Almost everyone enjoys talking about their successes. But life isn’t an easy ride, or a never-ending journey of success. On the contrary, we often fail to meet expectations. Of our parents, friends, managers, and most importantly we fail to meet the high expectations we set for ourselves… One gets to know the character of a person in hard times, and it makes a perfect sense to ask this question in a job interview. Hiring managers try to understand a few things from your answer:

  • Whether you can admit making a mistake and failing.
  • If you accept responsibility, or blame someone else for your failure to meet expectations.
  • How do you deal with the situation emotionally and rationally.
  • Your overall attitude to failing and struggling.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. I tried to include a variety of answers on my list, fitting for different life situations and levels of experience. I hope at least one of them will resonate with you, and help you deliver the right message to the hiring managers. Below the list of answers you will find some additional hints and explanations on how to come up with the best possible answer. Do not forget to check them out, making sure you won’t repeat the same mistake many people make while dealing with this question.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you did not meet expectations” interview question

  1. Well, it happened just recently, in my last job, and it is the reason no. 1 why I am here with you. I worked in a call center before. The weekly and monthly goals were ambitious, and though I tried my best to reach them, I failed. Some people may try to find excuses, but that’s not my case. I thought I was good in selling on the phone, and hoped that I would enjoy the process. But I did not enjoy it at all, struggled to spend so many hours on a call daily, and it reflected on poor results. I failed to meet the expectations of the managers, and after just two months in the job we came to an agreement that I had no future in the call center. I accept it as a lesson, and now I am looking for a job in another field. No doubt I will do better.
  2. I did not meet the expectations of my parents, because I did not apply for a place at law school. They wanted me to become a lawyer, and invested a lot of money in my education. Yet as I grew older I understood law was not my calling, and opted for vet school instead. My parents were disappointed, and perhaps they still are, now I am about to finish my studies and looking for a job. But I also believe that everyone should follow their own dreams, not the dreams of their parents, and that I made the right decision.
  3. I did not meet the expectations in my last job in an Italian restaurant. The place was incredibly fast-paced, and there was no time for longer interactions with the customers, or even for a toilet break during peak hours. The owners wanted us to work like machines, and while I understand their reasoning and diners no doubt enjoyed little waiting times, I quickly came to a conclusion that the place just wasn’t the right match for my personality. I enjoy interacting with customers, preparing food or drinks with love, with attention to detail. Italian restaurant is no place or me it seems, and I hope to get a job in a small coffee place like yours, one in which employees have more time to do their job properly, and aren’t rushed all the time.
  4. To be honest, I didn’t meet my own expectations many times. Because I am pretty ambitious, and have this bad habit shared with many from my generation, that we “hope to become somebody by the age of 25”. Social pressure is a real thing, and I expected myself to run my own business and earn big by now, just because I saw some people on Instagram living such a life, or at least pretending to do so. I failed my expectations time and again and felt miserable. However, I eventually came to a conclusion that it was all a trap. I deleted my accounts on social networks, and decided to live more in a present moment, enjoying the beauty of everyday existence, without expecting to earn millions and buy fancy things. It was the best decision of my life, since I am happy and calm now, and ready to build my career step by step, starting with an entry level job in your corporation.
  5. I didn’t meet the expectations of my teachers at school. Because I always thought out of the box, and looked for alternative ways of doing things. Soon enough I came to a conclusion that pursuing my education further would be a mistake, and decided to focus on my career instead. Applying for a job in your start-up, I hope to get a chance to put my creativity to the text, and to  work with like-minded creative people who dream of putting a dent to the Universe.
  6. With all honesty, it happened in my last four job interviews. I tried to pick fitting jobs, and to prepare for the meetings with the hiring managers. But somehow I didn’t meet their expectations, or perhaps one of the other candidates was always better, and they got the job. But I am not down or anything similar. I accept it as a fact, and try to analyze the interviews and understand what I could have done better. And I continue trying, and believing in my chances. Perhaps I can finally change my fortunes in this interview with you.
  7. I cannot tell when it happened, since I do not care about the expectations of others. Sure enough everyone expects something, but at the end of the day we have to live our own life, follow our dreams, do the right thing for us. At least that’s my personal philosophy. I try to change something in the world to better, and to enjoy my life at the same time. No doubt many people would love to see me do something different, having this or that job, raising children, etc. But I do not care, and hence I cannot tell whether or not I met or filed someone else’s expectations.

* 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!


Admit making mistakes and failing

Many people think that job interview is a sales talk, and one should present themselves in the best possible light. This is not true, however. Hiring managers know that perfect people or perfect employees do not exist, and they do not seek such. On the contrary, they are looking for honest people who are aware of both their strengths and weaknesses, people who can admit making a mistake, and accept the responsibility.

What I try to say here is that you should not hesitate to admit failing to meet someone’s expectations, even if it meant that you lost the job, or a partner, or whatever in life. What matters is your reasoning and attitude to such a situation. Instead of dwelling on your failures or hiding from them (with all sorts of excuses), you prefer to accept them, analyze them, learn your lesson and move on. That’s the attitude hiring managers seek in the very best job candidates…

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

Matthew Chulaw
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