Tell Me About a Time You Were On a Team Project That Failed

In a job interview, the interviewer wants to get to know you and understand how you react in certain situations. They cannot get this information by just reading your cover letter and resume. Therefore they will ask you questions to get an understanding of your behavior in situations related to the job. A common job interview question is ‘Tell me about a time you were on a team project that failed.’

Even though you’re at a job interview and you want to impress the interviewer, he or she asks you about a time you failed. Asking about a time you failed on a team project might sound like a trick question. It’s not. But how do you answer a question regarding failures in general and team effort failures? Read all about it in this blog.

Also, make sure that you can give the right answer to the most frequently asked job interview questions.

Why the interviewer is asking about a failed team project

Before you start preparing your answer to the interviewer, it’s important to understand the goal of the interviewer when he or she asks about failures. The interviewer wants to get an in-depth insight into your character and personality. This means that he or she will ask you questions that will show you react when you encounter situations and how you handle conflicts in the workplace. The most common way to do this is asking you behavioral job interview questions. These questions are meant to uncover your past behavior in work situations. Your behavior in past situations is the best indicators for interviewers on how you are likely to approach similar situations in the future. Behavioral job interview questions often include topics such as teamwork, leadership, project management, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

Behavioral job interview questions usually start with:

  • Tell me about a time when
  • Describe a time when
  • Tell me about a situation in which you
  • Talk about a time when
  • Give me an example of a time when

Job interview questions about failures are often asked in behavioral job interviews. The interviewer is interested in how you react when you face failure. Is this something that gives you extra motivation for next projects with renewed enthusiasm and energy? Or does failure hurt your ego, and do you decide to take a different approach in the future? All this information is used by the interviewer to gain more understanding of your personality.

STAR-Method

The best way to answer behavioral job interview questions is through the STAR-method. STAR stands for:

Situation

Think of a situation that will best fit the interviewer’s question. The more this scenario matches the requirements of the job you’re applying to, the better. The interviewer could, for instance, ask you ‘tell me about a time when you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?’. Make sure to include the most important aspects of the situation. Who was involved? What was the challenge? Why did you have to overcome that specific challenge? Make sure the can is described as concrete and concise as possible.

Task

What was the task you had to complete in the earlier described situation? Talk about the obstacles you encountered or any other factors that could have prevented you from finalizing your task.

Action

After describing your task follow-up with talking about what you needed to do to fulfill this task. In other words, what actions did you have to take to achieve your task?

Result

The result part is very important to share with the interviewer. Discuss how your specific actions contributed directly to the results. Also, if applicable, you can discuss what you learned from the experience.

Structuring your answer according to the STAR-method allows you to provide a strong, concrete, and concise answer. Below there are some additional tips you can take into consideration when preparing your answers according to the STAR-method:

  1. Try to be as specific as you possibly can.
  2. Keep your answer concrete and concise.
  3. The focus of your story should be on your contribution, your thought process, motives, and, actions.
  4. Recent answers are usually better, but if you have a great example that you learned from earlier in your career, you can use this too.
  5. Try to use different types of scenario’s when preparing your answer. This way, you can use one that is most applicable if the question is asked.
  6. Always stay positive even when situations can have outcomes that were not that positive. Focus on what you learned and emphasize what you would different if you would encounter a similar situation in the future.

How to answer job interview questions about failed team projects

Your goal is, of course, to make the best impression as possible during your job interview. However, just like anyone else, you need to be able to discuss your failures even though it’s a sensitive subject. By preparing your answer, you can actually use this question as an opportunity to steer it into a positive direction. By finding strength in your failed situation, you can impress the interviewer. Being able to admit that you failed in the past is a sign of confidence and shows that you are committed to the task at hand.

Whatever scenario you decide to go for never tell the interviewer that you cannot recall any failures or that you do not make any mistakes. Avoiding this question will or not answering is not an option. If you can demonstrate the interviewer that you were able to find strength and courage even though you were disappointed due to failure, this will show that you have the right character and indicate how you will behave if you would encounter such a situation again in the future.

When you give your answer, make sure to go into detail on why the project failed. Discuss the situation, what your role was, and what mistakes were made during the project. The interviewer knows that nobody’s perfect, so being able to demonstrate such an example shows that you can reflect on yourself.

Example answers to job interview questions about failed team projects

Below some examples are given that you can use for inspiration to describe a team project that failed.

Example answer 1 (experienced position):

‘In my previous job, I was working with my team on a project for one of our largest clients. Another, more senior team manager offered me to provide additional team members due to the size of the assignment, but I chose the option to keep the project within my team as I thought that we were able to handle it. I was going to actively be involved in the project and take on tasks myself too. The scope of the project and the work that needed to be done proved to be too much for the team. The project was divided into three parts, and we failed to reach the deadline of the first part.

I ended up deciding to request the additional team members that I should have added in the first place. Together with the other team manager, I was able to figure out which of these team members could add value to my team, and we were able to finish the second part of the project in time. By doing so, we were able to regain the trust of the client. The initial failure in the process hurt my ego, but the bounce back was all due to our team effort. I realized that teamwork, discussing the scope of projects with more experienced managers and prioritizing is the way to go when taking on large projects like the one that I was responsible for.’

Example answer 2 (graduate position):

‘During my summer internship at a local bank, I was working as a data analyst. I worked on a project that involved processing large amounts of data, and I was asked if I could help to structure this data and get it all in a new system that was implemented recently. I did not have any experience with the new software system, and due to time constraints, I did not take the take to fully get acquainted with it.

On the first day that I worked with this new program, I accidentally deleted half of the data. I notified my team leader that put me in contact with our software implementation team. I also took immediate responsibility by figuring out a way to undo the caused damage. It was a very stressful moment for me, but I was able to get the deleted data back in cooperation with the software implementation team. The project worked out fine, and all deadlines were met, but it was a stressful situation to be in, especially since I was determined to make the best impression possible in that team. I learned that when I encounter stressful situations such as learning to work with new software within a short time frame, I should seek advice from more experienced co-workers upfront on the best way to approach a project.’

Job Interview Topics – Common Job Interview Questions & Answers

Below you can find a list of common job interview topics. Each link will direct you to an article regarding the specific topics that discuss commonly asked interview questions. Furthermore, each article discusses why the interviewer asks these questions and how you answer them!

  1. Accomplishments
  2. Adaptability
  3. Admission
  4. Behavioral
  5. Career Change
  6. Career Goals
  7. Communication
  8. Competency
  9. Conflict Resolution
  10. Creative Thinking
  11. Cultural Fit
  12. Customer Service
  13. Direct
  14. Experience
  15. Government
  16. Graduate
  17. Growth Potential
  18. Honesty & Integrity
  19. Illegal
  20. Inappropriate
  21. Job Satisfaction
  22. Leadership
  23. Management
  24. Entry-Level & No experience
  25. Performance-Based
  26. Personal
  27. Prioritization & Time Management
  28. Problem-solving
  29. Salary
  30. Situational & Scenario-based
  31. Stress Management
  32. Teamwork
  33. Telephone Interview
  34. Tough
  35. Uncomfortable
  36. Work Ethic