Could you have done better in your last job?
Of course you could have. Everyone could have, there is always space for improvement. Questions such as ‘Could you have done better in your last job?’ or ‘What would you have done differently?’ may feel like a trap as they are clearly questions that are intended to trip you up. You can’t answer them yes, as this shows you in a negative light, while you can’t answer no, as it shows you to be arrogant.
The trick here is to answer neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’; or rather at last not specifically. While the clear answer is yes, don’t focus on it. Instead, focus on explaining why you feel the way you do. Don’t say that it was your fault or that you could have done better. Of course, if it was your fault, take responsibility for it; but downplay it. The trick here is to not cast yourself in a negative light.
Instead, highlight where and why things went wrong. Highlight why the situation was bad, and how it was out of your control. Better yet, try to use this opportunity to highlight what did go right. Talk about your accomplishments, and how you pulled through it. Hence, instead of being left with an impression of what went wrong, the question will end on a positive note, leaving an impression of your accomplishments rather than disappointments in the mind of the interviewer.
Refocus the question on what you learned and how that made you a better employee, how that will in turn help the company. Stay away from going into too many details about what went wrong, and don’t refer to something that had too much of a negative connotation. Instead focus on something that did not have much consequence, or something that was out of your hands.
Never answer no to this question, and never talk about a real problematic situation, major or minor. The situation should always be light or mild and not directly your fault.
While, there is generally always space for improvement, one instance does come to mind where I personally feel that we could have done better. We were developing a new product. It looked promising and the research showed that there was demand for it. However, the product launch was under whelming, as we later found out that the research was biased towards a specific market segment. If we had known that beforehand, or at least found out midway, the results would have been different. But you live and you learn. Now I always focus twice on the market research, as well as at how it was conducted.