Modern corporations have metrics and processes in place for everything. It doesn’t matter if you apply for a job of a sales representative, financial analyst, supervisor, or custodian. There will always be some goals you have to attain, and some deadlines you have to meet in your job.

This is a part of the typical working culture–to always expect more from the employees, to keep them under pressure, in order to achieve the best level of effectiveness in the workplace. Well, the results of this approach are highly questionable. Many employees experience a burnout from a heavy workload, and many will also leave the company as a result…

But we aren’t here to discuss the working culture. We are here to help you succeed in your job interview. More often than not, you will get a question about meeting deadlines, the one from the title of this article, or one of the alternative questions with basically the same meaning, most notably “Describe a time when you failed to meet a deadline“, “Tell us about a time when you worked under pressure to meet a deadline”, or simply “How do you handle tight deadlines?” At the end of the day though, they are always asking about the same thing…

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. Do not forget to check also my notes below the answers, as they will help you to understand which answer you should pick for your interview.


7 sample answers to “Describe a time when you had to meet a tight deadline” interview question

  1. In my last job I was responsible for a project of a mobile game development. We knew that our competitors were working on a similar game, and my goal was to ensure that we release the game before they do. It was a tricky situation, because we had a small team of programmers, much smaller than they had, and we were behind them at the start of the development. But I applied agile project management, and motivated people to work 60+ hours each week. We were a small team, but I made people enthusiastic for the project, and for the proposition of beating a bigger company in both speed and quality. I was balancing on a thin ice though, because I did not want my people to experience burnout, and we were working under pressure to meet this deadline. But eventually we managed to get the job done, and released the game before our competitor.
  2. This is my first job application, so I do not really have much experience with handling tough deadlines. But I remember a situation from school. I was working on a project with another classmate, for one of our courses. Two days before the presentation of our findings, they told me that they could not finish their part, due to some problems in their personal life. Instead of panicking, however, I simply decided to do their part of the presentation. I didn’t want to fail. It wasn’t easy, and I did barely sleep the two nights, but eventually I managed to deliver a decent presentation in front of the class and we both passed.

Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!

  1. In my last job in sales I once missed the productivity target terribly, reaching just 50% of the desired sales volume for the given month. It was a tough period for me, I struggled a bit with motivation and experienced some chaos in my personal life as well. And though I did not realize it for a long time, prospects could feel it in my tone of voice, in my words on the call. I didn’t have my usual energy, the enthusiasm for the product has vanished, my drive wasn’t there anymore. Therefor even though I made the same number of calls that month, and followed the proven sales strategies, I missed my targets terribly. I took responsibility for the results, didn’t get any bonuses that month, and I also learned an important lesson. It is crucial to separate our work and our personal life, and if you aren’t mentally ready to make a sale, you won’t make it. Because customers perceive much more than just your words on the call…
  2. I had to meet such deadlines on a daily basis in my last job. Working as a purchasing agent, I was responsible for ordering the right quantity of materials and products from our suppliers, always before 4pm. The problem was that in order to get the right quantities, I had to get the orders from our customers, for the next day. Two of the buyers were really laid back with their plans, and typically delivered them just before 4pm. But I didn’t just let it go. I firstly talked to the buyers, explaining them the situation, and when they still failed to deliver their orders before 3pm, I actually decided to reach out to their managers. This helped, and ever since they always sent their orders in time…
  3. I’ve never experienced a similar situation, because I am an excellent planner. When studying at school, I didn’t wait for the exam period to rehearse the lessons, to prepare for the exams. I was preparing continuously throughout the year, so when the exams came and other students did not sleep in the night, always studying the materials, I didn’t have the same problem. I just went through the lessons quickly one more time, and was ready to pass the exam. However, I understand that we’ll have some tight deadlines in this work, and that the workload may be heavy at times. I can assure you that I feel ready to handle it mentally, and hope that my excellent planning and time management skills will help me out again.
  4. I experienced this situation again and again while working as an editor. As you can imagine, some people sent their articles just one day before the close, so I had to edit them in the night, to ensure that the papers are ready for press on the next day. It was hard but I never complained, because I understand how things work in the news business. Having said that, it is one the reasons why I consider quitting this job and why I apply for a position of an editor in your publishing house. One faces deadlines also when editing books, but here it depends more on your planning and time management skills, while in the newspaper business you always wait for someone else to send you their work for editing. You never really have things under control.
  5. It’s deadline after deadline in a job of a pizza maker. In one moment the restaurant is empty, and in twenty minutes the place is brimming with hungry people, everyone expecting to get their pizza within 15 minutes, or even earlier… This is what I experienced so often in my last job. But I loved the adrenaline of the busy kitchen, and such pressure and deadline motivated me to learn to work faster, to not waste time with any unnecessary tasks or movements. I think that I eventually became very efficient in my work, and hope that I will benefit from it in the new job as well.


You attitude matters more than anything else

Regardless of whether you eventually met the deadline or failed to meet it, you should show the interviewers that you tried. That’s the most important thing for them.

As long as they see that you didn’t mind staying overtime, or changing something in your routine in order to work more efficiently, they will be satisfied with your answer.

It also doesn’t matter much whether you talk about an example from work, or from school. Deadline is a deadline, and the emotions and pressure we experience while trying to meet a tight one doesn’t change from one place to another.

Use the question about working under pressure and meeting deadlines as an opportunity to praise your time management skills

Nobody likes to hire employees who waste half of their working time with unproductive work, or just hanging around, doing nothing, smoking cigarettes, or staring on the display of their smart phone…

While talking about a deadline you have to meet, you can explain how you eliminated distractions and secondary tasks, or how you simply managed your time more effectively, and eventually met the deadline. See sample answers no. 2, no. 5., or no. 7 as a great example.


Do not be afraid to admit that you failed to get the job done in time

Humility, and ability to admit that you failed in your endeavors, is a highly sought quality on the employment market. Sample answer no. 3 is a great illustration of this attitude.

Job candidate is not afraid to admit that they failed. What’s more, they clearly identify the reasons why they failed, and the lesson they learned, which should help them to avoid a similar failure in the future, in their new job.

Not everyone has courage to talk about failures in the interviews. If you opt for a situation in which you had to meet a tight deadline, but failed to do so, you can easily stand out with your answer. And that should be your goal after all–to stand out, to make the right impression, and to get a job at the end…

Check also 7 sample answers to the following interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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