Interview question not meeting deadlines

The ability to meet deadlines is crucial in most roles. Interview questions frequently focus on meeting deadlines. The interviewer wants to find out if you are able to meet deadlines or not.

The first deadline

The moment you arrive for an interview, you are answering the interview question "How good are you at meeting deadlines?" If you are late, the interviewer is clearly going to think that you are not good at meeting deadlines.

Even if the delay is due to traffic problems (barring major incidents), the interviewer will recognise that you failed to allow time for travel set-backs when planning your trip. If you arrive just on time, the interviewer may note that you cut things a little fine. But if you arrive early and have time to compose yourself, the impression will be that you are well-prepared and can meet deadlines with time to spare.

This shows how everything you say and do at an interview may be assessed. This is because the interviewer is trying to gauge your approach to work in general, as well as your application to specific tasks. Most jobs involved deadlines of one degree of importance or another - even if you are not directly affected, your ability to complete work on time may affect somebody else's ability to meet a deadline. For that reason, interview questions about work prioritisation and deadlines can arise with regularity.

Different ways of asking - and answering

The deadline interview question relates to a series of others: "How well do you work under pressure?"; "How do you prioritise your tasks when there isn't time to complete them all?"; "How do you stay focused when faced with a major deadline?"; "Are you able to cope with more than one job at a time?"

When answering any interview question relating to not meeting deadlines, it is important to start with a positive point. You could begin by asserting that "I respond well to the challenge of a deadline", "I enjoy working under pressure", or "I have produced some of my best work in such situations". Be ready to describe your ability to meet deadlines for projects in your current position.

Missed deadlines

Some interviewers for roles that involve a degree of project management might probe deeper: "Tell us about a time when you missed a deadline" or "Describe a time when you missed a deadline due to somebody else's failure".

If you are asked directly about not meeting deadlines, always state that you learned much from the experience and that this has improved your ability to deliver. For instance, you might state that you have improved your communication with other people to ensure that this does not happen again. Planning meetings well in advance and ensuring that there is always someone to deputise for each person due to attend would represent a positive response to a bad experience. But do not be tempted to blame other people when answering the question, as this will make you appear unable to accept responsibility. Be honest about the repercussions. Yet always emphasise planning and procedural improvements that you have made to ensure that deadlines are met in the future.

Managing deadlines

The interviewer may ask about how you cope with multiple deadlines. Your response should focus on effective planning. If you are working singly, you need to state that you would first order the various tasks in order of importance, ranging from essential (deadline must be met at all costs) to non-essential (deadline can be missed with few ill consequences), with a couple of groups between the two. You would then focus on fulfilling the tasks that were rated essential, working in order of their deadlines. If you are in a supervised role and it looks unlikely that all the essential deadlines can be met, you would speak to your manager or supervisor to let them know, in good time, so that an alternative solution can be found.

If you are the manager or supervisor, you would ensure that tasks were delegated in such a fashion that essential deadlines could be met, communicating with staff throughout to ensure that problems could be dealt with as they arose. Tracking the progress of work that is subject to deadlines is extremely important. Be prepared to describe how you do this, on your own, as a team member, or as a manager working across departments or even organisations.

Extra hours

Depending on the role you are applying for, do consider whether you are being asked if you would work extra hours to ensure deadlines are met. If you are willing to do so and it is appropriate to the job, say that you are prepared to work evenings, emphasising your commitment to task completion. But do add that you would aim to plan effectively and therefore minimise the need wherever possible. Also, consider whether the interviewer is concerned that other commitments, such as family might reduce your availability. Waive this aside by stressing that you stick with a project until it is completed, even if it means working late hours on occasion.

And finally

By its very nature, deadline-driven work is often unpredictable and subject to crisis. Yet hopefully, by answering these questions with composure, you can demonstrate to the interviewer that you are the right person to minimise the risks and keep the projects on track.

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