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“Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake”: Best Answers and Examples

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"Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake": Best Answers and Examples


Behavioral-based interview questions can make anyone nervous, but proper preparation and understanding go a long way into acing the interview and securing the job.

By prepping for some of the most common behavioral interview questions, such as, “Tell me about a time you made a mistake,” you can answer transparently and confidently. The key? Use logic and problem-solving skills to navigate these tricky behavioral-based questions to impress your potential employer.

In this post, learn the best strategies for responding to behavioral questions that will help you nail the interview and leave a lasting impression.

Why Interviewers Ask Behavioral Questions

A resume will tell an employer a lot about what you have achieved, but it’s not going to show how you think, how you act day to day, or how you respond to issues that arise at work. Behavioral questions help an interviewer see more into your thought processes.

Sure, it can feel vulnerable to share your biggest weaknesses or confess about a time you made a mistake. But the employer is human, too. We all slip up from time to time, and it isn’t the end of the world. What really matters is how you respond. Are you pointing fingers or taking the blame? Do you jump into problem-solving or sulk and complain?

There are many variations of “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” examples, with that exact phrasing being one of the most common interview questions.

It’s crucial to understand that the interviewer isn’t trying to trick you or confess all your wrongdoings. Instead, they just want to see how to respond to different situations. Here are some of the top behavioral-based interview questions and answers, plus tips on understanding the meaning behind the question and advice on what not to say.

1. The Question: Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake

What It Means:

Everyone makes mistakes. The employer wants to get an insight into why the mistake happened, but more importantly, how you followed up. Did you own up and take responsibility for the mistake? Are you blaming it on other coworkers? What logic did you follow to clean up the mistake and prevent it from happening again?

How to Respond:

Be honest, and generally, stick to smaller mistakes rather than something large and detrimental to the business.

Start by describing the situation. Explain how the mistake happened, how you identified the issue, and how you fixed the problem. Also, follow up with how you made sure the mistake wouldn’t be repeated by you or anyone else on the team. Did you make documentation explaining how to properly use new software? Did you start asking for help or delegating work when you noticed items slipping through the cracks?

What Not to Say:

It’s best not to outline huge mistakes that would keep you from doing a good job in the new position you are interviewing for.

For example, if you lost a major client, you wouldn’t want to focus on that mistake in a behavioral interview question. Still, be honest — don’t make up a story because it’s easy to get caught in a lie. Don’t say that nothing comes to mind because we all make mistakes from time to time. Also, take responsibility for the error rather than blaming it on your former manager or teammates.

2. The Question: Talk About a Time You Had To Prioritize Some Projects Over Others

What It Means:

Businesses are often working on multiple tasks, short-term goals, and long-term projects all at once. As a result, the employer wants to learn how you manage your time and if you do so wisely. This question can help you discuss your time management skills and how you meet deadlines.

How to Respond:

Outline a time when you were juggling multiple tasks, and share how you decided to work on them to ensure they were all completed by the deadline. Perhaps you delegated or automated some of the easier day-to-day tasks. Share how you chose which projects to focus on completing first.

What Not to Say:

Because this is not a question about weaknesses or mistakes, it’s best not to focus on a time when you had several responsibilities falling through the cracks.

Again, don’t blame others for pushing too much work on you or not upholding their own responsibilities. Instead, stay positive and share how you tackled an overwhelming to-do list. Another thing to remember is not to share times that you came in extra early, worked through lunch, or stayed late. While an employer might like to hear how dedicated you are, it could set you up against lofty expectations that lead to burnout if you get the job.

3. The Question: Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With a Coworker or Boss

What It Means:

A workplace melds together a variety of minds, but that means disagreements and conflicts are bound to arise.

This question is meant to delve more into how you communicate. The employer hopes to know if you are strong and confident in communicating and working through different ideas or if you tend to either keep quiet or steamroll others with your own opinions.

How to Respond:

Share a time that you had a minor disagreement with someone at work. Perhaps your boss wanted to implement new software that you felt was inefficient, or a coworker created a slogan for a marketing campaign that you felt didn’t work for the audience. Did you speak up, and if so, how? Did you email your thoughts, call a meeting, or a combination?

Explain the situation and how the team compromised. Plus, share the outcome. For example, did you find different software with similar features that boosted team productivity? Did you tweak the slogan and end up with a collaborative and successful marketing campaign?

What Not to Say:

As with any interview question, there’s no need to put others down in your response. Instead, you want to show that you understood other points of view and wanted to communicate and collaborate to find the best solution as a team.

Avoid answering with a scenario where you decided to stay quiet, as this may show that you aren’t confident in your work or aren’t willing to communicate with your colleagues for the good of the business.

4. The Question: Discuss a Time You Received Criticism

What It Means:

Perhaps your boss gave you a negative yearly review, or a customer called and complained about you. You might have had an off day or made some mistakes on a project. It happens to everyone, but what matters to a potential employer is how you reacted and rectified your behaviors moving forward.

How to Respond:

Focus on more minor critiques, such as missing a deadline, not delegating work, or receiving a complaint from a customer. Share how you responded—did you apologize or show appreciation for the feedback? Then, outline how you decided to improve yourself.

For example, perhaps you received a critique for not being up to speed on SEO, so you decided to take a certification class and boosted that skill.

What Not to Say:

The answer should focus on a time you received criticism at work rather than outside of work. Don’t bash the person who gave you a negative critique; instead, show that you understand where the criticism was coming from and how you initially responded. Then, delve into what you did to improve your actions and turn the criticism into praise in the future.

5. The Question: Share a Time You Motivated Your Team

What It Means:

This is a question about your leadership style. The interviewer wants to know how you inspire your team to be productive and successful, even if you aren’t necessarily interviewing for a management position.

How to Respond:

Focus on a time that you motivated your team to hit a big goal, meet a tight deadline, or boost sales or productivity.

Did you offer rewards or words of encouragement? Did you jump in to lend a hand even when it wasn’t technically your job or responsibility? Discuss how you got your team to meet an important target, and share the specifics of how you met or exceeded that target without sacrificing quality work.

What Not to Say:

You don’t want to show that you are some malevolent leader that was unnecessarily strict to push coworkers to work harder. Of course, you also want to focus on motivators that were successful. You should have solid evidence that your leadership actions produced real results.

Answer behavioral questions thoughtfully, honestly, and confidently to impress interviewers.

Behavioral-based interview questions aren’t meant to leave you stumped or make you look bad. Instead, they’re a way for an interviewer to get to know how you communicate, respond to problems, and how you think.

It’s a great way to give depth to who you are outside of the resume, and you can really shine if you remain open, honest, and upbeat in your responses.

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”

Hmmmm…

“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!


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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About the author

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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Promote | DigitalMarketer

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Promote | DigitalMarketer

Up until now, any “promotion” your customers have done has been passive. But in the promotion stage, your customers actively spread the word about your brands, products, and services. They tell stories, make recommendations, and share your offers because they truly believe in them.

Active promotion may be an affiliate or commission relationship—or just a free offer for sending some new customers your way. The point is, it’s a win-win for both of you.

One thing worth mentioning before we dive in; Happy customers don’t promote, SUCCESSFUL customers do. 

Our biggest question in the Promote stage is: How are you going to turn your BEST customers into your marketing partners? 

If you don’t have a referral program, an affiliate program, or a valued reseller program … who is willing to drive your message to the organization you need to build out these programs? This is word of mouth marketing, and it is very important so start thinking about how you want to build this. 

Look to your most successful customers, they’re going to be the people who actively promote for you. But then, let’s think about our customers who already have our prospects but are offering a different product or service. 

At DigitalMarketer we are a training and certification company, we are not a services based company. What that means is we don’t compete with agencies or consultants. This also means that there is an opportunity for us to work with agencies and consultants. 

When we realized this we decided to launch our Certified Partner Program, which you can learn more about at DigitalMarketer.Com/Partner. This program lets us work with the largest segments of our customer base, who have customers that we want but they’re providing a solution that we’re not providing. 

When we train our customers, they are able to use our company frameworks to work with their clients. If their clients want to learn to do their marketing themselves? We’re the first education company they see.

So who is that for you? Remember, it’s not the happy clients that refer, it’s the successful clients. If you want to create more promoters, make sure that you’re doing everything that you can as a marketer to ensure that you’re marketing great products so you can see great results. 

How can our example companies accomplish this?

For Hazel & Hems, they can add an ambassador program to grow their instagram following and increase credibility with viral posts. 

Ambassadors can earn affiliate commissions, additional boutique reward points, and get the chance to build a greater following by leveraging the Hazel & Hems brand.

For Cyrus & Clark, they can offer discounted rates to their existing clients if those clients are willing to refer them to their strategic partners. 

For construction companies, this could be a home builder recommending Cyrus & Clark services to the landscapers, real estate developers, and interior designers that they work with to serve their customers.



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