How to Answer 'What Is Your Biggest Regret and Why?'

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When preparing for a job interview, you need to remember that there are common questions asked by nearly every interviewer. There will be obvious questions regarding your goals, experience, and passions. However, there will also be questions that require you to elaborate and think outside the box. No matter what, it is crucial to be confident.

You will be asked a lot about your achievements, but what about your regrets? An interviewer is not going to want hear, “I regret not staying with my ex-boyfriend.” That is not the type of answer that they're looking for. So, how do you answer, “what is your biggest regret and why?”

When asked this question, you will want to focus on your career path. What would you have done differently? Focus on your career path to date, what is that one moment you wish went differently? Once again, answer appropriately. Don't say something negative like, “I wish I never screamed at my boss, resulting in my termination.” Probably not the smartest answer. It is very useful information to the interviewer, so it is essential that you stay positive.

Answering the Question, While Avoiding it

A great way to answer this question is by not having any regrets. You will avoid the question - to a certain extent - without appearing to avoid it at all.

Example of an answer:

Personally, I do not have any big regrets regarding my career so far. I have been very happy in my career, and the decisions I have made. All of the decisions I have made in the past have brought me to where I am today. The choices I made have been for specific reasons, and have led to me developing my career path. Like anyone, I could have done a couple of things differently, but I do not have any real regrets.”

Turning a Negative Situation Into a Positive Situation

An interviewer may insist that you have to mention a specific regret. Even though your first instinct may be to give a negative response - don’t. Take this opportunity to say something positive.

Example of an answer:

If I had to choose a possible regret in terms of my career, it would be an instance that turned out to be highly rewarding and beneficial. Five years ago, I decided to take seven months away from my career to travel. At first, this was a decision that I thought may create regrets in the future. I wondered, will I lose opportunities?

I travelled through twelve countries, learning more than I could have imagined. My exposure to various cultures has allowed me to increase my overall knowledge. We are currently living in a highly multi-cultural working world which I love. My travels have allowed me to make more connections within the business world. A decision that started out as a possible regret, turned into a beneficial experience. So, if I had to choose a 'regret,' travelling would be my answer.”

Of course, not everyone has travelled. This is a very specific example, but you see how a potentially negative response, was turned into a positive experience.

Showing Commitment to Your Career

An interviewer will want to know how you'll help their company. They want to see a high level of dedication and passion. This may relate to your personal life. Although your regret may be outside of your career, it'll be directly related.

Example of an answer:

I have always been highly career focused. I am the youngest of three siblings, and my two older brothers both have children. My career has always been my number one priority, and that has reflected in my personal life. I never really thought about having children, my career was always at the top of my priority list.

I do not regret the decisions I have made, but I could've been more open to the possibility of my own family. With that being said, I am with my nieces and nephews all the time. They're great kids, and I treat them like my own. My career will always be my number one priority, so I am happy with the choices I have made. I plan on developing my career further while making more time for family.”

As you can see, there's a number of ways to manipulate this question. Instead of offering a negative answer- which you should never do - you created a positive spin. The examples are very specific, but take those ideas and apply them to your own personal situation.

You may insist that you do not have any regrets, displaying confidence in yourself and your decisions; turn your answer from a negative into a positive, explaining that your regret turned into a beneficial experience; or relate your regret to how hard you work, explaining the sacrifices you've made because you’re so career-driven. The real key is to focus on your career path and stay positive.

Have you ever encountered this question?

This article was first published in June 2014.