Tell me about a time when you were late delivering a piece of work?
Question forms part of
Other interview questions that are similar
- Describe a time when you missed an important deadline
- What do you do when you know you are going to be late somewhere?
- How would you handle a project that is not going to be delivered on time?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
This is a very popular question in interviews so don’t be worried that in asking this question the interviewer is implying the workplace will be full of tight deadlines (but also don’t rule it out!).
With this question the interviewer is trying to see how you cope under pressure.
Are you able to prioritise actions and manage expectations adequately? Or do you fold like a wet paper bag and cry ‘woe is me’ at the first obstacle?
Do you actively seek out colleagues to inform them of the situation? Or do you bury your head in the sand and hope that things work out for the best?
Are you proactive? or reactive?
It is these things, and your experience with them, that the interviewer is looking for when asking this question.
The best approach to answering this question
As with any behavioural style question the best way to answer this question is with an example.
When choosing your example try not to go with one where you play the hero and rescue everyone by overcoming a huge hurdle and actually meeting the deadline.
That’s not what the interviewer wants to hear and to be honest it always comes off might disingenuous.
The correct way to approach this is to:
Set the scene – why was the deadline going to be missed? Try not to lay the blame for the lateness at your own doorstep, and if you do make sure you talk about what you learned from the experience.
Talk about how you prioritised certain elements of the work so that the important objectives were still met with the remaining coming in later as a fast follower
Mention how you made sure to keep in communication with all of the relevant stakeholders letting them know what was happening and when they could expect you to deliver what it was you were late for.
Finally wrap the whole thing up with a nice bow by talking about how you eventually delivered, everyone was happy because you kept them up to date and discuss the steps you took to ensure deadlines would be met in the future.
How NOT to answer this question
“I have never been late, all of my work/projects are delivered on time and within budget. No exceptions”
If someone came into an interview and told me this I would immediately disqualify them from contention for the role.
Either they are a liar – which I do not want, or they have no experience in the workplace – which again I do not want (unless specifically looking for entry level candidates, but even then I expect a better answer).
It is a fact of life that at some point something will be delayed and a deadline will either need to slip or be completely missed.
It doesn’t even need to be your fault for lateness to occur. “My flight was delayed due to a hurricane”. That’s not your fault.
The whole idea behind asking this question is to show how you handle these situations WHEN they arise. Hand waving the question away by saying it never happens to you will not endear you to the interviewer.
Tell me about a time you were late delivering a piece of work – Example Answer
The example provided below can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 100 answers to all of the most common interview queries.
“I was given the task of producing a SEO report for a very important potential client. This was on top of my regular workload but I was happy to pick it up as the client would bring a lot of business to our firm if we were able to secure the contract.
During the week that I had to complete the report a number of unforeseen events happened; my work laptop died, the office I worked in flooded and someone stole my car. It really was one of those weeks!
I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to meet the deadline so I looked at the piece of work that I had been given and the reasons why the firm wanted it. From my conversation with the firm I knew they were more interested in the On-site critiques rather than any Off-site SEO analysis.
So I focused my efforts so that I was working only on the On-site portion of the report. I communicated this with the client and with my colleagues. Everyone seemed largely happy with this and I delivered the report in 2 stages, the first at the agreed upon date and the full report just 2 business days later.
Luckily this delay did not upset the clients and we did bring them onboard. After this fiasco I petitioned the firm to provision VPN access on personal devices (with the relevant security software added) so that if this confluence of events were to repeat I would suffer no downtime…except for the time spent wondering where my car was.”
Let’s look at some of the key positives from this answer:
1 – It opens with the interviewee showing how they are happy to pick up extra work – this shows commitment
2 – The interviewee pro-actively engages with the client’s needs to understand which areas of the report are most beneficial (the On-site / Off-site prioritisation)
3 – The interviewee maintains contact with all parties to make them aware of the issues faced and how that impacts delivery
4 – The interviewee takes steps to ensure that the incident does not repeat (VPN access for remote working)
5 – The whole answer is told in a light-hearted tone with a couple of jokes made, this makes the interviewee more personable and will result in a more relaxed and friendly interview.
Remember interviewers go through tons of applicants. The whole thing can get pretty dry and boring, if you lighten up the mood a little it makes you will be remembered and people will want you on their team.
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