INTERVIEWS / FEB. 18, 2015
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How to Answer "Did You Ever Make a Mistake that Cost Your Company Money?"

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Making it through a job interview with your dignity -- and your sanity -- intact can be a difficult task indeed. Throughout job interviews, you’ll often be asked to talk about your weaknesses, your past failures -- and yes, even whether you’ve ever made a mistake that cost the company money.

While it’s not one that tends to crop up on the lists of the "top 10" or even the "top 50" most common interview questions, it pays to be prepared for this question. Fortunately, the way to answer it involves the same type of preparation that you’d do for other difficult questions. In short, don’t think of it as something that will make you look like the less-than-ideal candidate, but instead one who’s humble and creative when faced with adversity.

Don’t Mention the Worst Offense.

First off, if you haven’t made that type of mistake, there’s no need to implicate yourself just to have something to talk about. But because the hiring employer is trying to find out how you handle problems and deal with failure, expect her to turn around and phrase the question in a different way -- asking you to mention one of your biggest failures or to describe a mistake you’ve made, for example.

If you have made multiple mistakes that have cost your company money, choose one that had a positive outcome. In any case, there’s no need to mention the worst mistake you’ve ever made.

Keep the Tone Positive.

If the employer asks you to describe details of the situation, avoid mentioning every last gory detail. Stay away from exact figures, even if you know them. Mention the problem, that you were disappointed in the outcome, and that you made an effort to solve the problem quickly.

Talk About how you Learned and Grew.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing the details of the loss to the company, try to direct the conversation toward what you learned from the experience. Lay out the steps you took to remedy the situation, courses you took to get more skilled in a certain area, or other methods you employed to learn and grow. After talking about your process, describe what the ultimate outcome was. Employers are aware that employees aren’t perfect all the time, but they want to know that when problems arise, you’ll be the type of person who can act quickly and be committed to cleaning up your mess.

Keep it Brief.

While the interviewers will likely want to hear about your process, there’s also something to be said for brevity. When people are nervous, they tend to ramble on more than they should. If you do that with this question, you’ll place way more focus on the situation than you need to. Be thorough in your explanation, but don’t talk just to fill an empty space.

By taking the time to turn these potentially-negative experiences into positive ones, you can walk away from the job interview with your dignity intact. Heck, you might even land the job.

Have you ever been asked "Did You Ever Make a Mistake that Cost Your Company Money?" How did you respond? Your thoughts and comments below please...

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