I can’t recall anything monumentally wrong I have ever done at work. I can recall at least one time that I accidentally emailed personal insight about a job candidate intended for the hiring manager’s eyes only instead to the candidate. I was a little embarrassed when I saw the candidate’s confused reply unexpectedly pop in my inbox.
I recently scanned a thread on Reddit where many people shared their stories of the worst thing they had ever done at work. A few were funny while others were criminal. This thread reminded me of a candidate whom my colleague interviewed years ago for a sales position in Europe. My colleague asked the candidate, “What is the most foolish thing you have ever done at work?” This behaviorally based question was asked of course to peel back the layers of the candidate and find out more about them. Generally most guarded people will try to avoid the answer or water it down. I can guarantee most won’t say they stole cartons of cigarettes from their employer or put laxatives in their orange juice to catch the culprit raiding the employee fridge, as submitted by respondents on Reddit.
This candidate, whose interview we captured on video and shared with the hiring manager, behaved unexpectedly. Without missing a beat he said with the corner of his mouth curled into a smile, “I once shut down a bank’s main frame computer.” With a grin he detailed how curiosity got the best of him and he pulled a switch in the mainframe room to see what it did. The story concluded with him saying, “I was not very popular that day.”
My first reaction to his response was not to hang my head and think, “Oh no, this guy will never get hired.” I smiled too and found his honesty a bit refreshing. Beyond that I found his confidence and boldness to be an attractive quality, especially considering he was applying for a sales role where both confidence and boldness are desired attributes. Think about it! I knew if our client were to hire this guy that he wouldn’t come into the workplace and start flipping switches just for the sake of seeing what they would do. He had learned from his mistake. What I did learn was that he was willing to take risks and when he failed he would own his failures. He didn’t shy away from his foolishness. He confidently disclosed how dumb he had acted, smiled about it and moved on.
After showing his video interview to the client, this candidate was brought in for a face-to-face interview and later received a job offer.
Most job candidates shy away from admitting their failures fearing that employers want only infallible people but by doing so candidates often give the sense they are less self-assured. Nobody is perfect. We hear this time and time again so why not embrace your failure confidently, turn it into a positive and reveal to the employer what you learned from the risk, if any, that you took.
So I will end by asking, “What is the most foolish thing you have ever done at work?” Please, be brave!