Regardless of how hard we try, things do not always go our way. Sometimes it seems they never do. And it applies to both personal life and work… At the end of the day though, it is our effort that matters, and not the eventual outcome, since regardless of the situation and our efforts, we never have things fully under our control. Hiring managers are aware of it, yet they still prefer to hire ambitious people, employees who are not afraid to take the lead, make decision, and face the eventual outcome with an open head, whatever it may be.

With this particular question, interviewers try to understand a couple of things. First, whether you are a leader, or at least have the potential in you, and can take action even when others hesitate, or fail to do the right thing. And second, whether you can accept responsibility for the outcome, whatever it may be. The situation you narrate is secondary. Your attitude matters the most. Show them that you are ready to take charge, try your best, face the outcome, learn from it, and move on.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. I tried to include on my list both answers for people with working experience, and answers for people who apply for their very first job. Examples from corporate environment, school, but also from personal life, since setbacks in our personal life are often hardest to bear with…. I hope at least one of the answers will fit your situation, and the message you hope to convey in your interviews.

7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you took a charge of a situation but the outcome was disappointing” interview question

  1. I recall one such from my previous job in retail. We struggled with customer service, because the department was understaffed. Christmas around the corner, and we just didn’t have enough employees on the shift… Originally I pleaded with the store manager to get new people onboard, at least part time. But they said they didn’t have budget for it. Hence I decided to take a charge of the situation. When we couldn’t get more people onboard, I see spending our time on shift more efficiently as a solution. As a shift manager, I came with a set of amendments to the daily routines and task prioritization, which I believed would help us be more effective, and would allow us to attend the customers in the way they deserved. I was ambitious and believed in my solution. However, I underestimated a few things. First, the ability to adapt of my colleagues. Second, the importance of certain tasks that seemed secondary, but weren’t really. Long story short, the outcome was extremely disappointing. After just a week the store was a mess, employees were complaining, and the level of customer service even dropped… I acknowledged my mistake, and returned to the old system of work. But I wasn’t particularly upset to be honest. At least I tried to do something with the situation. It didn’t work, I learned my lesson, but the experience does not discourage me from taking charge again, should I find myself facing a similar situation.
  2. This is my first job application, but I recall one situation from school. We were preparing a carnival for younger students, and while many people wanted to participate, nobody was ready to lead the event planning and organization. I decided to take a charge. Organized the hall, the music, catering, and so on. But in the heat of the situation I forgot on one thing—marketing. The carnival wasn’t an annual event at school, it was more of a one-off, something we wanted to do as a part of our student initiative. Hence when the day of the event came, and everything was ready, just about half the number of kids we expected showed up. I have to say it was rather disappointing, but at the same time I do not regret my effort. Look, I was just a student, and it was a valuable learning experience. At the end of the day, we learn much more from our failures than we do from our successes.
  3. I honestly had the feeling it kept happening all the time in my last job. We were a small team in a startup, constantly evolving, constantly taking new people onboard. I was one of the founders, and though I posses great technical skills, in contrary to other founders I also have a good understanding for business and management. Hence I took charge of getting new people onboard, organizing the teams, trying to keep the us afloat as funds were running short. But things just didn’t go my way repeatedly. The outcome was disappointing, since we didn’t have enough time to train the new hires properly, and we didn’t have enough options to hire just the people who were really good. We were growing and simply needed to take someone onboard. Eventually the entire thing collapsed, we ran out of funds, the product wasn’t good enough, and we had to call it a day… Looking back today, I know I could have done certain things better. But it would likely not change the eventual outcome for the startup, it would just delay it for a while. In any case, I realized I am old enough for the startup culture, and I am not looking for a job with one of the big players in the IT field.
  4. My bad habits got the better of me two years ago. Eating junk food, staying up late, eating late, exercising little, since I believed in the hustle culture and was always working, dreaming of some better tomorrows, it all took a heavy toll on me. It came to a point when I was obese, and started having heart problems. It was a wake up call for me really, and I decided to take charge of the situation. Changed my diet, always ate dinner at 7 o’clock, stated to practice Nordic walking daily, since I was too heavy for running. I managed to observe my new routines for six months, but when I stepped on the scales, the outcome was super disappointing. I lost only 13 pounds. And while it is still better than nothing, I expected much more… But I still keep trying, and want continue until I return to my old weight.
  5. I remember such a time from my last job in an Italian restaurant. It was a summer job, in a nice place, but the owner was extremely hard on us. The demands bordered abuse, to say it mildly. We worked 14 hours a day 7 days a week, no days off. It was the high season, and the place was understaffed. People were afraid to say something, since we were students, in a foreign country, and we haven’t received any payment yet. Nevertheless, a point came when I felt it was simply too much, and decided to speak out for everyone. The owner shouted on me, but I kept my line, and threatened to alarm the police and human rights organizations. I was determined to do it, but he just kept laughing. The next day I alarmed the police, but from the way they talked with the restaurant owner I understood they were friends and nothing was going to change. Actually he sent me packing in two days, and nothing changed in the place. Even though it wasn’t a happy end, I am proud that I managed to overcome my fears, and tried to improve the things for me and my colleagues.
  6. The best example I remember is from the apartment house where I live. Many of us talked about reconstruction, since it was really needed. The house is old and the roof is leaking. People were talking about it, but nobody had courage to take action, and propose something in the regular meeting of all apartment owners. I hesitated, but eventually decided to take the lead. Asked a couple of reconstruction companies to come and make a quote, and presented the offers in a meeting with other owners. Quickly two camps formed: one of people who really wanted the reconstruction, and another of people who opposed the idea, and didn’t want to hear a word of it. The entire situation culminated in a heated argument, and we didn’t move anywhere. It was super disappointing, considering all effort I put in. Anyway, I tried my best, wanted to change things to better in the house. I cannot be too upset that it didn’t work, can I?
  7. My example is rather personal. I really liked one guy, and thought he felt the same for me. Gave him some signals, with my words, glances, everything. But he didn’t respond the way I wanted, didn’t invite me out or anything similar. Eventually I decided to take the charge of the situation, and invited him out. Long silence followed, it was almost embarrassing. Eventually he said he would think about it and would write to me. One hour later a message arrived. He wrote that he was sorry but I wasn’t really his type. Such an outcome was not only disappointing. It also pained me a lot. Nevertheless, I got over it, and now I have another boyfriend. Thinking about it now, I am happy I went out f my comfort zone and took initiative, even though I didn’t get what I wanted. At least I knew the truth, and after crying for a few days I was ready to move on…

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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