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I had this interview, and the employer asked me that question. The full question is like this:

“There is project that your boss gave you, but you have not started anything, and there is only a week before the deadline. How would you tell it to your boss?”

My answer:

“I will just tell him directly that the project has not been started yet. And there were things / tasks I prioritized first. I will just diligently ask if the project can be resched, then I will start the project right away.”

Can you give me a sample answer on how to respond to that question.

  • "Since I would never put off starting a project beyond when it needs to be started without being in communication with my boss, this is clearly a project that takes less than a week to complete, so I'd inform my boss that I expect to start and finish the project on time." – PoloHoleSet Apr 3 '17 at 21:14
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    The interviewer has created this hypothetical scenario and answering the question needs more information from them. For starters, WHY haven't I started the project? Only the interviewer knows that. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Apr 4 '17 at 10:29
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This question is loaded, the right answer to this would be something like :

This would never happen, If I am not working on a project, it would be for a good reason and I would made my boss aware of this immediately.

Don't be afraid to call out a question that puts you in bad light.

Taking this to an extreme, suppose the interviewer had asked:

Suppose you lost you temper at work and smashed you computer losing all you work, how would you rectify the situation?

The only answer to this is to say it would never happen and you should challenge this type of question.

Unfortunately, sometimes this kind of challenge is not taken well. If they get upset that you are saying the premise is invalid, what they are telling you is that

This kind of stuff happens here all the time, and we take no action to try to fix or even own up to it being a problem.

This would be a red flag.

  • Never be afraid to challenge an interviewer or boss-to-be. If it sounds wrong, if your gut is telling you something is up, trust it. This is just a generally horrible setup for you. – PrometheanVigil Apr 3 '17 at 9:45
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It's not a completely horrible question. I can imagine it drawing out the candidate's beliefs about process improvement, prioritization, deadlines etc.

I would use it as an opportunity about how I think work should be prioritized (Asking the hypothetical boss whether they communicated that this was the most important thing to them). Also, I'd talk about my beliefs about continuous improvement (Adding this situation to my hypothetical retrospective board so we could make sure it doesn't happen again). I'd also use this as opportunity to discover what they would do about an unreachable deadline.

The thing is, these are my talking points, rather than a direct answer to the question. They're personal to me. Rather than just providing a witty answer, I've moved the conversation to the things I want to discuss. The things that advertise me, and things I want to discover about my prospective employer.

You've asked this questions because you see interviews as a series of questions you have to pass. They're not, or at least they shouldn't be. In the end, they'll hire the person who communicates that they're the best candidate, not the person with the snappiest answers. Write down the things you'd like to communicate in your next interview. Then look up some common interview question and practice "hijaking" the conversation.

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Unless the boss is asking you status of the project, there is no need to tell him and instead get started on it immediately till the deadline. If the boss did ask you on status, you should absolutely tell the truth and may be also reason for why you could not start on it.

Edit: I would like to add a clarification here since my answer seems to indicate I am trying to mislead. This is all assuming that employee has right skills to complete the project and they can still reasonably do it in one week. If there is a reason to raise flags due to any of these issues, a flag should be raised. Otherwise, my only point is instead of thinking and debating about it and wasting more time in email exchanges and possibly create panic, get on with the work. Unless you start the work you will really not know how bad is the situation and what are the possible roadblocks and if you can still finish on time or not. Communicating with your boss after you have attempted something makes lot more sense to me.

  • Thanks for the accepting the answer but I saw a comment in some other post and I agree with it that you should wait for sometime before accepting any answers. This way you can compare all other answers which are yet to be posted and select the one which works best for you. Just a suggestion. – PagMax Apr 2 '17 at 16:42
  • I suspect the company culture you're working in is different than mine, but I completely disagree with this answer. I can sort out problems I'm told about early enough, if you leave it too late to raise issues then they become actual issues, which is a lot harder in the longer run. – Ben Apr 2 '17 at 16:53
  • The OP did not mention there was a problem or an issue behind this. It is just that project was not started until now. There could be several reasons for it. For what I know one week is more than sufficient to complete the work and there is no problem at all – PagMax Apr 2 '17 at 17:50
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    How on Earth do you know that "one week is more than sufficient to complete the work"? There is no evidence at all that this is the case. – Philip Kendall Apr 2 '17 at 18:10
  • I said "for what I know". I guess my English is not good but all I meant is it could be or it could be not. I just do not know and hence I cannot assume there was or is a problem.. – PagMax Apr 2 '17 at 18:14

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