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Tell me about a time you surpassed people’s expectations

by Techager Team
Tell me about a time you surpassed people's expectations


Employers want to know they are hiring high-quality people. If you have a story about surpassing an expectation, you’ve probably gone above and beyond the call of duty, and that’s great!

Sample answer 1

By Joey Zumaya, Hiring Manager

As a young professional, I was given a small event to manage for my company’s senior executives.

We originally expected about 50 attendees, but then the CEO decided to participate too. Suddenly, the event became much bigger, with 400 people attending. We had to organize buses, food, scripted content, speeches, and the program itself.

I stepped up and designed carefully crafted messaging documents for each stakeholder, had weekly check-ins with each group, and ran volunteer training sessions to be sure that all the logistics ran smoothly.

I learned the importance of careful planning and constant practice, two habits that have paid off on many projects since then. As a result, the event is now considered the most successful of our division. My boss praised my work for going far beyond what she expected when the project was first assigned.

Why this answer worked well:

· She painted a picture of how she approached a new problem.

· She explained how she adjusted throughout to meet challenges as they arose.

· She described the successful outcome and its implications for her job.

Sample answer 2

By Business Development Manager Professional

In my role as Business Analyst, I was responsible for analyzing and implementing strategies for key products. Unfortunately, due to a combination of organizational restructuring and employee attrition, my team of four shrunk down to a team of two: my new leader and me.

At this stage, I combined some key skill sets. I used my technical expertise to create and automate new models that would capture potential opportunities and my ability to communicate complicated results in simple language to support our sales team’s efforts.

The automation led to greater efficiency, and my communication and relationship-building skills helped the sales team create client-specific on-boarding strategies. This enabled us to continue to keep the business going with minimal impact.

I was recognized by senior leadership for being able to pivot quickly in unpredictable circumstances and make the most of a difficult situation.

Why this answer worked well:

· The candidate used both soft and technical skill sets to maintain output with a reduced headcount.

· The answer demonstrated a growth mind-set by showing adaptability, innovation, and the willingness to rethink how their role can be done.

Sample answer 3

By Digital Analytics Manager Professional

I had only been in my new role at a leading professional services firm for a few months when I got the call: “Can you make it to Atlanta tomorrow morning for a pitch meeting with a leading telecom company? We need all hands on deck!”

It turned out that the senior management closest to this client couldn’t make the meeting, so I led an 8-figure pitch. I leaned on my public speaking and presentation skills to carry the meeting and make a strong impression. I painted a picture of how we were uniquely qualified as the best partner for this piece of business and peppered in some humility to make the firm look more “human.”

On our way back to the airport, a senior leader from our firm who had come along for optics told me that people at my level were not nearly this polished and that he would welcome me to future pitches to all of his clients. It felt great to have exceeded the expectations of this very senior leader, and this incident set me on a path to success at the firm.

Why this answer worked well:

· The candidate demonstrated the ability to quickly and reliably take ownership when needed.

· The answer highlighted strong presentation skills, a positive attitude, and a willingness to be flexible.

Sample answer 4

By Marketing & Category Insights Manager Professional

I had been in my new role within the organization for just one week. My predecessor had left the relationship with our customer in a questionable place, and as a result, they informed us that they’d be working with our top competitor instead. We’d found the work to be very impactful and needed the plan to win the customer back.

I worked with my team to identify the customer’s pain points. Then we began re-engagement efforts. In the beginning, the engagements were only by email, but soon I began getting phone calls from senior leaders asking if we could help them to solve these problems.

After seven months, the customer asked if we still had the headcount to support them. In addition, we came to discover that many of the presentations we’d shared had circulated through other parts of their organization.

A few months later, the customer’s senior leadership asked me to expand my team so that we could increase our scope and do more of this work in other categories where we sold products. So we did, and our sales have continued to grow in double digits for the last two years. Needless to say, the relationship with the customer is stronger than ever.

Why this answer worked well:

· The answer details how the candidate walked into a challenging situation, created a plan and increased business as a result.

· The solution utilized a blend of customer relations, project management, and communication skills, which helped establish the candidate’s breadth of knowledge and professional competence.

Answer framework

Respond to this kind of question with a compelling story that uses the “SAR” framework: situation, action, and results.

Describe the situation

Talk about the initial events that occurred. What were the problems that you were experiencing? What needed to be solved, and what resources did you have–or not have? This is a really key part of the story, so it should be about three to four sentences long.

Get into the action

Speak about the key milestones that you went through. Then, tell them what you did to turn the situation around. Don’t go into too much detail, though. It should only be about two to three sentences, and try to use active verbs, things like “I implemented” or “I persuaded.”

Show the results

Let them know how well things turned out, how the problems were solved and what you may have learned along the way. Try to include a clincher at the end, like dollars saved or improved profitability. It drives home that you did a great thing.


  • Describe a situation where you thought you weren’t going to be successful.
  • Talk about what you did to compensate for a bad situation.
  • Talk about the outcomes of your successful efforts

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