Have you ever really made a mess of something at work?
A potential employer might ask about this in an interview to hear about how you handled it,
to understand more about you as an employee.
Today we’ll study how to talk about mistakes at work in a way that can still impress your employer.
We’re going to study four job interviews, a teacher, a doctor, a social worker, and a marketing expert.
We’ll study how they answer common interview questions
to figure out how you can form your own compelling answers.
At the end, there will be a lesson for my non-native English speaking students
on some of the idioms that came up in answers.
The prompts we’ll study today are: tell me about a mistake you made at work and how you handled it,
talk about a time you exhibited leadership in your current position,
and tell us why you’re the right person for this job.
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time,
and you can still really impress your interviewer when talking about something you messed up.
Let’s hear how Adrienne, who works in marketing in the performing arts, handled this prompt.
A couple years ago, I was working on an email blast for a major initiative at my company
and this was one of those emails with an incredibly large list. We had about
thirty to forty thousand people receiving this email.
And even though we had a team of people checking and rechecking to make sure that everything was accurate,
once we hit send, and it was already out,
we received a message back from one of the people who received it that the link was incorrect.
And that is just the worst thing as someone sending out emails as a marketer, just to know that
you've messaged all these people to try to get them to do something, and the link is not the right link.
So immediately, I went and I spoke with my boss about it and we had a conversation about what was most
practical, as the next step to try to resolve this,
and we agreed that we should send out a follow-up email to people
to just let them know oops we we apologize that we sent the incorrect link, here's the correct link,
and thank you so much for your understanding.
And it worked out. It's funny how I sort of had forgotten about that until this question.
But it felt like such a big deal at the time.
So now, I'm a lot more meticulous with checking links
even when I know an entire team of other people have already tested and approved all of the details.
This is great. She gives one really specific example, and talks about how she resolved it.
She went straight to her supervisor and they discussed it together.
Let’s also talk about what she doesn’t do: she doesn’t blame someone else for this.
It could be tempting to say something like
“the person who was supposed to check all the links didn’t do her job”.
But remember, part of what someone is looking for here is how you talk about your mistake.
Blaming others or speaking ill of others will likely reflect poorly on you.
Don’t dwell on whose fault it was.
She then goes on to talk about having learned a lesson from it:
she says she’s now even more meticulous about checking the links in emails.
Let’s hear how Jeff, a doctor, answered this question.
So one of the mistakes that I made at work was not
getting an important certification that I needed to do my job in at the appropriate time.
Part of the reason behind that was that I was so busy doing many, many other things
that I didn't give it the priority that it needed.
It was an obvious important thing to finish in order to complete the work,
or to do the work that I that I have to do on a daily basis.
The way I rectified that was to realize that you can't just wait until the very end to kind of get things done.
You need to put steps in a process and finish those steps
as sort of mini goals in order to reach the final goal.
I also developed a priority list for my work, kind of listing from one to ten,
the things that I really need to focus on every day, every week, every month in order to get things done.
I’m impressed with the system Jeff put in place to make sure a mistake like this doesn’t happen again.
His system is detailed, and he described that detail.
Make sure you talk about what you’ve changed since making that mistake.
That can really impress a potential employer.
Dan is a social worker.
Let’s listen to how he answered the question.
So as a social worker, I think one of the things that's the hardest about my job is knowing when to say 'no'
and how to do that in a professional manner.
Recently, I was working with a family, who elderly couple,
the the husband was bed bound with severe memory deficits, and the elderly wife was his only caretaker.
And doing home visits with them,
it was very touching and heartbreaking to see that she was doing her best to take care of him,
but really wasn't successful, and wasn't able to do it well.
She did not feel that way, she felt like she was doing what she needed to do for her husband,
and she wanted to keep him in home as long as possible.
And I tried to meet her where she was and
to be there and be as supportive as possible in finding any kind of
outside services that would help her take care of her husband.
Ultimately, all of the things that I found didn't work for her, for one reason or another,
and later, another social worker who became involved,
reported the case to adult protective services,
which then initiated a court proceeding that then forced her to get him moved to an assisted living facility.
This seems kind of like a kind of a harsh thing to do but in hindsight,
it's what needed to happen, and it probably should have happened earlier,
than me trying to help her find solutions that that worked for her, because
it became clear that the longer that we work together, that she was.
There was no solution that worked for her. And she felt very trapped but just couldn't agree to anything.
So the courts coming in to help solve this was really the only way to go and I,
I think I should have recognized that earlier.
Here, as he talks about a mistake he made, Dan also really lets me know about one of his strengths.
He really wanted to work with this woman, to meet her where she was, and he tried everything he could to do so.
He was very empathetic, and as social worker, that’s an important trait to have.
In the end, the situation had to be handled differently.
But I appreciate that what led to this mistake was Dan’s big-heartedness.
As you think of past mistakes at work, try to think of ones that lead to specific,
real changes that you can talk about.
Try to think of mistakes that came from something like
too much empathy or working too hard
rather than being checked out or not engaged in what was happening at work.
Another common interview question is leadership.
Tell me about a time you exercised leadership, or showed leadership, at your job.
Let’s listen to how Adrienne, Dan, and Jeff answered this question.
In my last position, an area of leadership for me was when we
moved the entire organization over to a new online ticketing system.
And so this is a major undertaking that intersects with colleagues in a lot of different departments,
who have a lot of different conflicting priorities.
And so I, in order to push this through and get this ticketing system online,
I had to initiate conversations with colleagues in all different areas,
and really understand what they needed and what they were afraid of, and
try to make them comfortable with this new system,
and make sure that we had very clear timelines for them to submit all the materials that they needed to submit,
so we could make sure that they were covered with this new system.
And so it worked really well to just have really clear lines of communication,
and I was the one point person to really make sure that everything was happening on deadline.
Adrienne used the phrase ‘point person’.
This is the main contact, the leader.
So there were various different departments involved,
and she was the one person who was talking to all of them, keeping track of all of the parts of the project.
This is a great example.
It’s a big project, there were many people involved, and she does mention that she established very clear
communication and that the deadline was met.
So as a supervisor, I had a staff of nine, and in a previous position, I was working with the staff to try to
find ways to encourage them to promote their own learning, and to help them find leadership
roles within the organization.
So the organization I worked for had a lot of staff,
but we're having trouble finding people who were ready to move to the next level,
manager, administrator level positions.
So I was instrumental in helping to bring a program on board in which we identified
staff members that we then called senior staff, and gave them extra roles.
So on my team, I had a senior staff member who was responsible for helping me run team meetings,
helping me gather data, planning for team events,
looking at metrics, being part of performance improvement projects.
And I worked more one-on-one with this person
in our supervision to talk about ways in which they could really focus on their leadership style,
learning from other leaders,
being comfortable enough to ask questions in a safe environment where they could
really start to look at their job as a stepping stone to the next job.
And I'm happy to say that the
person that I worked with then got promoted on to a management position afterwards.
Great – Dan has an example where he was specifically leading a team.
He started a program to help meet one of the company’s goals,
and personally mentored an employee to move that person up to a leadership position.
Dan used the word ‘instrumental’.
I was instrumental in helping to bring a program on board.
Instrumental music is music with no vocals.
But when it’s used outside of the context of music, it means, something or someone that was influential,
very necessary to make something else happen.
It’s a great word to use to describe yourself in an interview.
Here are a couple sample sentences:
I was instrumental in ramping up our social media presence.
I played an instrumental role in developing our best-selling product.
So I would say one of the specific moments where I showed leadership was when I brought together two
different coalitions in our community that were working on trying to prevent childhood lead poisoning.
There was a health system that developed a coalition, and then there was a
community-based of providers stakeholders that were also dealing with the same issue.
The leadership piece, what I felt was important was that there really didn't need to be two separate
groups working on the same issue within our community.
So what I decided to do was to bring those two together
and to enhance the purpose and power of two groups coming together on a singular issue.
Great, Jeff gives a really concrete example of one time, one project where he was a leader,
he saw something he could improve, he took the initiative, and he did it,
pulling two important groups together to more effectively solve a problem in his community.
As you think of your answer to this prompt, make sure you’re getting really specific
– if Jeff had said something like, I show leadership when I bring groups of people together –
that’s a generic answer, it’s a claim with no example to back it up.
Make sure you’re answering with examples from your past.
A really common question to be asked is, why should we hire you for this job?
Or, why are you the best person for this job?
Here’s a chance to really sell yourself,
and with this question, don’t worry about sounding arrogant or like a know-it-all.
Let’s listen to how Adrienne answered it.
I think I'm really a perfect fit for this marketing director position at this performing arts center because
I have the deep understanding of New York city's classical music world and I know the nuance of
communicating with more traditional audiences about this kind of music.
But then I also have the really strong digital marketing chops where I really understand video strategy,
and online ad strategy, and the richness of audience understanding, and how important that is, and I think
bringing all those things together can really take the marketing strategy to the next level here.
If we think about ways to optimize and improve some of the digital marketing approaches,
I think it's really gonna make a huge impact here.
Her answer focuses on two things:
understanding and skill.
And for what she’s doing, those two things really matter.
If you had someone
with great marketing skills who didn’t really understand the classical music scene in New York City,
then those skills couldn’t be put to good use.
Think about what's needed at the job.
Look at the job description.
Pick out the most important points,
and be able to concisely and convincingly talk about how you’re great at them.
This is not the time to bring up a weakness,
focus only on what you do very well.
Think about what makes you different from other candidates.
what do you think you can do better than anyone else applying for the job?
I think I'm the best person for this position because I have a lot of clinical experience.
I've been in the field for over 12 years, working with homeless folks, mentally ill folks, impatient patients,
the veteran population.
I've also got a lot of supervisory experience under my belt so I've supervised two different clinical teams,
social workers, nurses, and I'm a self-starter, I'm a team player, I take direction and I value feedback,
I'm comfortable with critical feedback.
I'm a self-starter and I really want to learn and grow.
And I'm very excited about this position.
Dan got specific at the beginning talking about his experience.
He didn’t just say, I have a lot of experience,
but he said exactly the kinds of people he has experience working with:
the homeless, veterans, and so on.
He also got specific about his experience as a supervisor, supervising two teams.
Then he went into a couple of personality traits:
self-starter, team player, takes critical feedback well.
It’s okay to add a few of these kinds of things, but make sure it’s not all you say.
As with all questions, give detail.
How did Lisa answer this question?
One of my strengths, which I think makes me great for this position, is that I am a positive thinker.
I don't complain. I don't look at the negative. I try to focus on the positive. Also, I'm a team member.
I like to work with other people.
I love to help other people.
And I tend to have a habit of setting high expectations for myself.
So I think these qualities make me great for this position.
Here, Lisa talked about traits in her personality that make her good for the position.
they’re certainly things that matter in the work place,
but I think Adrienne’s and Dan’s answers were a little stronger because they focused more on experience.
That speaks to what they’ve done.
Traits speak generically to what you WILL DO in a position.
Employers are more interested in hearing what you HAVE DONE,
and how that will translate into the job they’re hiring you for.
Speaking to your specific experience is a great way to sell yourself in this question.
Let’s hear Jeff’s answer.
So I think I'm best suited for this position for several reasons.
One is that I do take a broad view and I feel like I can see
a little bit into the future enough to see where we need to go and where we need to head
in order to achieve the goals that we want to set for ourselves.
I also feel like I'm very relational, and I feel that that is one of the key elements of working within teams,
because basically nothing gets done now unless you can work within a team and work well with others.
So I feel that being able to envision into the future,
to work well within the team that you're situated in at the time, that's a good combination for doing well in this job.
Jeff also lists two traits,
first, that he can take a broad view, that he’s a visionary who can see greater goals for the organization.
It’s a good answer, but if he was able to get specific with an example of doing this in the past,
that would add more detail.
He also speaks to working well within a team,
and comments that nothing can happen without the ability to work within a team.
I like this extra thought he added, it shows that he’s really invested in working in a team for practical reasons,
to get care delivered to patients.
You have a lot to think about as you come up with your answer for this question.
Speak to your strengths and your unique experience or knowledge.
Speak to past achievements and how you can do the same or better at this new position.
Do speak with details, but watch the timing.
Keep your answer to around a minute.
Anything much longer than that and you run the risk of rambling,
which waters down the strength of your answer.
In the next video, we’re going to talk about something really tricky: discussing salary in an interview, and,
after you get the job, negotiating your salary.
For my non-native students, we’re going to get to your English lesson in just a minute.
If you haven’t already, be sure to click the subscribe button and the bell for notifications.
I make new videos on the English language and American culture every Tuesday
and have over 600 videos on my channel to date
focusing on listening comprehension and accent reduction.
While you’re waiting for next week’s video, a great next step would be to check out this “get started playlist.”
Now for the English lesson.
I want to study Adrienne’s answer to the question, why are you the best person for this position?
We’ll go over two idioms she used that you might not be familiar with.
Adrienne, why are you the best person for this job?
Because I have the deep understanding of New York city's classical music world and I know the nuance
of communicating with more traditional audiences about this kind of music.
But then I also have the really strong digital marketing chops–
She has digital marketing chops. What does ‘chops’ mean here?
This is a word that can be used to apply to a skill.
When someone has ‘chops’, they excel at the skill.
Some example sentences: He’s got serious compositional chops – he writes great music.
I don’t have the coding chops to apply to that position.
I developed my chops as a writer in grad school.
Let’s listen to how Adrienne used it again.
But then I also have the really strong digital marketing chops where I really understand video strategy,
and online ad strategy–
She also used the phrase ‘take it to the next level’.
And I think bringing all those things together can really take the marketing strategy to the next level here.
To take something to the 'next level' means to improve it, or to go beyond what was expected.
She took her training to the next level when she stayed after practice to work on her free throws.
Their vegan dishes are top-notch, they really take them to the next level.
Go to Youglish.com and do a search on these two terms.
See how others use them in context to help deepen your understanding.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.