Interviewing 101: How Employees Can Talk About Failure During the Recruiting Process

Crawford Thomas Recruiting Blog


During most recruiting interviews, the recruiter asks a question like “Tell me about your largest failure,” or “Tell me about your biggest weakness.” While most well-intentioned candidates answer with something like “My biggest failure is that I’m too loyal to the companies I work for,” or “My largest weakness is being too driven,” this isn’t what recruiters are looking for.

Believe it or not, recruiters want candidates to be honest in the face of these questions. Understanding a candidate’s weaknesses helps recruiters make better hiring and referral decisions, and knowing how to talk about weaknesses honestly and correctly can help candidates land the job more frequently. Read on to learn more:

The Importance of Weakness and Failures in Recruiting

Recruiters are human beings and they know that candidates are, as well. Because every recruiter has a story of a huge failure or personal shortcoming, they expect the candidates they interview to share similar experiences. What’s more, they expect them to be forthcoming and honest enough to talk about them. Here’s why:

Entering into a professional contract is a bit like going into a marriage or relationship. Both parties have duties and responsibilities they’re pledged to uphold. Both sides rely upon one another to some extent, and both parties have high hopes for the other. For this arrangement to work, however, honesty is essential.

When interviewees are asked the “Weaknesses” or “Failures” question during a recruiting interview, the recruiter is not trying to make candidates feel stupid. Instead, they’re trying to gauge a candidate’s character, experience, coping skills, and candor. Because of this, it’s an important question to get right.

Addressing Failure and Weakness in a Job Interview

To use these troublesome questions as a way to seal the deal on the interview, would-be employees need to know how to address them. Here are some pointers to get you started:

    • Understand your weaknesses. The first step to answering these questions well is to be prepared for them. When heading into an interview, it’s wise just to assume that the recruiter will ask about these things and to brainstorm your answers in advance. Before you head into an interview, take some time to sit down and compile a list of your biggest failures and weaknesses. Once you’ve done this, take some time to think about which have been the most significant learning experiences and to consider how you can frame these as a positive for the recruiter. Again, recruiters know that nobody is perfect, but they also want to see that you’re capable of learning from your mistakes and adapting to change.
    • Don’t talk about weaknesses that affect required skills. Weaknesses can help strengthen your interview until they begin to affect the work you’re being interviewed to do. If you’re being hired as a copywriter, for example, and your recruiter asks you what your biggest failure has been, you don’t want to answer by saying “I plagiarized three articles once.” In addition to the fact that this will probably rule you out for the position, it also doesn’t add anything to your interview. If you’re having doubts that your weaknesses and past failures will help improve your interview, review the job description to be sure that you have the skills and traits the recruiter is looking for.
    • Focus on the positive. Having failed in the past can be exactly what you need to set yourself apart from other candidates, just so long as you know how to talk about the experience. Instead of giving your recruiter a long speech on how terrible the time was, focus instead on the way that you recovered from it and how the experience changed you. This will show the recruiter that you’re resourceful, resilient, and savvy.
    • Keep it professional. Any weakness or failure you mention should be related to business or professional skills. Citing a failed marriage, personal relationship or family dynamic is entirely too personal for an interview and can damage your chances of getting the job.

The Best Candidates Have Weaknesses: Talk About Yours Honestly

While many would-be employees dread the “Weaknesses” and “Failures” questions, they can actually be a powerful tool for demonstrating experience and standing out from other candidates. By knowing how to frame these experiences for would-be employers, candidates can boost their interview skills and land the job they love.

To learn more about the recruiting and hiring process, contact Crawford Thomas  now.

Crawford Thomas RecruitingInterviewing 101: How Employees Can Talk About Failure During the Recruiting Process