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Reflecting on past failures for MBA interview.

Answering the ‘Failure’ Question in MBA Interviews

MBA interviews can be nerve-wracking, and when faced with the dreaded “failure” question, many candidates fumble. If you’re reading this, it probably means you want to be prepared for this intricate question in your MBA interview. It’s essential to understand the depth and purpose of this question and to present your answer effectively. After all, the best business schools are looking for more than just good grades.

All about ‘failure’ questions

Why do they ask failure questions? What needs to be showcased? What do they expect to hear?
The ‘failure’ question, often termed the “biggest failure interview question”, isn’t a trap. It’s a window into your self-awareness, resilience, and growth potential.
The underlying motive behind the question: Interviewers from top business schools are keen to understand how you handle setbacks. Your response reveals your ability to introspect, learn, and adapt. They aren’t interested in the failure itself, but how you managed and what you learned from it.
The attributes interviewers look for: Authenticity tops the list. Admitting a genuine setback and showcasing a proactive approach to overcoming it indicates maturity. The best business schools value resilience and the ability to turn challenges into opportunities.
Setting the expectations right: Understand that they don’t expect you to be flawless. Failures are a part of life. What’s important is demonstrating genuine introspection and tangible growth following the setback.

8 ways to approach the ‘failure’ question for MBA interviews

Starting with genuine introspection: Begin by asking yourself why you consider this a significant failure. Did it alter your perspective or push you to grow?
Highlighting the learning curve: Every setback provides a lesson. Whether it taught you the importance of meticulous planning or effective communication, ensure you elucidate the learnings.
Being accountable: Owning up to your mistakes showcases responsibility and maturity. Rather than shifting blame or downplaying the situation, acknowledge your role in the failure and emphasize the proactive steps you took thereafter.
Showcasing resilience: Highlight how you bounced back after the setback. Did you take on additional tasks or projects to rectify the mistake? Or perhaps you sought feedback and made necessary adjustments?
Positioning the failure in the larger journey: Present the setback as a small bump in your broader professional or personal journey. This way, it’s seen in context and not as an isolated incident.
Connecting to future goals: Link your learning from this failure to how it prepares you for future challenges, especially in the context of an MBA and your post-MBA goals.
Demonstrating growth and personal development: Emphasize the personal and professional growth that stemmed from the experience. Perhaps it pushed you to take a course, seek mentorship, or adopt a new approach to problem-solving.
Using the STAR technique: Structure your response using the Situation, Task, Action, and Result method. This provides a comprehensive view of the scenario and clearly outlines the challenge, your response, and the outcome.
In approaching the failure question, remember to be genuine, clear, and concise. The interviewers are keen to understand not just the failure but, more importantly, your response and growth from it.

Tips and examples

Remember that context is crucial. Your biggest failure in a team project might not be the same as a solo project. Use examples that resonate and ensure they’re relatable to an MBA setting.
The power of authenticity: No need for tall tales. Authentic experiences, where you highlight actual setbacks and the consequent learnings, will resonate more with the interviewers.
Structuring your answer effectively: Use the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This gives a clear narrative and showcases both the problem and your solution.
Keeping it relatable: Your ‘failure’ should ideally be from a professional setting. If choosing a personal example, ensure it has broader implications on teamwork, leadership, or other MBA-relevant skills.

Sample Answer

“I was leading a project at XYZ Corp where we were launching a new software tool. Despite rigorous testing, post-launch, we realized there were compatibility issues with some older systems, leading to significant client dissatisfaction. I took immediate responsibility and, with my team, worked round-the-clock to resolve the issues. Not only did we fix the problem, but the experience also taught me the importance of comprehensive beta testing and stakeholder feedback. Today, I incorporate these lessons in every project I undertake.”

Dos and Don’ts When Answering the ‘Failure’ Question


Be Genuine: It’s crucial to be honest about your experiences. Select a real-life situation where you faced challenges, rather than fabricating a story or embellishing the truth. Interviewers can often spot insincerity.
Focus on Learnings: The central part of your answer should emphasize what you’ve learned from the experience. The mistake itself is secondary to the growth that followed.
Practice Your Answer: Even if you’re discussing a genuine experience, practice ensures you communicate your points effectively and within the given time frame. This will help in keeping the story concise yet impactful.


Blame Others: Avoid playing the blame game. Even if others were involved, focus on your role, your actions, and your learnings.
Minimize the Failure: Don’t downplay the incident or suggest it wasn’t a significant setback. The essence lies in showcasing your growth from substantial challenges.
Provide Generic Answers: Interviewers hear many responses. To stand out, avoid giving broad, generic answers. Be specific about your experience and how it shaped you.
Remember, the intent behind the question is not to catch you off guard or focus on your setbacks. It’s an opportunity for the interviewer to gauge your self-awareness, accountability, and growth mindset.
The list of questions is endless. From understanding why interviewers delve into this topic to deciding the nature of the failure, candidates often grapple with numerous doubts. For a comprehensive understanding of this, read our detailed guides on top mistakes applicants make in MBA applications and tips on preparing for your MBA in advance.


Why do MBA interviewers ask about failures?

MBA interviewers pose questions about failures to assess candidates’ self-awareness, resilience, and learning agility. Rather than focusing on the failure itself, interviewers are keen to understand how candidates have reacted to challenges, learned from their mistakes, and used these learnings to grow both personally and professionally. This provides insights into their problem-solving skills, accountability, and adaptability—traits that are vital for future business leaders.

Can I talk about a personal failure or does it have to be work-related?

While work-related failures are often more directly relevant to MBA applications, personal failures are also acceptable, provided they offer valuable insights into your character and growth. The key is to ensure that, irrespective of the domain, the failure showcases your learning curve, adaptability, and resilience. If a personal failure had significant repercussions on your professional life or overall outlook and can be tied back to your MBA journey, it can be an impactful story to share.

Should I choose a failure that’s recent or from further back in my career?

Both options have their merits. Recent failures can demonstrate that you’re continually pushing yourself and are unafraid of new challenges. They also show that you’re actively learning and growing in your current role. On the other hand, failures from earlier in your career can be framed as pivotal moments that deeply influenced your subsequent professional trajectory. The crucial element isn’t the timing but how profoundly the experience affected you and the tangible learnings you drew from it.

How can I turn a failure into a positive learning experience in my answer?

Turning a failure into a positive learning experience requires reflection and the ability to derive actionable insights from setbacks. Start by identifying what went wrong and your role in the situation. Then, pinpoint the key lessons you’ve gleaned from the experience. This could be anything from the importance of communication, time management, or seeking feedback. Subsequently, highlight actions you’ve taken post-failure, like attending training, seeking mentorship, or implementing new strategies. This narrative will showcase your proactive approach, resilience, and commitment to personal and professional development.
In conclusion, the ‘failure’ question in an MBA interview is not about the setback itself but the journey afterward. It’s a golden opportunity to showcase resilience, learning, and growth. Embrace it with authenticity and confidence!

For over 15+ years as an Entrepreneur, and India’s Top Educationist, Jatin has led a range of initiatives in the Education Industry. In this role, he has created many successful educational services and products geared towards generating success for professionals aspiring to join IVY League and global Top Tier Universities for MBA Programs, Masters Programs, and undergraduate courses. He is the Founder and CEO of PythaGURUS Education, and has been recognized as a thought leader in the Higher education sector. Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Times of India, India Today, Business Today, Tribune, and many other national newspapers have recognized his work, and have given him numerous opportunities to be a regular columnist. He has also served as a panelist for NDTV, and other national news channels.

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