For more senior level executives, a common interview question that you can expect is, “What was the last project you led, and what was its outcome?”
In this article, we'll explain why this interview question might come up.
We will also cover how you should not answer, followed by things you want to keep in mind when responding.
Finally, you'll have the opportunity to read an example answer to this challenging interview question.
Reasons behind the question
When the hiring manager asks about a previous project you completed, and how it turned out, he or she is hoping to:
- Determine what approach you may use for similar projects in the future
- Gauge your experience and aptitude for leading projects and tasks
- Understand which situations you have skill in leading
How not to answer
By understanding the above reasons behind the question, you can likely come up with a few ways that you should not answer when the interviewer asks, “What was the last project you led, and what was its outcome?”
Here are a few points to keep in mind when answering this interview question:
- Don't delve into unnecessary details.
- Every project has a thousand specific details.
- You don't need to give the recruiter a step-by-step recount of every task.
- Don't discount a lack of experience.
- Perhaps you only have a couple of good leadership experiences.
- If so, simply focus on the opportunities themselves rather than the fact that you don't have much to showcase.
- Don’t skip around.
- Make sure that you've practiced this narrative.
- Create an orderly series of events using the "5W and 1H" method (explained later in this article).
- Never blame others for aspects of the project that didn't work out.
- The question is to gauge your leadership abilities.
- For this reason, make sure you show responsibility for the entire project.
Keep it relevant to the position
Perhaps you have a project that comes to mind because it is easy to narrate and turned out very well.
It’s fine to have one main go-to project that you bring up when asked this interview question.
What you don’t want to do is tell the story in the same way for every position.
Every employer has different things they are looking for in a candidate:
- Different skills
- Varied personalities
- Unique experiences
So, make sure to take a look at the job description and figure out what aspects seem to carry the most weight.
Tailor your response accordingly.
Avoid mentioning failed projects
This probably goes without saying, but you really don't want to talk about a project that went south.
If your last project was a disaster, you can mention the one before that.
(Or the one before that.)
However, this question is asking specifically about the “last” project you led.
For this reason, don't bring up a project that you did ten years ago.
If you must mention a failed project
If you absolutely cannot come up with any recent examples of a successful project, you can resort to mentioning one that didn't work out.
However, if you must do this, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
- Explain the practical reasons why it failed
- Make sure your reasons don't come across as a copout
- Mention specific things you learned from the failure
- End on a positive note
(Check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers for more interview magic!)
Establish the "5 Ws & 1 H" format
Everybody calls this the “5 Ws” format but I refuse to discriminate against “H.”
To understand this format, think about the basic English class you took in high school.
Remember learning about the basic newspaper article format?
It also uses the "5 Ws & 1 H" method.
Basically, you'll want to include who, what, where, when, why, and how:
- Who was involved in this project other than yourself?
- What was your action or what was the desired outcome?
- Where did the project take place?
- When did the project occur?
- Why did the project succeed/fail?
- How did you or your team achieve the desired outcome?
Focus on the "how"
Great! You are 80% of the way there.
By now, you should be looking forward to being asked this question.
When your prospective employer asks you, "What is the last project you led, and what was its outcome?" remember this:
The most important part of your answer is going to be the “how.”
(This is why I refuse to discriminate against the "H" - it's very important.)
This is your opportunity to display all of the qualities from the job description that your interviewer is looking for.
How did you achieve your desired outcome?
- Through judicious leadership
- With effective teamwork
- By using determination
That’s easy for me to say, but it won’t be so easy for you.
You will probably need to dig a little deeper and give more information than just sprinkling a few adjectives throughout your story.
- Try to quantify your achievements
- Use numbers and percentages whenever possible
This provides supporting evidence for your success
It also helps the interviewer understand the situation more thoroughly.
Sample answer to this interview question
As promised in the beginning of this article, here is an example of how you might respond to this interview question:
Hiring manager: "What is the last project you led, and what was its outcome?"
Applicant: My last project involved a mission to reduce our employee turnover rate at XYZ Health Industries. I designed a unique hiring process, which began to show positive results by the next quarter.
Simultaneously, my team crunched the numbers and reworked the employee compensation plans.
I also led a team of experienced trainers and coaches as we established a learning and development program.
Together, these steps reduced the employee turnover rate from 32% to 14%, cutting it into less than half.
The development program was even rated #1 by Training magazine last year.
Remember that you don't get bogged down in unneeded details.
This way, the successful project remains the focal point of your story.
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