Tough Interview Question - Give me an example of a time when you failed to meet a deadline

Give me an example of a time when you failed to meet a deadline.

Similar interview questions:
Tell me about a time where you delivered a project late.
What do you do when you have two conflicting priorities and can only deliver one on time?
When was the last time you were unable to deliver within the timeframe originally specified?
What happens when you realize you will be unable to deliver by the set deadline?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
This is a tough interview question because it forces the candidate to talk about a failure. The interviewer is looking not only for how you failed, but more specifically why you failed. The answer typically comes down to the circumstances and the resulting blame game. Do you take personal responsibility for failing to meet a deadline? Or is the blame entirely on others?

The best approach to answering this question:
Your best approach is to talk about a specific situation where you missed a deadline due to unforeseen or unplanned circumstances, yet take personal responsibility for the shortcoming and talk about what you are doing to keep it from happening again in the future.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"In my current role, I have both a direct line manager and a dotted line manager. I recently had my primary project interrupted due to a critical firefighting request by my dotted line manager. Although my direct line manager approved me working on this request, it put me off my delivery timeline for my primary project. In the end, I was able to solve the firefighting issue and deliver on my primary project, but it ended up being over a week late due to the diversion. I talked about this with my direct line manager and we agreed to put in place contingency buffer time into future projects to allow me to divert if and when necessary to the dotted line department. I also met with my dotted line manager and discussed training another person in the department so that I wouldn’t be the sole person to cover in these types of situations…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"In my recent internship, I delivered my primary project ahead of schedule and was then given a secondary project to deliver by the end of my internship. Since it was a project area where I did not yet have experience, it took me some time to come up to speed. Yet the original time estimate was based on someone already working within the department. When I got to within two weeks of completing my internship and returning to college, I knew that I was not going to be able to complete the secondary project by the end of my internship. I met with my mentor and we worked out a situation which allowed me to continue to work on the project part-time after the official end of the internship. She told me that they typically would not do this, but understood the circumstances and were willing to flex to make it happen. I was able to complete the secondary project a few weeks later and got a high overall rating for my work…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"Well, my current project deadline has long since passed and we still have no idea when everything will be finished. It was a really aggressive time estimate from the start. My boss just gave it to me and I said I would try, but I knew it couldn’t be completed in that amount of time. Now everyone is mad that the project is running over time and over budget, which is why I want to leave, so here I am, interviewing with you…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Fifty Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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