It would be great if all dreams came true in life. Or perhaps it wouldn’t. We need setbacks to be able to truly appreciate the victories. But in the corporate world everyone expects results. You will have goals to reach and deadlines to meet, and the managers do not like negative surprises. Yet one cannot entirely avoid them, and sometimes an experience or project will not turn out as expected. Hiring managers wonder how you react in such a situation, and whether it impacts you in any way. But what do they want to hear from you?

First and foremost, they want to hear that you do not lose your calm. Sure, the unexpected outcome may have implications for the entire company, but losing your composure and starting to panic won’t help anyone, regardless of how grave the problem is. Secondly, they hope to hear from a good job candidate that they did not give up in such a situation, and simply tried to find a way out of it, doing the best thing for the company. Last but not least, they want to hear that you actually learned from the situation. If the unexpected outcome resulted from your mistake, they can be sure you won’t make the same mistake again.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky question. I tried to include on my list some typical answer, some unorthodox answers, and also answers for people with no previous working experience. I hope at least one of them will resonate with you and with the message you try to convey in your interviews. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “Describe how you learn and adjust when an experience does not turn out as expected. Describe a situation, your actions, and the outcome.”

  1. I recall a great example from my last job in a finance department. Working on a specific financial analysis, I was sure I would meet the deadline. But I underestimated the complexity and the size of the dataset, and with just two working days left until the deadline, I knew I had little chances of delivering the work in time. But I remained calm, and decided to work overtime for 4 hours each day, trying my best to eventually avoid the negative outcome. To be honest, I did not succeed, but I at least minimized the delay. Did my best, tried what I could. And I also learned an important lesson from the situation, that it is always important to study the dataset properly, and to plan your work in advance. No doubt I won’t repeat the same mistake again.
  2. Well, an experience that did not turn out as expected is exactly the reason why I am in this interview with you. I thought I would enjoy studying medicine. Perhaps because it was a family tradition, perhaps because I had amazing grades and everyone expects great students to pursue a degree in medicine or law. However, the first year at med school showed me that it isn’t really something for me. And I could not imagine spending long years studying a field that I do no really love in the depth of my heart. But you see, I was able to adapt, to adjust, and to quit. Want to try working somewhere first, get my hands dirty, travel, broaden my horizons. I didn’t stay at med school just to “not waste” one year of my life. Now I am ready for a new challenge.
  3. To be honest with you, I did not react appropriately when it happened the last time. Because I am a perfectionist, and have high expectations on myself. I also do not like to disappoint people who trust in me. Hence when in my last job I did not meet the monthly sales goals, it really left me depressed and doubting my own skills. However, at the end of the day we have to accept things as they are. Perhaps I am not as good a saleswoman as I thought I were, but it doesn’t mean I am a bad employee, or that I am good for nothing. I learned a lot from this situation. Especially that we have to accept setbacks as part of life, and secondly that we should look for career that is a good match for our strengths. And that’s exactly why I am in this interview with you.

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only tricky behavioral question you will face in your interviews. If you want to practice your answers to all tricky behavioral interview questions, getting an immediate feedback from a life-like AI interview coach, check out this interview questions page on our partner website, Real Mock Interviews. You enter your email, pick a question and start practicing for FREE, either with your mobile phone or your computer. It’s a fun and effective way to get ready for your interviews :).

  1. It has never happened to me, because I am aware that we never have things fully under control–be it at work or in our professional life. Hence I do not have any expectations when it comes to any situation in life or its outcome. I simply try my best, and then wait what happens. Then, once I see the outcome of the situation, or of my efforts, I simply analyze it and make the most logical next step. That’s my attitude to life and challenges in general, and I hope it helps me to cope with things with a calm head.
  2. In my last retail job in a cosmetics store one situation really turned out unexpectedly. There was a client I had a great connection with, and I recommended them a cream for a skin problem, following my personal experience with the product. We chatted a lot, hugged when she left the store, and it almost felt like dealing with a best friend, and not only with a customer. However, two days later she stormed back to the store, super angry. The cream has actually aggravated her skin problem–or at least that’s what she thought. Well, in such a situation I could have defended myself, or follow her angry tone of communication. But I stayed calm, swallowed all bad words I had on my tongue, and simply listened to her and apologized. At the end of the day, there wasn’t much more I could do. She left the store soon afterwards and never came back. But what have I learned from the situation? Perhaps that you should not judge the nature of a person based on a short 10 minute meeting. And also that never mind how hard you try, and how good your intentions are, something things don’t turn out as expected and instead of helping the customer you may actually do the opposite thing… But my intentions were right, and I am not sure I’d change anything on our first meeting, even if I could.
  3. I have an analytical mind. Hence when a situation turns out not as expected–be it at work or in my personal life, I simply go back in time. Analyzing what exactly I did and how it impacted the final outcome, I eventually find the mistake, or come to a conclusion that a factor outside of my control caused the unexpected outcome. Of course, each time I try to learn from the situation and do things better the next time. Sometimes it is possible, and sometimes it is not. The key is to not get discouraged, because in life many situations do not turn out as expected. But such situations help us grow and become better in what we do…
  4. In my life more situations ended up unexpectedly. And what have I learned from it? First and foremost, that I had unrealistic expectations. Life is not a walk in a park and I am not perfect. I make mistakes, and other people make them too. It isn’t always easy to accept it for a young idealistic woman, but I eventually managed to accept them. I also learned to keep my expectations rather low. Do my best in work, day in day out, and the same in my personal life. But the outcome is never entirely in our hands, and we should accept whatever eventually comes out of our efforts…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
Latest posts by Matthew Chulaw (see all)