What You Can Gain from Asking a Candidate About a Failure


Think of the old adage: “you learn more from failure than you do from success.” There’s a job-interview twist on this to keep in mind. You learn more from asking about failure than you do from asking about success. 

Most candidates can easily talk about the highlights on their resumes and the times they achieved success. And this represents important information for you to learn. You want to hear about where they excel and about the skills they can bring to bear in your company. 

However, building a successful business involves overcoming adversity. You and your team will face failure, and you need to know how your staff will respond in difficult situations. As such, an interview can’t focus exclusively on the times things went right. You also have to hear what happens when things go wrong. 

Asking about failure can teach you a lot about a candidate. Weighing their response carefully, you can delve relatively deep into their character, giving you hints about many different aspects of their abilities. Here are some of the things you can learn by asking a candidate about a failure: 

Learn about Their Grit 

Facing adversity is a key aspect to achieving success. You want to find employees who can learn from failure and use those lessons to become better in the future. Hearing how an applicant has faced hardship lets you gauge how much grit they will show as a member of your team. 

Find Out How They Talk About Failure 

Asking about failure doesn’t just let you know how well a candidate can bounce back from a setback. After all, you don’t know they are telling the truth when they give their answer. However, you can definitely get a sense about how they think about adversity.  

Do they make excuses? Do they blame other people? The way they frame their answers gives you hints about their underlying attitude toward facing tough situations. 

Test Their Overall Communication Skills 

Talking about personal failure is hard. It requires a delicate form of communication, one where an applicant has to express less-than-flattering information.  

Hearing how they frame their answers can give you clues to their ability to discuss sensitive or difficult topics. Someone who handles the subject well might be an asset in the future if you ever have to break the bad news to a client or defuse a sensitive situation in the office.  

Get Them Out of Their Comfort Zone 

An interview wouldn’t be an interview if it didn’t include some tough questions. Inquiring about failure certainly qualifies. It’s in the same category as the dreaded “what are your weaknesses” query.  

These types of questions let you see how a candidate handles a hot seat. Seeing how a candidate reacts to the situation can let you know how they handle pressure. 

Inquire About Their Problem-Solving Skills 

Everyone faces failure at some point. The key question becomes: how did they overcome the setback? The details of the candidate’s story can shine a light on their problem-solving skills.  

You can also use follow-up questions to gain insight into their thought process. How do they approach problems? What methods do they use to weigh solutions? The details will tell you whether they will be an asset in a tight spot. 

Your business faces challenges on a daily basis. You’ll need gritty, creative team members to overcome those problems. Teaming with a strong staffing partner, like DHR, helps you find these workers. 

Contact DHR to jumpstart your recruiting process. 

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