JMO Interviewing and the Failure Question

One of the several reasons companies value Junior Military Officers’ experience is that they have failed.  Yes, exactly, failed.  How can that be so?  Because when one fails, and fails in the right way, that person learns valuable lessons to apply in the future.  The companies then value that the JMOs have learned valuable lessons in the military that they will then apply in their future business career.  This is why company recruiters ask about failures during an interview.  They want to know the lessons learned and how they were applied during the JMO’s military career and will continue to be utilized in a business career.

The question recruiters frequently ask is, “Tell me about a time you failed.”  (Technically not a question but we call it one anyway because the Recruiter wants an answer).  They do not specifically ask what lessons you learned but rather you need to bring those out in the answer.  Below are the steps to delivering a “failure” answer.  I am not telling you “what” to say, instead explaining “how” to deliver the answer.   There is a big difference.

Step 1:  BLUF – Bottom line up front.  “I failed a major inspection when the Inspector General evaluated my unit’s communications equipment.”  Notice, no rhetoric, and easy for the recruiter to understand and follow.

Step 2:  Brief explanation of what happened.  Notice the qualifier “brief”.  Sometimes candidates give long winded detailed explanations of how they failed.  This is not what the recruiter wants.  Unlike the significant accomplishment answer where the recruiter does want a detailed explanation of how one accomplished the objective, in the failure, they want a brief explanation in order for you to get to the most important step.  The lesson.

Step 3:  Explain why you failed and the lesson you learned.  This should be just a few sentences, but the most important sentences you will say in your answer.  In this part you are specifically answering the recruiter’s real question, “What lessons did you learn in the military?” 

Step 4:  Explain how you applied that lesson throughout your military career.  You really did not learn a lesson unless you applied it and continue to apply it.  If you do not apply it, you are just aware of it.  

This four step answer will show the recruiter you can learn from failures and you will specifically bring lessons you learned from experiences in the military to your new corporate career.

I recommend preparing two failure answers before you start your career search interviews.  You never know when a company recruiter may ask you for more than one.

Joel Junker