One of the hardest parts of a job interview is talking about your flaws and stumbles.
Sometimes the prompt is literally, “what’s your greatest weakness?” Other times it’s, “why were you let go from your last job?”
If you’re interviewing with Traci Wilk, there’s a good chance she’ll encourage you to “tell me about the most challenging work experience that you had and what you learned from it.”
Wilk is the senior vice president of people at The Learning Experience, an early education and childcare franchise. She has also led human resources departments at Starbucks, Coach, and rag & bone. She told Business Insider that, when she asks candidates to share their most challenging work experiences, she’s not exactly trying to suss out their tendency to miss deadlines or talk back to their boss.
Instead, she’s looking for evidence of a “growth mindset.”
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Wilk said that if the candidate naturally talks about “things that they would have done differently,” that’s a good sign because it shows a “high degree of self-awareness.” She especially wants to see the candidate share some “reflection or a postmortem that they may have done after the situation, how they’ve taken that and applied it into future situations.”
In fact, Wilk added, she’s generally more interested in a candidate’s ability to learn than in their résumé. “Is this someone that’s going to come into the organization certainly with best practices, but also willing to be flexible, willing to be innovative? That’s really the main thing that I’m assessing when I’m meeting with a candidate.”
Read more: An executive coach says practically everyone forgets to ask the job interview question that exposes a big red flag
Other HR leaders say a ‘growth mindset’ is key to success
The term “growth mindset” was coined by psychologist Carol Dweck to describe the belief that your talents can be developed. (The opposite is a “fixed mindset,” which refers to the belief that your talents are innate and can’t change much.) Dweck’s research suggests that people with a growth mindset tend to be more successful.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Bloomberg that Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” inspired him to emphasize the importance of a growth mindset among his employees. Microsoft’s chief people officer, Kathleen Hogan, told Geekwire that Microsoft employees weren’t supposed to prove they’re the smartest people in the room, but they were instead supposed to “learn and bring out the best in people.”
As for talking about challenging career experiences in a job interview, if you’re worried about being too candid about your screwups, you probably shouldn’t be.
“It really shows that this person is confident enough to be vulnerable. I’d much rather bring somebody into the organization that has taken risks and failed than [somebody who] has always taken the safe route,” Wilk said.