Leadership and Management

Questions I ask in interviews – Failing

Over the summer I will publish several blogposts containing some of my interview questions that I ask people who apply for the Agile coach positions at Spotify. In each post I’ll also go through what I’m looking for with each question i.e. why I ask those specific questions.

“Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned.”


This question helps me understand a candidates:

  • ability to admit to and learn from failure
  • ability to connect the environment they exist in with their needs, and also their ability to see how this affects their behaviour
  • comfort with failing
  • ability to connect with me around a difficult topic
  • level of (self) awareness

Some candidates bring up “comitting untested code” as their failure and that they have learned that they need to be more thorough and write better tests.

Unfortunately what this tells me is that the candidate does not reflect on what it is that drives his/her behaviour. :( I also ask myself if the candidate has understood what it means to be an agile coach if I get an answer similar to my example above.

Exactly what was the failure? And what did you learn? Was the failure that you were coding when you should have been coaching the team?

  • What was the reason for you comitting (untested) code? Is your need to contribute more important than the quality level?
  • Do you get your sense of accomplishment when you complete work regardless of the quality?
  • Does stress make you sloppy?
  • Do you fear exposing your code to others because you struggle with receiving feedback?
  • Were you uncomfortable in challenging a deadline?
  • Were you coding because you misunderstood the role of an agile coach?

Being ok with failing, understanding why you failed, and learning from failure is a really important part of our DNA.

We want people to learn and to collaborate, and we want people to share. But when people are afraid of being punished they hide their failures, they take less risks, they collaborate less, learning stops, solutions become poorer, and people quit. These are a few reasons for why we celebrate failure at Spotify. :)

celebrate failure

Thanks for reading, and if you’re scheduled for an interview with us – Good luck! :)

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