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I'm about to enter job market. Therefore, I have an interview scheduled for tomorrow. Currently I'm reading "How to Succeed at Interviews" by Sudhir Andrews. There I read a question like

Do you have any regrets in your Job?

They have canned an answer like

As a general principle, I've found that the best way to avoid regrets is to avoid causing them in the first place. As a practice, at the end of each day, I mentally review the day's events and conversations to evaluate whether I would have any regrets. I immediately rectify them before regret occurs.

I assume that this question is targeted for people who are currently employed and looking for a new job. But since I'm new to job market, I think I have to answer it my way. My perspective:

In my opinion regret is a negative word. When I do something and it doesn't go well, instead of having a regret, I try to look at the brighter side, that is, lessons learnt. As a practice, at the end of each day, I mentally review and analyze day's events and conversations like what didn't go well, what were mistakes I made and what can be done now. Lessons learnt might help to avoid such mistakes in future or so. This also helps in enhancing the experiences which would make ability to make decisions better.

So my question is, is my perspective right? Do I need to rectify some points? Can I refer regret as a negative word?

11 Answers 11

43

Regret is a negative word, but as stated in this answer, there is nothing wrong with using it.

As a general principle, I've found that the best way to avoid regrets is to avoid causing them in the first place. As a practice, at the end of each day, I mentally review the day's events and conversations to evaluate whether I would have any regrets. I immediately rectify them before regret occurs.

This is a typical BS answer, and you would do well to not copy it.

I would answer much the same way you did. However, I wouldn't highlight that regret is a negative word. This my make it look like you're passing judgement on the person asking the question.

Unlike Kevin's answer, I would avoid giving examples of things you regret. You're basically giving the listener a list of things that may trigger a negative response in their mind, without you having an opportunity to justify and clarify.

You also don't want to go too far, and seem like you're blasé regarding mistakes (the "brighter side").

If I were to answer the question, it would be something like this:

I think it's inevitable that throughout our working life we are going to have regrets about mistakes that we've made. But I take great pride in ensuring that I reflect on my mistakes and try hard to make it a learning experience for myself, so that I don't repeat them.

Or, in simpler English:

I don't think we can avoid having regrets about mistakes that we've made. We will make mistakes during our whole career. But I try very hard to make sure that I learn from my mistakes because I don't want to make them again.

  • @Kulfy I've attempted a simple English version. – Gregory Currie Jul 22 at 9:30
  • At it's core, this interview question is asking how you cope with failure or mistakes that you've made. We all have to deal with this at some (multiple) times in our working career. Being able to identify and learn from mistakes is a strong trait to have. – Snow Jul 22 at 14:18
  • 5
    I think this answer could use one small tweak - notably, the example answer you provide doesn't even attempt to actually answer the question. You just say how you deal with regrets. At the very least I expect interviewees to address the actual question asked rather than completely going on a tangent. Lead with something like "No outstanding regrets come to mind, but ...", or bring up some mostly inconsequential regrets or things you regret that weren't really under your control (I regret I couldn't convince my team to do X, it would have saved us Y later) – Delioth Jul 22 at 17:59
  • The order of answers on here can change, and as I write this is is the top-voted answer, so I've submitted an edit to change "the answer above" to "Kevin's answer". – bdsl Jul 22 at 22:25
  • @Delioth I said it was enevitavle. So that's a yes... I'll make it clearer. – Gregory Currie Jul 22 at 22:51
17

I'm not a fan of the canned answer.

I regret things at work all the time: Every time I finish a project, as I look over it, there are things I wish I had done differently. With the benefit of hindsight, any person with skill can look over their work and see how it could have been better.

If those improvements are worth it, I'll ask for an extension to add them, but if the users are happy with the project, I try to be happy with it, too.

11

Is regret a negative word?

Of course it is. But there's nothing wrong with that - it's deliberately a "negative" interview question, so to speak.

It's impossible to know in a general sense what the interviewer is after there - some may be impressed with those answers. However, I personally wouldn't be, as I see them as dodging the question with fluff rather than actually answering it. The first canned answer is answering "how do you do best to avoid regrets in your role", and your answer is answering "how do you deal with regrets".

There's no problem with emphasising that you see the learning experience in it, but you still have to answer the question. Now perhaps I'm way too blunt for most people's tastes, but i'd say something akin to:

Of course, and I'd say anyone who said otherwise would be lying or in denial. I've, on occasion, regretted the coding style I've used, regretted not testing code thoroughly enough, regretted not pushing back on management decisions, regretted pushing back on management decisions, etc. - but key to that is it's occasional rather than regular, and I've learnt from that every time such an event has happened.

Would there be some managers who'd want someone to say "no regrets!", give them a fluffy answer, and nothing else? Sure. Will I be a good fit under that sort of manager anyway? Unlikely.

  • 1
    Truth is, a "good" answer to this question will be fluffy by nature. "Regretting coding style" is quite fluffy. Regretting skipping a test on a 737 would be honest (and I bet people involved in the project learned a lot), but that's not the answer that can get you hired. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 23 at 11:51
2

My approach would be:

  • something which does not display you as egocentric (not: I regret not taking the job with the higher salary)
  • something where you can believably tell that you have learned from the experience
  • something which is a long time ago
  • something which is not a professional misbehavior
  • something which is not a crime or against professional rules

So I would probably go with something like:

  • 10 years ago, we got a new colleague. Although I had reservations against his capabilities, i hesitated to discuss the problem with my manager; I wasted this colleagues and my time, and I figured out it's much better to talk to the manager when problems arise.

  • I joined a project as a junior. I clearly saw that the used framework had algorithms inside which were scaling badly with big loads. I spoke to one senior colleague, and he did not like the idea to change something there, but I did not manage to address my concerns in the team. We had to rewrite a part of the software under high pressure when the customer started to test.

2

"Do you have any regrets in your job?" is just another variety of "What's your biggest weakness?" - it's a question that probes whether you: can reliably use introspection to understand your own flaws, and what your reaction is when finding them.

Once you understand that, you'll know how you should answer it:

  • Pointing out a legit instance
  • Highlighting what positive actions you're taking as a remedy.

Let me give you some possible examples:

"My biggest regret was taking a job at XYZ. It's a good company, but the position wasn't a good fit for me in terms of skillset. The problem was, I'd always kind of imagined working for XYZ, and didn't really dig into what the job I was taking would actually involve. I guess I learned the hard way that job interviews aren't just about a business finding a good candidate, but me finding out whether a company/job is a good fit for me. Since then, I've made sure to ask more and better questions about what the job will entail, what the typical day looks like, and so on."

... or ...

"My biggest regret is that in my first two jobs, I didn't branch out and learn skills that weren't actively needed on the job at the time. I feel I really set my professional development behind when I look back on it. Since then, I've made it a habit to spend my Saturday afternoons tinkering with whatever tech seems to catch my fancy - for the last few months, it's been tinkering around with making IoT devices with Raspberry Pi. It's not work related, but it's fun - and it makes me feel I'm keeping up with world a bit better."

Both of those are highlighting specific regrets. Both of them involve the person being able to self-reflect to identify a way they weren't perfect. And both of them involve the person taking positive steps to improve.

So the short story is: find an actual, real regret you've felt. Tell them. And tell them how you've changed to improve since then.

  • What's wrong with an imaginary regret (barring cases of an imagination running wild)? – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 23 at 11:36
1

I would personally answer it without actual answering, like this:

Regrets, I've had a few but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this I did it my way.

  • Amusing, but not very useful for an interview, unless it's as a karaoke singer! – Graham Jul 23 at 12:09
1

Do you have any regrets in your job?

That's one of those questions which don't reflect well on the interviewer who asks them. They either try to trick you into badmouthing yourself so they'll have a reason to reject you (meaning they will discriminate honest people), or they expect you do perform an act of mental gymnastics by turning something negative into something positive or (or vice versa), which would be a valid test if they hire you for a position in marketing or PR, anywhere else not so much. As someone in a tech career, I've never encountered such a question on an interview.

If the question does come up though, the answer you give makes very little difference, as long as you don't come across as arrogant, confused or illogical. As an interviewer, I see no reason to prefer someone with the answer you describe (taking regrets as lessons learned) over someone with a humorous answer such as "I regret I missed that cake on my previous boss' 50th birthday". But then again, I don't ask questions to which I don't want to know the answer.

Don't reflect on questions like this too much, they are by far not the most important part of an interview.

0

I think the definition you are looking for is:

"Are there times when I had all the information and all the space to make a decision and then made the wrong one"

Because it is hard to regret not having all the wrong information and neither is doing the wrong thing when politics and policy make demands of you.

Of course at the basis of this situation there could be another circumstance you could regret but then it is a case of turtles all the way down.

  • Most of the time it just means you are inexperienced, experience is nothing more that being able to process the information you have. – Borgh Jul 22 at 9:29
  • This is exactly the kind of information I wouldn't volunteer on an interview. Honesty which cannot be enforced is very poorly rewarded. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 23 at 11:28
  • I find that some of my regrets are when I made a sub-optimal decision when in retrospect I did not have all the information, experience and space to make the decision. For instance, "I wish I had known ..." or "I wish the circumstances had not been ...". – Turtle1363 Jul 23 at 16:54
0

This may just become a Philosophy SE question if you want a thorough answer. Here's an attempt to stay in-stack.

If asked about "regret", first thing I would do is ask the interviewer to clarify what regret means to them. The interviewer may then construe it as:

  • Some negative occurrence, that you likely couldn't really have stopped without knowing the circumstances of it.

  • Something positive you totally could have done but didn't.

The first point is about failing, and it is like the way you put it. Failing is part and parcel of being a human being and knowing how to learn from it is what defines a good bit of character. Sometimes you'll be glad you failed and learned things that you then managed to apply afterwards - this is personal growth and a display of experience somewhat.

Regret, to me on the other hand, falls more in line with the second point. It can be much more insidious and display a much worse image of you, as it is often a sign of neglect. If you knew something bad could have happened if you didn't follow a procedure and still went through with it causing unspeakable damage and loss, there's no other way to put it than that you regret it - this will be your only solace.

With these in mind, you always want to talk about experience and things you can do of positive for the upcoming company. If the interviewer refers to "regret" as something light like the first point you're free to talk about how yeah thing went wrong at one point, which sucks a lot, but I learned x and y from it besides avoiding it now.

I also recommend you don't promise a reflection ritual, that'd give me the feeling you are always screwing up and need to stop and think before you can even tell.

0

Do you have any regrets in your Job?

I don't know if this is the correct answer, but often a question like this feels like, to me, a question of intent and growth.

A quick google define of Regret is:

feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).

What I do now is ask:

What purpose does regret serve?

To educate us.

Thus, when someone asks me what I regret, I have essentially a response that demonstrates, a missed opportunity or error, how I handled it, and this is important, how I grew as a professional from it, how has it changes me and my perspective. How has that experience made me better.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's the intent of the question. Have you missed an opportunity or made a mistake and have you grown from it.

UPDATE:

Additional thought, Regret also serves as a way of thinking about ownership or responsibility. Have you ever failed in a moment on a task that you had ownership or responsibility of? Regret would be the result, because it MATTERED to you. It shows you cared or were at least conscientious towards your work.

If you didn't care, then you wouldn't experience regret.

I might absolutely be over-reading it. But I definitely think that sort of question is about failure and growth more than anything.

-1

I'd suggest something like this:

"There are always things that, in hindsight, could have been done differently. I tend not to regret those choices though, because I'm careful to make the best decision I can at the time, and willing to change direction when needed. Nobody is perfect and when engineering complex systems things will sometimes go wrong, so there's not point wallowing in regret when you could be doing something positive to fix the problem."

  • Why the down vote? – user Jul 23 at 16:14

protected by mcknz Jul 23 at 13:44

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