In my previous job I was working on a client-facing project for the first time. This new role added many extra challenges related to communication on top of the usual technical and cultural challenges one might face.

As added issue is that there were too few technically competent staff who were capable of addressing these issues and due to various, undisclosed, reasons we received little help from management.

I felt I was unable to focus 100% of my efforts into solving these issues due, in part, to unfortunate family crisis. Thankfully we did eventually get a few more staff who were sufficiently capable.

However, this late introduction of capable staff meant that initially we were failing to meet client expectations, they gave negative feedback related to this and as a critical member of the team I was held responsible. I received negative feedback in my appraisal and as such was removed from the project.

This has effectively made me lose my faith in my current company and I would like to look for other alternatives but I am worried how this negative feedback might affect my interviewers perception of my technical skills.

This question is not only asked in Interviews, but also in my current project manager also when context occurs like considering me for promotions and increments.

I don't want to lie about the truth behind the feedback but at the same time I want to be able to effectively convey my technical abilities without their views being marred by this one piece of feedback.

So my question to you all is that, how can I sell myself to potential employers through truthfully addressing my previous shortcomings but still conveying my technical capabilities?

Research that I have done:
I have Googled with phrase "How to convey about ones failures in Interview". However I didn't get any results which answers my question.

I have searched in the workplace.stackexchange before placing the question. I found this close to my question: Is it worth to tell a "Samaritan" (company mentor) about my story of particular failure?

However above is about telling mentor which has no impact. But my question is about telling the person who is going to hire me for project. I would like to be in safer situation.

  • @RhysW: Your edit is really superb. You have articulated question so elegant and nice. I have to admit the fact my writing and english skills are inferior to you. However I am keen to improve upon those specified. How to improve and what to do in order to improve is my question? Please suggest right site for asking this question?
    – Babu
    Jan 24, 2013 at 14:43
  • 1
    @BVR - I think this is a good on topic question for this site. I hope you will get some good answers. Jan 24, 2013 at 15:58
  • @Chad. Verbs do not take initial capital letters, even when they're derived from proper nouns or brand names (hence to hoover and to google). Adjectives do (hence Googlable) with the exception, for some reason, of biblical.
    – TRiG
    Feb 15, 2013 at 19:40

5 Answers 5


A few points:

  1. It's unlikely that any interviewer will find out about this through a third party since most companies (in the US, that is) don't give references any more for legal reasons. That means you are in control of how to communicate this and when and how to bring it up.
  2. This can be actually an opportunity. One of my favorite interview questions is "Please tell me about a time when you screwed up". Errors are normal and one of the most efficient, if painful, ways to learn if you accept them. What I would be looking for is
    • Honest assessment of what went wrong, what was under your control and what wasn't
    • You taking responsibility for the part that was indeed under your control
    • A thorough analysis of what you could have done differently
    • A concise statement about what you will do (or already have done) differently in the future as the result of this.

So you are in control when and how to bring it up (and, yes, you should bring it up) and if properly prepared you can use this to your advantage. Nobody walks on water all the time, so learning how you deal with problems and mistakes is an important thing for your interviewer to learn.


If the failure comes up at all, focus on what you did to try and make things work. Sometimes projects don't work out. This is a reality that any good employer should understand. The key thing is to be able to show how you did your best throughout it.

I actually "failed upwards" in getting my current job. My previous job consisted of 4 years at a company where I was brought in for a upgrade project that went on for 3 years and was finally shut down (largely based on my analysis of why it couldn't work). It was a late found performance issue that there was no way to work around and the root of the problem wasn't my fault. From the death of that project, I went on to be a member of a team that spun it's wheels for almost a year doing effectively nothing due to lack of management interest in replacing the system we were tasked with building a replacement for.

Over the course of 4 years, I literally only saw about 300 lines of code go in to production, but I was recruited for and landed a job that was a 30% increase in pay and a major jump up in responsibility by not only acknowledging the failed projects, but working through how, even in an unwinnable situation, I did my best to ensure the projects had the best chance of success and how, upon realizing it would not be beneficial to the company, worked to help the company move on in the least damaging way.

In short, personal actions are not necessarily linked to the success or failure of a project and if you can stand on the merits of your own actions, then a project failure shouldn't matter significantly.


In today's world "fail fast and learn" is the mantra. When you talk about your failures, the interviewer will look for what you learnt from them. Hence focus on how failures helped you become a better person and improve your abilities.

If you shy away from talking about failures the interviewer will quickly call your bluff...don't do that.


Failure is a part of life and if someone says that all of their projects have gone perfectly, without any glitches, that is a sheer lie. A recruiter will already be aware that projects have failures associated with them. The answer that they expect is something that shows:

  1. That you accept your own mistakes and/or failures.
  2. At what level the failure occurred and to what degree the failure was caused by you.

This gives the recruiter an opportunity to gauge you as a person, based on the answer that mistakes/failure were caused by fundamental mistakes or some acceptable reason(s).

For example, a Project manager could say that they were modifying any existing structure (building) to cater to some different need, then during execution phase they realised that the structure was not suitable for taking the new equipments or process loads. This meant there was a need for strengthening of the all columns & foundations. In this case there has been a fundamental failure. Before starting the job, a structural analysis should have been done. Only realising this problem might exist during the course of the project's execution shows short-sightedness and a lack of the basic knowledge to perform their job adequately.

As a recruiter this lets you judge the person's grasp of the fundamental skills needed to perform their job adequately, which in this case might be lacking if they had all the information to make the correct judgement. It's also important when recruiting someone to see how well they handle failures or mistakes and what action they take (if any) in such a case.


I have figured it out solution for my problem and tried when ever I want to talk about project failures. This seems to be giving positive results. Of course the other answers provided to this question also helped me to come up with this solution. I would like to share the solution that I am implementing with community also

Usually while I was talking about my failure I have highlighted below things:

  1. Explain the skillset, expertize and maturity levels required and that I had and describe the gap.
  2. How much clarity that I had about the challenges and the situation in the project before joining the project.
  3. How much qualitative helping hand, guidance, mentoring and inputs required from management and other teams during crisis time.
  4. What I have tried to make the situation better
  5. What I could have done differently
  6. What I have gained and lessons learned
  • 7
    you assume the entire interview is going to be about how you were on a failed project. They don't even need to know it failed. If someone asks about it you can say it is not in production at the moment and move on to the next topic. I know this failure is a huge deal to you, but interviewers really want to hear about how you're going to be great hire for them. A long discussion of why some other employment situation wasn't good for you doesn't support that goal. Focus on the now and the future. Jun 3, 2013 at 12:33
  • @KateGregory - He's probably going to be asked to describe the last/current project, and there is no way, in his mind, he'll be able to avoid discussing the failures.
    – user8365
    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:35

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