What's the worst mistake you've made at work?

  | James Innes

What's the worst mistake you've made at work and how did you deal with it?

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a time when you made a major error at work?

The meaning behind the question:

What the interviewer is trying to extract from you here is not an admission of guilt but a demonstration of how you reacted to your error and what steps you took to resolve it. You can learn a lot about someone from the way they handle their mistakes.

Your answer:

As with the previous question, you might think this rather a tough one. The interviewer has specifically asked you about the very worst mistake you’ve ever made at work. The key is to realise that everyone makes mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them and make sure you never make the same mistake twice.

Also, just because they’ve asked you what the worst mistake you’ve made was, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tell them! Try to talk about a mistake that was clearly severe but one that is unlikely to put them off hiring you completely. How? By choosing carefully and placing the emphasis on what you did to resolve the situation – and what you learned from the experience.

If you can subtly apportion some of the blame to circumstances out of your control – or if you can choose an example which didn’t directly involve your work – then it’s going to strengthen your answer. It also helps if you can pick an example which goes back some way in time. However, you definitely want to avoid coming across as someone who can’t admit their own mistakes.


I think the worst mistake I ever made at work was in my first ever job – five years ago now. A more senior member of the team seemed to take an instant dislike to me from the start – and one day she was particularly unpleasant to me in front of several colleagues. Later on, I was talking to one of those colleagues who was, I thought, attempting to console me. Angry and hurt, I foolishly vented my feelings and told her what I thought of the lady in question. I was naturally shocked to find out that she went on to tell everyone what I had said and this certainly didn’t help my relationship with the team member who was causing me problems. Rather than let the situation carry on, I chose to have a quiet word with this lady so as to find out what her problem was with me and to see if we could put it behind us. It turned out it was nothing personal; she just resented the fact that a friend of hers had also been interviewed for my position and had been turned down. Once we had got matters out into the air, her behaviour changed and we actually got on quite well after that. However, I certainly learned a lot from the experience. I learned that careful communication is vital in managing interpersonal relationships and that if I have a problem with someone it’s always best to talk it over with them rather than with someone else.

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