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Question about failure in your life

BCG McKinsey and Bain
New answer on Mar 23, 2020
5 Answers
1.4 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Mar 20, 2020

Hi everybody! How am I supposed to answer a question about failure? Like "tell me about the biggest failure in your life?" thanks a lot for your help, people!

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Content Creator
replied on Mar 20, 2020
McKinsey / ex-Interviewer at McKinsey / I will coach you to rock those interviews


Essentially, failure experience is regarded very positively by MBB: if you failed, you took risks, i.e. you have proven your entrepreneurial nature. So, do not be afraid to talk honestly about the times you failed.

However, an important thing to focus on in your answer to this question is what you have learnt from your failure. And I would try to turn these “lessons learnt” into something valuable for consulting. For example, you tried doing everything by yourself and after this failure you really started understanding the importance of team work and really improved on this front. Or, you tried doing everything perfectly and after that failure you understood that it’s important to have trade-offs and to compromise to achieve the results you want (80/20 or “better done than perfect“).

So, be honest, talk about your failures, but remember to highlight some lessons learnt to give your story an overall positive twist.

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Content Creator
replied on Mar 21, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


First of all, you can see a full post on this same topic with numerous examples >

For starters, it´s really easy as an interviewer to tell when someone is lying, so just don´t. Tell something honest -but for sure don´t pick the biggest mistake of your life!-.

Most important, what is being tested here is your ability to self-reflect, not how big you can mess up. Hence, try to focus 90% of the story not abut the failure itself, but:

  • What it taugh you
  • How it made you better
  • Other situations that happened after where you already reacted much better, given that you learned from your mistake

Hope it helps!


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Content Creator
replied on Mar 23, 2020
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching

Hi, my recommendation is to choose something about your professional or extra-curricula (associations, university groups, ...) experience that does not constitute a red flag for entering in consulting. You must show that you fully understood what caused the failure and you started an improvement plan to overcome it for future situations.


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Anonymous replied on Mar 22, 2020

Hey A,

Don't be afraid to answer this question very honestly, because it means your internal courage and can show how you learn from failures. Nobody is perfect and making failures is the best way to do your experiense so use this chance to show yourself from the best side!

The perfect answer would consist of the following parts:

  1. Situation description
  2. Problem
  3. Approach which you used and what did not work
  4. Your learnings - what have you learnt and what are you now doing differently. Maybe you even have some success stories nowadays with the new approach ;)

I hope it helps - stay safe and healthy.

Good luck!


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Content Creator
replied on Mar 21, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

The trick is how to answer that question conceptionally - the specific example you anyway need to find yourself to be authentic.

In general, failure is acceptable if you stretch yourself enough and go out of your comfort zone - this will be a constant when working at MBB. Key is to absorb feedback as quickly as possible and improve based on that - but everybody knows that you will mistake and that's ok to some extent.

So that's also the main thing for you to show in an answer to that question that you had a big stretch and also reflected on your failure/experience to improve yourself. Ideally you can add as a side-note that you could already implement your learning experience in another situation.

Hope that helps - if so, please give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!


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Daniel gave the best answer


Content Creator
McKinsey / ex-Interviewer at McKinsey / I will coach you to rock those interviews
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