Hi all

When a recruiter asks "tell me about a time you had to deliver bad news to a higher up" or "tell me about a time someone did not come through on a deliverable", what are they really looking for in the answer?

I don't have concrete examples for these so maybe if I understood better how this helps the recruiter, something might pop up.

Thanks very much.


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I'm no professional recruiter, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Personality profiling? DISC

D - Give it to 'em straight
i - Know someone who can fix it.
S - Protect the team
C- Explain in excruciating detail why it's not your fault. (Okay, I'm not a C!)

It seems like a question designed to make you uncomfortable. Put a little pressure on you and see how you respond.

Okay, so let's see what Wendii or M&M have to say. :?

asteriskrntt1's picture

Ohhhhhhhhhh.... I get it. (& LOL @ Holiday Inn Express)

So I should have said.... "well, first I delayed telling them... then I sent them emails about it but with typos in the email addys, then postponed our face-to-face meetings. When I finally met the executive committee, I pulled a Barry Bonds and brought some orphans with me and begged the Execs to show me mercy and let me keep the job so I could feed the kids?" :wink:

Or maybe you are right, Will. I need more help on this. :P

RichRuh's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I'm not a professional recruiter either- although I interview a lot of people.

I'm going to respectfully disagree with Will's "C" comment. When one of my directs comes to [b]me[/b] with a screw-up, I want him or her to do the following:
- Accept responsibility, [b]not[/b] deflect blame
- Bring a solution to get out of the current mess
- Bring ideas to prevent said mess from reoccuring

And likewise, when I deliver bad news to my boss- it's my responsibility. The buck stops here.


asteriskrntt1's picture

oh, my bad!

I thought Will was joking around. Now I really do get the point. I actually kind of waffled around an answer like that today without even realizing what I was doing - the interview casts must be permeating my thick skull afterall.

Thanks guys. :D

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I didn't say that was what I wanted to hear...

I was being a little facetious as I'm not all that facile with the DISC program. But in general, that's what it sounds to me like they're doing. Just profiling the candidate.

And it was a really nice shower.

spiffdeb's picture

I've done a fair amount of hiring over the years. I always ask these kinds of questions and center them around challenge areas for my org. When I do it I am trying to get insight into your work style/personality around specific situations where I may have a challenge or view the answer/approach as critical to success.

I think they are trying to get at....

Are you comfortable or capable of saying what needs to be said even if you must tell a higher-up "bad news"? They are likely also looking to ascertain how you approach this - expect they are looking for someone who not only delivers the message but along with the message a plan to deal with the situation.

Re Someone not coming thru on a deliverable - I think they are looking to understand how you will deal with subordinates or others you depend on not doing what they say.

If you come across as uncomfortable with these questions they may likely ascertain that you are not a fit for them.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Thanks Deb

I get it but I don't get it. Get it? So they are looking for someone comfortable telling them that missed deliverables on a regular basis? Sounds kind of dysfunctional.

In my answer to them, I said that one of the actuaries in the cross functional team missed a fairly significant cost and when he discovered it, it blew out the margins. I went to the exec team and told them that and that I would look for ways to recover the project. Ultimately, I was able to do so about three months later.

The interviewer replied "So this was a significant oversight? Why didn't the person who did it deliver the news?" I responded (although not as smoothly as it appears here) "I think I would consider it an oversight if this was a recurring project and people were experienced. No one had any experience with this before so it was a learning issue. And it was my project so I did the presentation."

The interviewer shot back "if I was an exec, I would have been seriously pissed at you." I responded "I was bringing a lot of innovation to an area that had never innovated. There is a learning curve and without this attempted initiative, a huge amount of money was going down the drain. Ultimately, I fixed it and contributed to the bottom line."

So maybe I gave them what they were looking for, maybe just not overly concisely.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I like your answer. I'd think it was reasonable.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


Sorry so delayed.

And: hold on just a second folks. WHOA.

When a recruiter asks those questions, what she wants is an answer to that question. Tell me about a time when you did this thing. If you've never done it, you'd better start by telling me you've never done it. So, when folks ask me, "what are they really looking for", it really concerns me.

Interviews are not a place where managers or interviewers ask a question that has a secret hidden message.

There's certainly nothing wrong with saying you haven't done that, but you have an example where you used what you think are the skills that that situation might require.

Additionally, though: RNTT, why don't you think that your response was the right one? It sounds like it was. You did have an example, but they didn't like it. Sounds like that's why interview questions get asked. You messed this one up. Welcome to the club. :wink:

BUT: the reason we ask behavioral questions is that they require candidates to be truthful, rather than theoretically giving us the correct answer. If you followed our recommended approach, and they didn't like the answer, that's, in a way, a good outcome, a true negative, so to speak.

What we're looking for is how you've handled these events in the past. If a candidate gives it his best shot and it's not a fit for our firm, that's good data for the company to have.

Just because you don't think the answer was a good one doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to say.

(And don't assume that follow up questions or interruptions are a bad sign - they're completely normal).


vinnie2k's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]Interviews are not a place where managers or interviewers ask a question that has a secret hidden message.
I understand that good interviewers want an answer to the question, but is it never possible that someone can ask something in order to get to something else?

If/when that is the case, do we answer the clear question, or the hidden one?

I'd answer the clear one, just to let them come out of the woods.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Oh, the why question is easy to answer for a number of reasons.

1. I don't think it is such an unreasonable thing to want to fully understand someone's question
2. Because I got such a visceral response from the recruiter, not an observational "I bet your exec team was pissed - what happened next?"
3. I am not getting offers so I am likely doing something (or things) less than optimally so I want to continue to improve
4. I don't have a lot of experience at this yet so I don't have standards to evaluate it against, and finally
5. Most people out there are not MT trained and they do ask stupid questions with hidden meanings. You may choose to disagree with this statement except you have not been in with the recruiters that I have met.

To frame this another way, if there were not incompetent managers and people out there, there would not be much of a market for MT, MT interview series, your interviewing tool etc.