Image for Learn, Correct, Elevate: How To Answer That Interview Question About Failure

Facing the important interview question, “Tell me about a time you failed,” can be daunting at first blush. Mistakes or miscalculations can cost employers time, money, and even returning or future customers, so interviewers are listening closely to your answer. However, with the right approach, you can turn this question into an opportunity to showcase your resilience, problem-solving skills, and capacity for growth. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to craft a compelling response or two.


Interviewers ask this question to gauge several key personal attributes. How we view learning offers fundamental insight into our management and teaching styles and an accurate assessment of a person’s character and sense of self-worth.

  • Self-awareness: Can you recognize your own shortcomings?
  • Learning ability: Do you take lessons from your mistakes?
  • Problem-solving skills: How do you handle setbacks?
  • Resilience: How do you bounce back from failures?


A structured approach can help you deliver a coherent and impactful response. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer effectively:

Situation. Briefly describe the context and background.

Task. Explain the challenge or task you faced.

Action. Detail the steps you took to address the challenge.

Result. Share the outcome, focusing on what you learned and how it helped you improve.

The STAR method is neutral and can be used to structure a story about a success or failure. Select an anecdote that highlights your growth and learning rather than a careless mistake. By using neutral, professional terms, you can present your challenge or failure as a situation that needed to be acted upon rather than a catastrophe that needed fixing.

“Ultimately, the most productive learning comes not from a mistake but from a miscalculation,” emphasizes Executive Joel Schwartzberg in the Harvard Business Review. “When did something not go as planned? When was a strategy ineffective? When did an approach miss the actual target? These events happen frequently in modern workplaces, are not seen as personal or connected to flaws, and are more likely than mistakes to produce impactful recalibrations.” 

Ensure the example is relevant to the job you are interviewing for or at least to the graphic communications industry—marketing, pre-media, print and packaging, media production, bindery, and finishing. Focus on what you learned and how it contributed to your professional development. Extrapolate the lesson from the specific situation and show how it can be universally applied.


Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting your response with examples you might encounter while on a job interview specific to our industry.

Example 1: Missed Deadline on a Major Print Job

Situation: “In my previous role as a project manager at a commercial printer, my team was tasked with a large-scale print job for a major client’s product launch.”

Task: “The client required a quick turnaround, and I was responsible for ensuring the project was completed on time and met their high standards.”

Action: “Due to an unexpected delay in receiving the necessary materials, we were behind schedule. I decided to push the team to work overtime to meet the deadline, but I failed to communicate effectively with the client about the delay. As a result, we missed the deadline by two days.”

Result: “The client was happy with the end result but understandably upset about the delay. I invited the client’s feedback on how we could have handled the situation better, further opening the lines of communication and helping repair trust. Moving forward, I implemented a more robust project tracking system and improved communication protocols. This resulted in more efficient project management and better client satisfaction in subsequent projects. AND we kept the major client, who was pleased to see us implementing improvements based on their feedback.”

Example 2: Design Flaw in Packaging

Situation: “As a packaging designer for a graphics company, I was in charge of creating the packaging for a new line of eco-friendly products.”

Task: “The packaging had to be both visually appealing and sustainable. I took on the challenge of integrating eco-friendly packing materials into our design process.”

Action: “In my eagerness to innovate, I chose a material that didn’t thoroughly insulate the product, and several were damaged in the first batch of packing and shipping.”

Result: “This failure taught me the critical importance of thorough testing and validation in the design process. I organized a post-mortem with the team to analyze what went wrong, and we established a more rigorous testing protocol for future projects. This experience ultimately improved our quality control processes and enhanced our reputation for delivering reliable, sustainable packaging solutions.”


  • Be Honest. Acknowledge the failure without deflecting blame.
  • Focus on Learning. Emphasize what you learned and how you applied those lessons.
  • Show Improvement. Highlight the positive changes that resulted from your experience.
  • Stay Relevant. Choose examples that are pertinent to the job you are seeking or the graphic communications industry in general.

Answering “Tell me about a time you failed” effectively can set you apart as a candidate who is introspective, resilient, and capable of growth. By sharing a well-structured example highlighting your ability to learn from mistakes, you can demonstrate your readiness to take on challenges common to commercial printing, packaging, and graphics. Remember, it’s not the failure itself that matters but how you handle and learn from it.