Best Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates – Fear of Failure

This is part one of a 12-part series.

Creating a successful and productive team starts with finding great employees who fit your organizational culture. And while you may receive hundreds of job applications and interested parties, narrowing down the talent pool to hire the right candidate for the job goes beyond what hiring managers can surmise by reading cover letters and applicants’ resumes, especially when studies show 85% of applicants lie on their resumes. This is where the art of the interview comes into play.

According to a study, although a typical interview averages 40 minutes, 33% of hiring managers decide whether they want to hire a job candidate within the first 90 seconds of an interview. To ensure you’re completely thorough and make the right decision, it’s important to ask the right questions to fully understand and evaluate a candidate. During this 12-part series, we will explore the best interview questions to ask job candidates and give a few “pro tips” along the way.

Part One – Uncovering a Candidate’s Potential “Fear of Failure”

Question: What was your biggest failure?
Follow ups:
How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?

Asking an interviewee to re-live their biggest professional failure at work or in their career is a great way to see how a candidate handles letdowns and if they have the resolve to overcome obstacles. Failure is never final, so it’s important for a candidate to focus on the things they can control. While missing the mark on a goal or making a wrong decision can be demoralizing, it’s also a great opportunity for growth.

According to Psychology Today, a single failure can create an unconscious fear of failure, so it’s best to analyze and grow from a setback. While asking this question, have the candidate walk through these steps:

  • Break down the failure into aspects in and out of their control
  • Figure out how they can take control of those aspects that are out of their control (i.e. building skills, planning, preparation, development, etc.)
  • Ask them to focus on the aspects they can control and ask what they would do differently


While interviewing a job candidate, be sure to follow a specific formula to ask probing questions that dive deeper and further unveil interviewees’ characteristics, values, and soft skills. While there are several proven techniques, one simple and easy-to-use interview approach is the S.T.A.R. method.  An acronym for “Situation, Task, Action, and Result,” the S.T.A.R. method is a great way to ask follow-up questions and get to know how a candidate reacts to specific situations. While originally developed to assist interviewees, it can be a good template to formulate questions for hiring managers. Ask the job candidate to outline the following:

  • Situation – A challenge or problem the candidate faced
  • Task – The responsibilities for the situation
  • Action – Steps taken to fix the challenge
  • Result –  Outcome of actions taken

What is your favorite question to ask a job candidate? How do you decide who the right candidate is? Let us know in the comments section below!


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