Interviewers usually don’t ask this question to find a weak spot they can hold against you. Instead, they want to find out more about your organizational skills, and most importantly, determine whether you take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. In this episode, I show you a simple, five-step approach to help you formulate a convincing answer that stick out and puts you in the best possible light.
Welcome to today’s episode, during which I share a simple, five-step approach to answering the interview question, “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.” Interviewers usually don’t ask this question to find a weak spot they can hold against you. Instead, they want to find out more about your organizational skills, and most importantly, determine whether you take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. The following steps can help you formulate a convincing answer to this specific question. If you want to learn more about answering behavioral interview questions in general, please tune in to my previous episode on this topic.
Step 1: Identify your example.
Try to remember a situation where you were late to complete a task but proactively took responsibility to fix the problem so that the consequences of the delay were minor or moderate. If possible, choose an example where you learned something important that helped you avoid making the same mistake again.
Step 2: Describe the situation and your task.
Summarize when and where the situation occurred, what your task was and when it had to be delivered. Cover also why it was important to keep the timeline and why you were behind schedule. For instance, you might have been working as an HR assistant. Due to the pandemic, your employer needed to switch quickly from onsite to remote candidate interviews. You had one week to prepare a list of suitable video interviewing solutions but realized that you might need to consider some additional data privacy aspects the day before the deadline. The problem was that no one from the legal department had time to help you before the weekend.
Step 3: Describe your actions.
Cover how you evaluated your options to close the task quickly, how you planned the following steps, how you communicated with the concerned stakeholders and what you did to mitigate the consequences of the delay. In the previous example, you might, for instance, have done some of your own research to understand whether or not you can present your shortlist of software vendors, despite the open legal questions. When you realized that this wasn’t an option, you informed your manager about the situation. Maybe it turned out that he was planning to create a scoring model to rank the different products based on your list, so you spent the weekend learning about software evaluation best practices and prepared a first draft scoring model, including all options. Finally, after you met with legal, you updated what you had prepared and presented your results to your manager.
Step 4: Describe the results.
Even though you, of course, need to mention if you have missed the initial deadline, your focus should be on how you mitigated the consequences of the delay, what you learned from this experience and how it helped you improve your organizational skills. For instance, you might have missed the deadline for delivering the shortlist of video interviewing products by two days; but, thanks to you also preparing a first draft scoring model, the right solution could still be identified on time. And your learning might have been that you underestimated your dependency on other people to provide you the information needed to complete the task. Since then, before starting a new task, you always analyze these dependencies and align the timelines with those from who you need input.
Step 5: Formulate your answer.
Formulate a compelling answer by combining the outcome of the previous steps. The primary focus should be on your actions and the results. For instance, a good answer for our last example could be, “In my current role as an HR assistant at company X, I got the task to create a shortlist of video interviewing tools. Due to the pandemic, we had to quickly switch from on-side to remote candidate interviews. I had one week to complete the task but realized the day before the deadline that I needed more input from our legal department. The problem was that they didn’t have time to help me at such short notice. I took four actions to handle the situation. First, I did some research to evaluate if I could present the shortlist despite the open legal questions. Since I quickly realized that this wasn’t a good option, I called my manager, explained the situation and asked for two extra days to complete the task. He agreed that we needed to involve legal first and stressed that this delay put him in a bad situation, since he had two days fewer to evaluate which product to choose. During the weekend, I read up on software evaluation best practices and created a draft scoring model including all the products I initially had identified. Finally, after meeting with legal, I removed the inappropriate options and delivered the shortlist and scoring model to my manager. The result was that I missed the deadline by two days, but I also saved my manager some time by preparing the scoring model, and we could keep the overall time plan. I learned from this experience how important it is to analyze potential dependencies with other people early, which has helped me avoid ending up in similar situations again.”
These were the five steps for answering the interview question, “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline.” Thank you for listening, and I hope this was helpful to you.