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Answering questions of project failure during interviews

Interviews General Queries
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Peter Jarvis


( 7 months ago )


TLDR: Projects have failed due to lack of dedicated resources (money, employees) and not, as far as I believe, to mismanagement on my part. How can I address this to future employers without bad-mouthing my current employer?

More often than not my boss (owner of the company) objectively bites off more than we can chew in a "sell now, make the deal, and worry about the work later" attitude. While discussions between he and I have highlighted our inability to perform the project work, inability to hire out the work, and inability to purchase materials for the work, it seems like all of that falls on deaf ears, and I am left to manage (in as much as I can) multiple projects where we simply cannot buy, hire, or make the resources to complete the work.

After reading interview questions about "describe a time when a project you have lead has failed", I got to thinking about the project failure rate at my current company. More often than not money "set aside" for projects is dedicated to other facets of the company, but communication about this does not ever reach me until after the fact and we are under the gun for some new sale or project the boss has made or come up with.

But that aside, how can I answer questions related to project failure (completed over budget and over schedule, lots of rework, etc.) honestly when, objectively, our company bites off more than it can chew and attempts to rectify the situation on my end (solutions, etc.) are met with non-response or "we'll figure out a way"?

(And please, honestly, let me know if I've gotten this all wrong-- my experience managing projects doesn't go that far back, so I may lack the wisdom or expertise to deal with this situation (it may be common, for all I know!)).

Brian Burl


( 7 months ago )

After reading interview questions about "describe a time when a project you have lead has failed"

As an interviewer, if I asked this question I would be most interested in your role and how you learned from the experience. I would have no problem with you professionally pointing out that the project was doomed due to insufficient resources; companies not staffing correctly isn't nearly as rare as it should be.

However, that wouldn't answer the question completely in my mind. I'd want to hear about the strategies you took to mitigate the damage of understaffing, adjust expectations, adequately communicate the risks, etc. If all you could tell me is that someone else screwed up, then it wouldn't be an answer that set you apart as a candidate.

This doesn't mean you have to have done all of those mitigating strategies, although if you have that's even better. I would be happy to hear about what you've learned since and how you'd handle it better if placed in a similar situation again as well as what you did at the time to address the issue. Obviously, there is a fatal level of understaffing / overpromising, but the fact that your boss did those things doesn't tell me much about you as a candidate, and if you want to stand out in an interview you want your answers to inform the interviewer about yourself in positive ways.

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