Life is not always fair. In fact it rarely is. Just look at the children, or the refugees, working in the fields for twelve hours a day, getting some miserable pay and a backache as their reward. That’s an extreme example, of course. But I am sure you have your share of experiences with situations when you worked hard, tried your best, maybe even succeeded to meet your goal, but eventually didn’t get a coveted price–be it a big paycheck, an award, a woman/man you chased, or anything else you were going after.

But why do hiring managers inquire about such a situation? What do they try to find out about you? As it is almost always the case with situational questions, they are interested in your attitude.

How did you react when you did not get what you felt you should have got? And do you care only about the final outcome, the paycheck, or do you also enjoy the process, the effort, as you strive to achieve something great, be it in work, or in other spheres of life? Can you look at the situation from some distance, maybe understanding why the coveted reward did not end in your hands at the end?

That’s what they are trying to understand while asking you the question. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers. Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, as they explain some important nuances when it comes to impressing the hiring managers with your answer.


7 sample answers to “Describe a situation in which you didn’t get something you felt you deserved” interview question

  1. I recall my last job, in one of the big 4 companies. Like everyone else I had to start from the bottom, with a boring entry level job, doing simple tasks in MS Excel day after day, analyzing and reporting data following formulas someone else created. No room for creativeness really. But I tried my very best, over-delivering, staying overtime anytime the workload was heavy–because I wanted badly to get that promotion to a more creative role, to take care of more interesting tasks. But after eighteen months of constant effort, my colleague was promoted to the position I wanted. She was a nice person–nothing wrong with her, but everyone in the team knew that she didn’t do half the work I did. But she knew how to talk to the managers, and got the promotion. I felt it was not fair, and raised the issue with the managers, but it was too late. Never mind, I tried my best, seems it wasn’t enough. I left the job and here I am, trying to get a more interesting role with you.
  2. I have experienced such feelings years ago, when I was trying to get to one of the best universities in the country. Spent months working on my essay and preparing for the interviews. Had a stellar GPA, met all the requirements. Felt that I did really well in the interviews, managed to make a connection with the members of the admission committee. But I eventually didn’t get in. I was devastated for a few days, but then I simply accepted the outcome. Sure enough, other students also tried their best to get in, and perhaps my application wasn’t good enough. I eventually went to study at another University, had a great time and learned a lot, and met fantastic people. Things didn’t end that terribly eventually.
  3. The most fitting example I can recall now is from my personal life. I was trying to start a relationship with one girl for more than two years. I was persistent, kept asking her out, sending presents, trying to make connection with her family. She was not dating anyone–focusing on her studies, but I really felt that we would make a great match, and help each other pursue both our personal and career goals. Yet she eventually decided for another guy. I felt it wasn’t fair, I was angry, you can imagine. At the end of the day, however, life has to go on. She made her choice, and the only option I had really was to accept her choice, and wish her best of luck in her endeavors. I eventually did that, and now I have another partner and I am satisfied with my personal life.
  4. I do not remember any such situation. In my opinion, law of action and reaction cannot be broken. If I didn’t get something I wanted in life, it means that I either did not try hard enough, or that someone tried harder, or that simply it wasn’t meant to be in the given circumstances. That’s the way I see it. I always try to focus on the present and on the future. Doing what I can to take care of my tasks, to pursue my goals. Sometimes I get the desired outcome and sometimes I do not. But there’s no point in dwelling on the past. At the end of the day, the outcome of any situation is never entirely in our hands.
  5. I felt I deserved more recognition from my manager in my present job. We were working hard, I came with some innovative ideas, and I improved the effectiveness of several processes in the company by 5% or more. As a result the business saved a lot of money each month. Yet I didn’t get any recognition for my efforts–be it a nice bonus, a promotion, or maybe just saying something nice about me in the monthly management meeting. I think it is important for everyone to get some recognition from their superiors. I do not get it in my current workplace, and that is one of the reasons why I am here now, trying to change my job.
  6. To be honest, I actually feel extremely fortunate. Born in a financially well-off family, raised with love, I got an opportunity to study at great schools. I never suffered from some bad disease or a heartbreak, and I could always pursue the career I wanted to pursue. Honestly, I actually feel that I got more in life that I deserve, because I am aware that hundreds of millions of people suffer in poverty and hunger around the world. I am grateful for what I have. If something doesn’t work out according to the plan–be it in work, or in my personal life, it isn’t really the end of the world. That’s the way I see it at least.
  7. I honestly think that I deserved better grades at college than I got. You know, I’ve always liked to think outside of the box, to come up with new  ideas, innovative answers. But some of the teachers did not like such an attitude. They wanted us to repeat things from the books, word by word, and that’s not really something I would do. Hence they gave me bad grades, and now it makes my life difficult as I try to get to a vet school. But it makes no sense to dwell on it much. We have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt. I hope that I can get in, regardless of my GPA…


Show them that you can get over your disappointment

It is completely normal to feel sad or even devastated when we do not get something we wanted badly, and tried our best to get it. It is all right admitting it in your interview.

However, it is crucial to ensure them that you eventually got over your disappointment, and instead of dwelling on the past, and complaining that you hadn’t got what you had deserved, you turned your focus to the future, and pursued another goal.

Do not be afraid to use an example from your personal life

People sitting in interviewing panels and hiring committees are men and women from flesh and bones, just like you and me. They also have life outside of work, and experience their share of problems in relationships, and in other spheres of life.

Sharing an example from a personal life–for example when you pursued a relationship with a great effort, and did all you could but it didn’t work out, you can actually connect with them on a rather personal level. Maybe they have the same story, maybe they are experiencing it right now.

I do not say that you should necessarily go for an example from your personal life. But if you do so, it can definitely pay off in many cases.


A philosophical answer–your chance to stand out

Imagine a interview for an entry level job, in one of the Fortune 500 companies. Such jobs always attract hundreds of applications, from all sorts of candidates. And most of these people will play it safe, opting for answers that are generally considered good, and definitely present them in a right way.

It isn’t a bad strategy, but it also isn’t a way to stand out. And sometimes in a competitive interview, when dozens of other job seekers try to win a single available job contract, your best chance to succeed is actually standing out. And to stand out you sometimes have to take a risk.

Why not talking about the law of action and reaction, or turning the question upside-down, and actually expressing your gratitude for what you’ve got in life? Check answers no. 4 and no. 6 in my list for some inspiration. They make sense, and you can be almost sure no other applicants will opt for them….

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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