Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work

IELTS Cue Card Sample Question – Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work

One of the most dreaded parts of the IELTS Test is the IELTS Speaking Part 2. Even the brightest and most competent candidates cannot help but be concerned and frightened.

Why? Because this section of the examination requires you to speak for a longer period about a subject which you may lack sufficient understanding, there will be no questions or interruptions from the examiner. 

You also have a limited amount of time to prepare. We are here to help and advise you. Thus, on this page, we will show you some sample responses to the cue card topic ‘Describe a time when something unfortunate happened at work.’ Please continue reading to learn more.


What is the IELTS Cue Card Question?

The examiner will assign you a theme and ask you to speak for one to two minutes about it in the second segment of the IELTS speaking section.

On a card, the topic is specified, along with various subtopics that should be included in your speech. A cue card is another name for this card. A slip of paper and a pencil are also provided for taking notes.

Before speaking, you have precisely one minute to plan and take notes. The examiner will keep track of your time and notify you when it is up.

The items on the topic card will help you develop ideas for what to include, and you must attempt to talk for the whole of two minutes.

Before moving on to the next part, the examiner may ask you a question about what you have discussed.


How to Answer this Specific Question: “Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work”

Topic/Question

Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work

Guidelines to Answer this Question

You should say:

  • What happened
  • When and where it happened
  • How the people you work with reacted 

And explain how and what you were feeling during that time. 


  • Recall a time when something unfortunate happened at work. It could be an incident that happened just recently or something that happened a long time ago. Whatever it is, you decide to share. Ensure that you have enough recollection of it to share a lot later on.
  • Since you have a short time to prepare, you have to stick to the first incident that comes to your mind. Changing your mind, later on, will cost a significant amount of time. 
  • Begin wiring down your thoughts and ideas. State what happened and when and where it took place. Describe how the people you work with reacted. Lastly, explain how you feel during that time.  
  • You must effectively manage your time. Simply write keywords and phrases instead of sentences.
  • Use advanced and sophisticated vocabulary to increase your chances of scoring well on this test section. Also, use complex grammatical structures.
  • Write quickly without sacrificing your ability to understand what you have written later on. The examiner is unconcerned about what and how you write on your notes. They will assess the content and delivery of your speech.
  • Make it a point to go through your notes. It is allowed. This is done to guarantee that your speech covers all of the points you wish to make.

Sample Responses: “Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work”

Sample Response 1:

“We’ve all had a fair share of something unfortunate that happened at work. Some are minor, while others aren’t. Today, I’d like to share with you about a time when my laptop broke down a day before a very important presentation. 

What happened was that I was working late at night on a project on my laptop. It was a Thursday. I stayed late at work so I could finish the presentation. Besides, all the papers that I would be needed were in the office and I didn’t want to bring them home. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep. When I awoke after a few minutes, my laptop was lying on the floor, most likely because it fell over while I was sleeping. I picked it up right away, only to discover that the laptop’s screen had a large crack in it. I tried turning it on, but it would not turn on. I was in a horrible mood at the time, and no one was around to help me. They all had left. 

So, I called my sister, who advised me just to go home so I could use her laptop instead. I couldn’t bring the laptop to a shop as they were all closed by that time. It was so frustrating. My laptop was broken, I was exhausted, and to make matters worse, I had to start over, hours before the presentation. I was able to finish the presentation with the help of my sister but the laptop wasn’t fixable. I had to buy a new one. Because of what happened, I’m much more cautious about how I use my laptop. I guess I had to learn my lesson the hard way.”


Follow-up Question 1: 

How do you usually react to stressful situations? 

Response: 

“Well, I try to be as calm and composed as possible. I know it’s hard especially when you are stressed, but it’s what we should do. I also try to have breathing exercises for a few minutes, and trust me; it helps a lot. It’s something I’ve learned from a video I came across years ago.”


Follow-up Question 2: 

When something bad happens at work, should an employee inform their boss right away? 

Response: 

“In my opinion, yes, the best thing for the employee to do is tell his or her boss as soon as possible because if there’s one person who could fix them, it’s their superior. Also, it is only right that whenever something happens, especially if it’s something that needs urgent attention, the boss should be informed. This is done to not jeopardize the company and everyone’s position.” 




Sample Response 2: 

“Today, I’d like to share with you an incident that happened at work about a year ago. I still clearly remember this incident taught me a lot of lessons. I was then an assistant to the supervisor in one of our company’s branches in Kuala Lumpur. It happened in my second year of working there.

One of my job responsibilities was to receive calls from the supervisor and transfer them to his desk. On times that he was not around, I get the message for her and relay it to her afterward. I was doing it well for some time until one day, I received a call from my brother informing me that he met with an accident. I was so worried and concerned, but I couldn’t leave work. It was a hectic day. Anyway, that day, the supervisor had a lot of meetings to attend and one of them was an out-of-town meeting. 

On her way to the venue, she sent me a message asking if it was true that the meeting had been canceled. I froze. I forgot to inform her! I was so distracted that my brother met an accident that I wasn’t able to check everything for her that day. I told the supervisor what had happened, and she was really understanding of the situation. I was relieved. She even let me leave work early that day to visit my brother. However, I learned a lesson that day. There would be times when our personal lives would interfere with work, but we must not allow them to obstruct our ability to do our tasks.”


Follow-up Question 1: 

What traits do you want in a superior? 

Response: 

“I’d like for a superior to be compassionate, firm, and decisive. I think that those are the important traits every superior should have to be able to lead more effectively. Also, I’d like for them to be approachable and relatable so I wouldn’t be intimidated.”

Follow-up Question 2: 

How do you deal with something unfortunate happening at work? 

Response: 

“We are only humans, and no one is perfect. We all commit mistakes. That’s a fact. So, when something unfortunate happens at work, may it be because of me or other employees, I just try to remember that and as much as possible, try my best to learn from it and not make the same mistakes.” 




Vocabulary List for Answering this Question: “Describe a Time When Something Unfortunate Happened at Work”

Below are some words from the sample responses for the cue card topic Describe a time when something unfortunate happened at work.’ with their definitions and example sentences to guide you. 

WordPart of SpeechDefinitionExample Usage of
the Word in a Sentence
adviseverbTo make recommendations for someone’s best line of action“You should advise her of her plans for the future.”
cautiousadjectiveTo keep an eye out for prospective problems or threats“He was cautious to commit himself to anything.”
compassionateadjectiveShowing concern for others through a variety of ways“Her parents are compassionate human beings, always trying to help their neighbors.” 
composedadjectiveBeing in control of one’s emotions and expressions; serenity“At the funeral, the widower was calm and composed.”
decisiveadjectiveHaving or demonstrating the ability to make rapid and effective decisions“She has been a decisive figure in the peace talks.”
firmadjectiveA decision that has been made and is fixed or definite“You need to be firm with your decision or she will sway you.” 
hecticadjectiveOverflowing with unceasing or frenzied activity“They’re busy getting ready for a hectic day of activities on Monday.”
horribleadjectiveShocking; provoking or liable to induce horror“Yesterday, a horrible accident took place here.”
interfereverbTo obstruct the continuation or proper execution of a procedure or activity“If it doesn’t concern you, do not interfere.” 
intimidateverbTo frighten someone, especially to get them to do what you want“The cops had attempted to intimidate him into writing a confession.”
jeopardizeverbTo let something or someone be in a situation where they are at threat of losing, suffering, or failing“Is it possible that such legislation would jeopardize the possibilities of a treaty?”
relayverbTo receive and transmit data or a message to someone“I’ll relay your point of view to the manager.” 
unfortunateadjectiveCharacterized by or marked by bad luck“I had the unfortunate mistake of misplacing my keys.”
urgentadjectiveA state or condition that demands rapid action or attention“They have made an urgent distress call from the world community.”
venuenounThe location of an event, especially ones that are arranged, such as a musical, convention, or sporting event“I was given the task of finding an appropriate conference venue.”

Additional Reading — IELTS Speaking Cue Card Questions


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