Goals, milestones, deadlines. The daily bread of almost every corporate employee. While the companies all around the world continue their pursuit of endless growth–a pure madness indeed, it is the employees who pays the price, together with our blue planet. Every year the expectations get only higher. You spend ten hours a day at work, and then you work two more hours from home, yet it never seems enough. There is always a new goal to meet, another report to deliver, and yet another deadline to meet. Speaking honestly, it is far from ideal. But that’s how the corporate world works today, and if you want to become a part of it (which certainly has also some advantages, and in many case it is more a need than a want), you should show your readiness to handle the heavy workload, and meet deadlines, right in your job interview.

Hiring managers may ask you couple of questions about deadlines, but this one is likely the least pleasant one. Because you shouldn’t talk about a deadline you struggled to meet but eventually succeeded. They want to hear about one you missed. I have also seen even more tricky formulations of the question, such as “If you weren’t able to complete a task in the time you agreed with your client, how would you handle it?“, or “What do you do if you think you might miss a deadline?

At the end of the day though, they always inquire about the same thing, so let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky scenario-based question. I tried to include on my list a variety of answers, including answers for people without previous working experience, and also a couple of unconventional answers. Do not forget to read my notes at the end of this article, for additional hints and explanations.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline” interview question

  1. It happened to me just once, in my last corporate job. They asked me on Friday morning to deliver an elaborate analysis of competitor’s pricing on next Tuesday, during a team meeting. I immediately realized the magnitude of the task, and that I might actually miss the deadline. But I did not get discouraged, and started to gather data and focused 100% on the task. But as I was going through it, I realized the data set was even bigger than I expected. So I took the work home, and worked for six hours on Saturday, in my free time, and then I gave the task the first priority in my Monday’s schedule. Still, I failed to complete the analysis by Tuesday morning, and was able to present only partial results in the team meeting. My manager was not happy, but I had a clear conscience. I knew I tried my best, worked from home, and did what I could to complete the work in time.
  2. My university studies are a good example. I was penning my applications for different law schools, trying to perfect every detail, making sure that I would make an impression on the folks from admission. And so I rewrote them a couple of times, hired professional editors and everything. But I paid the price for my pursuit of perfection, because I actually missed the deadline with one school, and didn’t submit my application in time. I was angry on myself at first, but then I simply took it as a lesson. Meeting deadlines is important, and it is definitely better to deliver the work that’s just 95%, than trying to perfect every little detail and miss the deadline altogether as the consequence.
  3. The one I regret the most is for the applications for the position of a product manager your company advertised on Monster a couple of months ago. I had checked the job boards regularly before, but then decided to take a short break for my job search for a two weeks, just to recharge my batteries. And that’s exactly when you advertised the job, with a short ten days window for applications, and I missed it. But instead of pitying myself, and thinking about what could have been, I decided to focus on the future. When you had another fitting job offer online–for a product analyst, I didn’t hesitate, applied, and here I am today, interviewing for a job with you.
  4. I missed a tight one in my last job in sales. The manager set clear goals for us, and they expected me to reach a certain sales volume by the end of Q1. And boy did I try. I’ve spend hours on the call every day, traveling to meetings late in the afternoon, often working for twelve hours a day, or more. Because I knew that the deadline was also the test, and that if I failed to meet it, I would be send packing. I did my best, working as hard as I could, but eventually didn’t reach the desired sales volume by 31st March. And so it was time to go… But I do not have any regrets. I’ve learned a lot in the company, generated some sales volume for the employer, and now I am ready to move on, seeking a new opportunity with your company.
  5. Speaking honestly, it has never happened to me. I do not want to brag about my skills, but, judging by my experience, I can organize my days and weeks at work pretty well, and my time management skills are second to none. I would not agree with a client on a schedule to finish some task that I could not realistically meet. Without a doubt, I faced a couple of tight deadlines in my last corporate job. But I’ve always managed to prioritize my duties correctly, and logged in some extra hours when needed. So far I’ve never missed the deadline, and I hope to keep the streak going in your company.
  6. I missed many deadline by now–in my personal life. I wanted to be married by 30, and have at least one child on the way. Yet I am here sitting with you, thirty three at the moment, still single, and even without a relationship at the time. But I am not bitter about my situation, and I also do not want to blame myself. I’ve tried, had a couple of relationships, but they didn’t work out. And I also learned that it is pointless to put an extra pressure on ourselves, especially when it comes to things like marriage or motherhood. At the end of the day, we never have the things entirely under control, plus it makes no sense to marry someone we do not really love, just because we are thirty already and face the social pressure from our family or peers. So, I missed my deadlines, and I am okay with that. And I can assure you that I will try my best not to miss any deadlines at work. I should have a better control in this case…
  7. I missed one too many in my last corporate role. And though I do not want to make excuses, the workload was extremely hard, and the expectations of the managers unrealistic. They assigned me three different clients and I reported to six different managers. Sometimes I wasted half a day just going to meetings and answering emails. It was just impossible to get the work done in time. My to-do list grew bigger with every week, and so did my frustration, and the frustration of the managers. Of course I tried what I could, and I communicated the issue to them several times. But I got no assistance, and they didn’t take one project away from me as I requested. The entire situation could have one outcome only–I eventually left the company.


Everyone misses deadlines, but not everyone tries to their best to meet them

Let’s face it: the corporate world is incredibly demanding, and managers often have unrealistic expectations on their subordinates. You will miss a deadline once in a while. But it doesn’t mean that you are lazy, or unqualified for the job. You will miss it simply because everyone else (except of a complete workaholic or a genius) would miss it as well. What matters, however, is whether you will give it your best shot. That’s what matters for the hiring managers.

Admit that you missed a deadline, and explain why. But do not blame others for it, even if they are to blame. Ensure the hiring managers that you did your best, stayed overtime, set your priorities clear, and did everything you could. It didn’t work out on that occasion, but did on many others. And you want to bring the same attitude to your new job–trying your best, going above and beyond…

* 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!

Lacking experience? Talk about deadlines you missed in your personal life, or what you would do if you were to miss one

You should always remember that the interviewers do not care much about the situation you narrate, and the setting. They care about your attitude. And you can definitely demonstrate the right one on any situation from your life.

Hence you can talk about missing a deadline at school, in a relationship, or even in your job search. And you can use all of these answers to nicely point out how much the job you try to get with them matters to you. Check sample answer no. 3 on the list as a good example. As long as you show the right attitude, and explain the lesson you learned when missing the deadline, they will be satisfied with your answer. As a last resort you can also philosophize about a fictive situation, saying what you would do if you thought you’d miss a deadline, and how you’d react if it eventually happened. Also in this case you can show the right attitude to work, the one hiring managers look for in the best job candidates…

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

Matthew Chulaw
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