at another sport as an example. User @rufiolove - An Investment Banking Vice President

Biggest Failure Interview Question Sample Answer

Below is an example answer for "what is your greatest failure?"

During my freshman year of college, early on I became involved a business fraternity, my school's student investment fund, and took a heavy course load of 21 credits. Due to this heavy work load, my first round of exams in college suffered as I was not able to study enough for any of my courses. After mid-terms I was tracking for a 3.2 GPA. At that point, I knew I needed to course correct so I choose to scale back my commitment to my business fraternity and employed the use of a planner in order to be able to better schedule my time. By the end of the semester, I was able to bring my GPA up to 3.4. While that was not where I wanted it to be, the planning structure that I put in place was something that I continued to use throughout college.

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Comments (19)

Jan 27, 2011

what I used last season:

I was overconfident in one of my classes and failed the first test. It was a wake up call and I knew it would be a challenge to save the grade. I then talk about how I turned it around, studied hard, set goals, aced the second and third exams and passed with an A-.

-It shows endurance, persistence, ability to overcome the odds, hard work, and most importantly that I'm human and I too make mistakes
-also the answers reveals a lot about my character without having to explicitly say I am a hard worker etc.

Jan 27, 2011

This is a good question monty... I have heard people discuss failing to make a sports team but then going on to excel at another sport as an example. I think the general sentiment is where persistence paid off and that an initial poor result did not deter you from achieving the end goal. Starting a business that failed but led to another opportunity could also be a decent example, as you gained valuable attributes and were able to leverage them into a new career, etc... Basically, similar to a weakness question, don't try to give a contrived fake answer. Be genuine and spend the majority of the time conveying you benefited or found success because of the temporary "failure."

Best Response
Jan 27, 2011

failed to properly negotiate a truck ride in a 3rd world country. soon found myself threatened with a knife after refusing to pay the driver's new price (inside my hostel too, he worked for the hostel, i negotiated with the front desk of the hostel, lonely planet listed).

i paid the much higher price (not worth getting stabbed over $50). not sure if this is the best example, but i don't really consider failing a test a failure.

nowadays, i make a point to do my due diligence because not everyone is nice and lonely planet sucks.

-shows ability to learn from mistakes

another one i use is taking a nap during a dayhike in the east sierras. told my friends to go on ahead, and that i would take a 1-2 nap. overslept and work up close to 7 pm and found myself hiking 8 miles down in near complete darkness. got to the car at 4 a.m.

i don't like the stuff about failing a test or getting a bad grade on a homework assignment. just too kiddish.

    • 3
Jan 27, 2011

M&I did a post on this a few days ago. Being asked for a failure is challenging, but I was really fearing "greatest failure" in my recent interviews. Fortunately none of those nonsense questions were asked.

The test thing is good for a failure...but would probably bring some eye rolls for "greatest failure". I still don't have a good one for greatest.

Jan 27, 2011

My HS basketball team lost the regional championship when I was senior... I played really good defense on the last play, but the guy I was guarding hit a jumper over me with no time left and they won by 1 point in OT. I had a great game (and brought it to OT by sinking a three with a few seconds left), tried hard, etc.... but I failed. (Fuck, that's a painful memory)

That's what I usually go with. Most sports guys / athletes have lost a big game... it's cliche, but they can't hold it against you for remembering it as a big moment - and you can play the "it made me tougher" card.

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Jan 27, 2011

I learned that whatever you say is your weakness, immediately follow up with how you make up for it....

so in interview I say: remembering tasks, dates and things like that, then i say but that is why I use tools like planners/blackberry/outlook and detailed notes to make sure I get everything done when its due.

i'm not saying this is what you should say but you get the idea. Say something if your weakness then how you make up for it. Its never failed me.

You give me a gift? BAM Thank you note! You invite me somewhere? POW RSVP! You do me a favor? WHAM Favor returned! Do not test my politeness.

Jan 27, 2011

Does it matter how old the story is? I have a great story that involved the 8th and 9th grades. I have some recent ones, but this one is too good.

  • eyelikecheese
  •  Jan 27, 2011

I think its usually a great idea to use something not related to school or anything else that is just boring and can be said by anyone with a brain. Of course everyone fails in school, and most, if not all, have failed in sports. This is all a part of life. It's always good to spice it up a bit, talk about a traveling experience where you made the wrong judgement and it resulted in something crazy happening. Personal failures are always a great option. Something personal to you, something that no one else would say.

    • 1
Jan 27, 2011

Failure: not using the search function
How you overcame it: using the search function

    • 2
Jan 27, 2011
drexelalum11:

Failure: not using the search function
How you overcame it: using the search function

Jan 27, 2011
drexelalum11:

Failure: not using the search function
How you overcame it: using the search function

lmao

Jan 27, 2011

Why do people continue to ask for answers to individual questions? Just like, "what are some good interests to list on my resume?" Oh, I don't know, shit that you're interested in? Come on, use your brain. These questions are things other people cannot answer for you.

Jan 27, 2011

This guy is going to end up saying: "My greatest failure is that I'm a perfectionist." DING

Jan 27, 2011
Connor:

This guy is going to end up saying: "My greatest failure is that I'm a perfectionist." DING

Meh, that's what I used, still got that job.
It's also most likely a bull sh.t HR question anyways, doesn't weight that much.

Jan 27, 2011

Don't use that networking stuff for greatest failure (in life). Your biggest failure in life is that you didn't talk with bunch of bankers? Just think up some story like maybe how you got cut from your middle school team or screwed up some college club stuff and fixed it or whatever.

Second one is a real questions. Definitely throw in any of the friends you have from the firm and maybe guys you built a good connection with during the info sessions. Too late now, unless you want to pick up the phone and do some quick informationals for next few days before interviews.

Jan 27, 2011

For questions that ask about a greatest failure or poor decision, would it be appropriate to mention not talking with more people at the firm, or should I avoid bringing up my lack of networking efforts?

Terrible answer to the question because

1) That's not really a great failure.
2) Why bring up your lack of effort to learn about the firm during an interview with the firm?

I've never been asked "who do you know at the bank" but if you are, frame your answer as "I know [friend] who's interned here a couple times and says he's enjoyed his time here because of [blah blah] and I've also had the opportunity to meet and speak with [people at info session] about the firm."

Jan 27, 2011
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