Picture yourself in a final round interview for a job you’ve always wanted. You’re about halfway through the interview and you’ve been knocking each question out of the park. You’ve successfully translated all of your prior work experiences to be relevant to the job you’re applying for, and highlighted your key accomplishments that position you as a fantastic candidate for the open position.
But then you get a question that throws you off.
“Describe a situation in which you didn’t get something you felt you deserved.”
Woah. That’s a tricky one. How in the world does someone respond in a way that makes the hiring manager want to hire them?!
It’s actually quite simple: You answer truthfully and explain why you believe you didn’t get the position. You then share what you learned from that experience, and how that learning makes you well-equipped for the job you’re interviewing for.
The trick is to show that you don’t hold a grudge and handled the situation professionally.
Bam! That’s all you have to do! Let’s go through how to structure your response in more detail.
This is a classic behavior interview question. Anytime you hear a question that starts with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe…” you can safely assume that the interviewer is looking for you to tell them a story.
Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. IN the case of an interview, your story should follow the flow: Situation - Action - Result. Using this model, often called SAR or STAR (for Situation - Task - Action - Result), allows the interviewer to easily follow along with you.
If you’re unfamiliar with SAR storytelling skills, check out our comprehensive guide here.
It’s always best to respond to interview questions by sharing a work story rather than something from your personal life (it can be a slippery slope diving into your personal life in an interview!).
Ideally, you’ll choose a story that:
Is from your professional career
Was something you genuinely thought you deserved
Ultimately had a positive or neutral outcome
You rebounded from
You are no longer emotional about
To get your ideas flowing, here are a few examples of good stories to use in response to this common interview question:
You had your heart set on a promotion but the company hired an external candidate with different experience for the role.
Your colleague was selected to present at a conference over you, even though you have similar expertise.
You got waitlisted or rejected from a university or grad school program
You weren’t given an important account at work
All of these examples are relatable and none of them are career-ending. You want to strike the right balance here.
Once you’ve decided which story from your prior work experiences you want to use to answer this question, it’s time to plan your approach to telling a compelling story.
Let’s break down the three elements of a story that we discussed above.
To set the stage for your story, provide context that covers the following:
Where you were working
What your role was
What the opportunity you wanted was
Why you wanted that opportunity
Here’s an example of how to explain the situation:
When I was a Customer Success Manager at Acme Corporation in 2018, I had discussions with my manager about my interest in transitioning into a marketing role at the company. He was supportive of this goal and helped me get experiences that would set me up to lateral over to marketing.
Eventually, a marketing role opened up on one of the brands. I was so excited about the opportunity and immediately submitted my application. My manager even talked to the hiring manager to tell him how successful I’d been in Customer Success.
The middle of your story is about the steps you took to achieve your desired result.
Aim to include the following elements:
What you did to achieve that goal
The steps you and/or others took
Your thought process at the time
If we continue with our example about transitioning from Customer Success to Marketing, the action would be:
I went through five rounds of interviews for the position. I didn’t know the marketing team well prior to these interviews, so it was a really enjoyable experience getting to know them and learning more about how they support our products’ success in the market.
Part of the interview process involved a case project that I was well equipped to complete because of my deep knowledge of the business and products. This was the last component of the interview process, so I was proud to have made it to the final round.
We see too many candidates tell a great story with a strong beginning and middle, only to forget the most important part: the ending! In the context of an interview, the ending is the result. This answers the question of “So what?”
Candidates often leave this part out because they’re so focused on quickly figuring out which experience to talk about and getting through their answer that the parts that happened after they took action slip their mind.
We know you won’t make that mistake ;)
To end your story on a high note, include the following:
What ended up happening or what the final decision was
How you responded to the outcome
What you learned from the experience
Why this experience makes you a better professional
To finish up our story about interviewing for a Marketing position:
I was shocked when I didn’t get the job. It turns out they hired an external candidate who had an MBA from an ivy league school. I was incredibly disappointed, and knew I would bring a valued perspective coming from Customer Success, but I didn’t have an MBA. Unfortunately, this team places a high value on advanced degrees and wanted someone with a more traditional background.
Not getting the role ended up being a good thing long-term. I ended up getting promoted within the Customer Success team and was able to lead a team of 20-people. In this capacity, I worked closely with the woman in marketing who got the job I had applied for. I quickly realized her job was not appealing to me and I actually do not want to go into marketing!
If you follow the process outlined above, you’ll win over the hiring manager with your well-articulated response to a challenging interview question. By acknowledging your initial disappointment during that experience, but then turning it into a learning opportunity that ultimately benefited you long-term, you’ll come across as resilient and poised.
We can’t wait to hear what stories you come up with for this interview question!