Clients have unrealistic expectations, but we often cannot ignore them. Simply because business is as competitive as ever, and you sometimes have to promise things you cannot achieve, unless you want to see your client doing business with one of your competitors. What’s more, everyone has a low day at work at times. You’re tired (after a long night), mind isn’t working as well as it usually does, everyone wants somethings from you, and 78 emails wait unanswered in your inbox… When such things coincide on a single day (and they often do), even the best employees will fall behind with schedule.

Needless to say, hiring managers are aware of these things. They know that some deadlines cannot be met, regardless of how hard you try. You will experience similar situation in your new job, and they wonder how you’d deal with it. Would you put your head in a sand, pretending everything is all right? Would you leave the calls and messages of the clients unanswered, pretending that you didn’t hear them? Or, on the contrary, would you face the situation with your head straight, trying your best to explain the situation to the client, and eventually complete the task with as little delay as possible?

Interviewers have these things on their mind while asking you the question. As always, the key is to show the right attitude to work, and to the communication with the client. Ensure them that you will face the situation, communicate with the client, do your best to minimize the eventual delay, and learn your lesson, making sure the situation won’t reply again. And, of course, no excuses. You can briefly describe what held you back, but no need to elaborate on details, because clients aren’t interested in that. What matters for them is the eventual result.

Okay, let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. I tried to include on my list a variety of answers, for a variety of personalities and situations. Hope at least one will go well with you, and serve you in the interviews.


7 sample answers to “If you weren’t able to complete a task in the time you agreed with your client, how would you handle it?”

  1. I would communicate them my delay as soon as possible. While I am a hard-working person and typically don’t bite more than I can chew, I understand some unexpected delay can happen. Sometimes I am to blame, sometimes things outside of my control are to blame. In any case, it can happen, and it is important to communicate with the client, because the task they expect me to finish may have an implications on other tasks in the projects and so on. So I would communicate and do my best to complete the task as soon as possible.
  2. First of all, I would not panic. Things do happen, and regardless of how hard you try, sometimes you do not complete your tasks in time. Happened to me in my other job too, a couple of times. I think it is pivotal to admit the situation, and accept the responsibility. Because that’s the only way how you can learn from it, and perhaps do things better other time around. I also try to regroup, refocus, and give my best the next hours or days, to make sure I do not miss the deadline by much.
  3. Speaking honestly, it has never happened to me so far. Do not want to brag here, but planning and time management sit on the top of the list of my strengths. I am pretty organized at work, focused, and do not waste time with social media and similar things. Hence first and foremost, in my job with you I will try my best to stick to my routines from my former jobs. If I manage to do it, it is unlikely the situation will ever happen. If it does happen though, I will do my very best to complete the work in the shortest time possible. And it doesn’t matter if I have to stay overtime, or even work on Saturday, to complete the task.
  4. In my opinion, we should try our best to make sure the situation doesn’t happen. As a manager I try to be realistic with my promises to clients, and with my expectations on subordinates. If you do promise to complete a task in a time that isn’t realistic for your team in the given situation, you will almost always face problems. When you do your calculations right though, and communicate to the client why you cannot complete the task earlier, showing them the numbers, they will typically understand and lower their expectations.
  5. I would simply accept the responsibility fully, with all implications. Even if it meant the cut in bonuses or something similar. My style isn’t to hide, or blame my colleagues, or the situation in the world, for the job I do. Hence I would simply state the facts, and wait for the directions from the client.
  6. I would offer something extra. Perhaps a lower price, or a bonus they receive for free, or a generous discount for their next order with us. That’s what I did in my career of a freelance writer and editor, and it worked quite well. Of course, you cannot satisfy every client. Someone wants just one project from you, and a discount or bonus makes little sense for them. But I also believe that clients should accept that the world isn’t perfect, and delays do happen, for whatever reason. In my opinion it isn’t a bad idea explaining it to them right at the start of the cooperation. That doesn’t mean that we should basically say that they should expect some delay. Just that it can happen, regardless of how hard we try.
  7. First and foremost, I would try to analyze the situation and learn from it. Because an occasional delay can certainly be accepted even by a demanding client. But if you do not complete the job on time time and again, they would simply leave you and do business with someone else. That’s why the key is to analyze the situation and understand what exactly happened, who made the mistake, and make sure it won’t repeat again. Or at least make sure you minimize the chances of it repeating again. So, that’s what I would do, and of course I would also try my very best to deliver the task with as little delay as possible…

So that’s it! I hope you liked my answers, and they gave you some inspiration for your own amazing answer to this tricky question. Wish you best of luck in your interview, and do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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