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Other interview questions that are similar
Describe a situation where you needed to work quickly
Tell me about a time that you missed a deadline
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
Deadlines are a way of life. Like an old project manager once told me, “if we didn’t have deadlines nothing would ever get done”.
It is really that simple; work will always expand to fill the amount of time allotted.
Sometimes though the time that we have been allotted for an activity or project seems fairly short considering the scale of the task at hand.
What do we do in those situations?
Well that is what the interviewer want to know from you, and that is why they ask this question.
They want to see first and foremost are you capable of working to tight deadlines? Are you able to prioritise the important pieces of work over the less important and ensure that your work is delivered on time and to an acceptable quality?
That is the purpose of this question.
The best approach to answering this question
This is a “Have you ever” style question. With questions like this you should always start your answers with a resounding
Yes I have
This is not a trick question. The interviewer is asking if you have experience in the matter at hand because they need someone who has that experience. It is crucial that you say you do.
After you have said “Yes” you can treat the question like any other “Tell me about a time” question, and the best way to answer those questions is to use the B-STAR technique.
Let’s see how that would work out with this question:
B – Belief – Talk about how you feel about deadlines and working toward tight ones. The best answers here will talk about how you feel deadlines are important as they provide structure for your project / activity.
S – Situation – Open by quickly setting the scene of why you were on a tight deadline. Make sure your example is one where the tightness of the deadline was out of your control. Remember that you do not have much time to answer the question so set the scene quickly. Pick an example that is straight forward to understand without long descriptions.
T – Task – What was your role in meeting this deadline? For a good interview answer the job of meeting this deadline should fall squarely on your shoulders.
A – Activity – What steps did you take to meet your deadline? The best answers will talk about how you had to prioritise the list of activities that were required. With such a tight deadline not all goals may be achievable, it is your job (for your answer it should be your job) to ensure the critical activities are completed and delivered on time and to the desired quality.
R – Result – This is an interview so make sure the end result as described is a positive one. You can include any lessons you learned at the end – for example maybe you realised that this tight deadline could have been avoided if X was fixed.
How NOT to answer this question
Do not avoid the question. It is easy to fall into a trap when answering this question. You might think that it would be smart to answer that you never work to tight deadlines because you plan well. Don’t answer like this as it shows you are inexperienced. In the workplace tight deadlines will be thrust upon you and no matter how good a planner you are you feel the squeeze – in fact you might get tight deadlines just because you are a good planner. “Give the work to Mike he’s always squared away he will be able to sort it out”
Do not give an example where you missed the deadline. Your example should be a success. You are trying to show the interviewer that you have had tight deadlines before and you have been able to successfully deliver to them
Do not talk about how you had to sacrifice quality. I think it is obvious that if you are rushing people to a tight deadline that quality might slip, however it is your job to explain to the interviewer how you managed to prevent quality from slipping while also meeting the deadline. A trick here is to say how you looked at the list of requirements for the task and removed items that would not impact quality but would allow you to deliver on time.
Have you ever had to work to an extremely tight deadline? How did you navigate that? – Example answer
“I don’t think anyone likes deadlines, I know I don’t. But I do appreciate their importance in the workplace in how having a deadline provides structure to how we work.
As a Project Manager deadlines are kind of my thing. Deadlines, Cost and Quality are my primary motivators. I like to ensure that all my projects are properly planned so that there is no stress about the deadlines.
However that is obviously not always possible. There was a recent project that I was handed very last minute. The previous project manager had abruptly left the business and had seemingly let the project run without direction for a number of months prior to this.
I was given control of the project and told the deadline was just 2 months from now. I immediately knew this was not possible given the current status. But I persevered.
First thing I did was re-validate all of the assumptions. I found out that the deadline was not a fixed deadline of 2 months but was told under no uncertain terms could it extend past 3 months. That bought us some respite but not enough.
Next steps was to re-examine the requirements. This was a new product launch and the initial project design was to go live with the full product spec on Day 1. I took this back to the project sponsor and drilled down to which requirements were critical for Day 1 launch and which requirements could be delayed to a subsequent ‘Phase 2’ launch.
With all of this done I had a plan that would get us there. I just needed a motivated project team. I again linked in with the project sponsor for his support in both bringing in new team members (who I had a close working relationship with) and to re-affirm to the remaining project members and all stakeholders the importance of this project and it’s deadline
This seemed to be the spur that everyone needed as we were off to the races so to speak. The project was delivered on time and to the required quality with the remaining non-critical features being added to a month after. I also raised with the PMO team that this situation could have been avoided had there been a requirement on the previous project manager to provide status updated into the project sponsor in a more formal setting.“
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