Answering 'Tell Me About A Time When You Missed a Critical Deadline?'

No one likes a missed deadline, especially not interviewers. However, trying to spin a story that shows it as a success is worse. The interviewer understands that everyone makes a mistake and what they really need to know is what you learned from that mistake.

The top 3 things interviewers wish to know include:

  1. Accountability for the missed deadline and the reason why you missed it
  2. An understanding of how you handled the repercussions of the missed deadline
  3. Learnings from the incident and how you improved because of the mistake

A sample answer

When I was just starting my career as a programmer, I was asked to give an estimate of the amount of time that a particular module would take to be completed. I read the requirements provided by the client’s brief and provided my estimate to the project manager. When I got down to completing the task, I realized that the dependencies of the project were not clear from my first read of the brief and that my delivery could be impacted by the delivery schedule of other contributors. Two days before the deadline I approached my manager and explained the whole situation to him. I asked for an extension to the deadline so I could maintain the expected quality standards. My manager spoke to the client and got an extension approved, allowing me to complete my module and deliver it with high quality. From this experience, I learned that I needed to read the brief in detail and spend enough time to understand if my deliverables would be impacted by other contributors, and adjust my deadline timings accordingly. I applied these learnings to my future assignments and ended up being lauded and promoted for my outstanding time management and estimation skills.

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