How to answer the interview question: “What is your greatest failure?”

 

“What is your greatest failure?” 

The dreaded question; this one is even touchier than the weaknesses question because you have to admit a failure, not just a weakness.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

This one requires you to prepare an example ahead of time. It should be work-related, but you can discuss a personal experience if it is closely related to a work-like event.

The key here is in the presentation of the failure example. You do not want to come off as a victim. Do not blame others for the fact that something didn’t work. You must take ownership of the situation. Employers use this question to see how you deal with adversity. Do you take responsibility for your decisions or blame the world for what went wrong? This is especially important since you most likely don’t know about the inner workings and politics of the firm at this point. Always take the high road, even if your former company made decisions that derailed your project.

An example of a personal failure: “I didn’t graduate from college, I didn’t have the money to go.  I haven’t let it hold me back though.  I am constantly learning new things and I’m a student of self-study.  It is very important to me to keep current with changes in the insurance industry and I’m currently working on my  insurance designations.”

An example of a work-related failure: “I wanted to reorganize the work flow in my department to give us greater compliance and more detailed analytics. In short, my solution did not work.  Work flow bogged down, my team didn’t like the increased data entry, we started to lose employees, and moral was at an all time low.  I ended up asking my team for ideas to put us back on track, and together we figured out how to improve work flow and our over all quality improved as a result.  Now I make sure that I get department consensus before making sweeping changes to any type of work flow.”
Remember, some of the best successes in the work place start out as huge failures.  Make sure you show the employer how your failures guide your decision-making today.

How to answer the interview question: Tell me about your greatest success?

“What Is Your Greatest Success?

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

Think about your work accomplishments.  What have you done that really made you a “game changer” for the company?  For instance, did you win a key piece of business, save a huge account, develop a new program, or mentor someone that turned out to be a terrific asset for the company?

The key is to focus on the “impact” of what you have done. You need to quantify your answer and show how you made money, saved money, or made things run more smoothly or the organization.

Here’s a sales example:  I targeted a prospect that was currently doing business with one of our biggest competitors.  When I first approached them, I got the typical response;” no, we already have a broker we’ve been working with…thank you, good bye”.  I didn’t let this first “no” deter me; in fact, I started by identifying customers of their business that were also clients of ours.  I also sent the prospect articles that were about his industry and followed up with him on a regular basis.  I made friends with some of his support staff and other department decision makers.  In time, I was given the opportunity to bid on his business, and I’m proud to say, I was able to win the account and have now received two additional referrals from the customer’s vendors resulting in $100K of new revenue for my agency.

Here’s a non-sales example:  When I joined the ABC firm, they were still using paper files in addition to trying to use AMS.  Because I came from a paperless office, I was able to help teach my supervisor some tricks to automate the business and eliminate some of the redundancy.  She was so impressed that she arranged a meeting with the owner who ended up putting me in charge of automating the office and helping to train the support staff.  As a result, I was promoted to the office trainer and was able to help the firm reduce the amount of time it took to process a renewal by over 25%.

Once you have told your story, make sure that you link the results back to the job you are applying for.  This will cause the employer to see you as a results-oriented candidate and will help to increase your chances of landing the job.

 

Roadblock #2: Skills needed to do the job versus years of experience

Let’s face it, in this tight employment market, finding a candidate that matches up to a long laundry list of “must haves” is like finding a needle in a haystack. The problem is that many employers are still trying to hire as if there were an unlimited supply of interested and qualified applicants. They get caught up in the “years of experience” trap versus focusing on the skills needed to do the job.

Hiring Managers often use the previous employee’s background and number of years of experience in the industry as the yard stick for the next hire. There are many challenges with this approach.

First, job duties change over time due to technology. A job that used to be primarily back office administration focused, may now be a mix of client facing and admin duties that require fast computer skills and advanced client relations abilities.

Second, the team make up and dynamics change over time. Work flows evolve to accommodate specific team skills and abilities. Often times when a time member resigns, work load is reallocated in the short term and the team realizes that the job duties have also changed resulting in the need for different skills to fill in the gaps.

Third, salaries are increasing due to cost of living. Many firms have traditionally tied compensation directly to the number of years of industry experience. In consulting with some of my clients, it is not uncommon to hear that they can’t pay a new hire their current salary, let alone a reasonable increase for changing firms, because they don’t have as much industry experience as others already on the team.

Instead of using years of experience as the basis for the hire, it is much more effective to figure out what the candidate needs to know how to do. My advice, put the old job description aside, and have the hiring team figure out what duties this new person will need to know how to perform on a daily basis. By drilling down to the day to day job functions and agreeing on the importance of the specific skilsl needed in the job, it will become clear which skills are “must haves” and which are “nice to haves”. You will then be able to better define the criteria that each candidate must have to be considered for a first round interview and will not fall into the years of experience trap.

By focusing on skills instead of years of experience, you will be able to cast a broader net and will be able to consider more candidates. You will be able to design your screening questions so that a candidate can explain where they performed a skill, how they did the job, and how their performance was measured. This is especially important in larger firms where often the person doing the initial screening interview is not directly involved with the hiring team on a day to day basis.

Another benefit to focusing on skills instead of years of experience is that it allows you to look at more junior talent that you might have overlooked in the past. Often times people with less experience have received state of the art training, have experience with the latest software programs, and have innovative ideas that they can bring to the team. They may not have worked for 10+ years in the industry, but can do the same work as someone who has. If salary parameters are set in stone, this also allows everyone in the hiring process to understand the level of experience that corresponds to the position’s salary range and eliminates considering candidates that are not affordable or who try to negotiate for a far higher salary at the end of the process resulting in frustration for everyone involved.

In my next post, I will discuss the initial screening interview and the pitfalls that can happen when it is not handled correctly.

Employer Blog: Road Block #3: The Screening Interview: Is it helping you or hurting you?

Here are some of the of the biggest complaints that I hear from good candidates when I ask them about screening interviews:

  • They are poorly conducted and the screener is often late in calling or misses the appointment
  • The screener does not have day to day knowledge of the job duties
  • The screener asks random questions from a list that doesn’t pertain to the candidate’s resume
  • The screener admits in the call that they haven’t really had time to review their resume
  • The screener asks flat, random, and lack luster questions
  • The screener leaves the candidate hanging by telling them that the company will get back to them if they want to move things forward, but won’t comment on a time table even when asked

There is no timely follow up after the screening interview leaving the candidate wondering if the employer is a viable prospect

The net result is that any one of these items can put a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth right off the bat, and in this tight market, you can’t afford to not make a great first impression!  Sadly, I have found, that Hiring Managers and/or owners are not aware that they are losing top people due to poorly managed and constructed phone screening interviews.

Whether you like it or not, candidates are judging you and your firm from the moment you make the first contact with them.  They are evaluating the speed with which you respond to their inquiries, as well as the tone and quality of the communication; is it friendly, welcoming, or the dreaded “we received your application, we will get back to you if we are interested”?

My advice is to put yourself in your applicant’s shoes and think about the “message” that your firm is sending during the first screening interview.  Ask yourself, the following questions:

  • Is our front end screening process in line with our corporate culture and values, or are we projecting the wrong message to candidates and losing them in the process?
  • Are we letting them know we are interested and are we aggressively following up with our top candidates and moving them quickly into a face to face meeting?
  • Do we have knowledgeable people who know the job and how it fits into our organization, doing the initial screening interview, and are they asking good logical questions to allow for meaningful Q & A?

By re-thinking your screening interview, you will increase your chances of attracting top talent and most importantly, keeping them interested as you go through your interview process.

In my next post, I will be discussing the first face to face interview and how to make it more meaningful and effective for all involved.