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How Do You Manage Deadlines?

From a journalist filing a news report to a restaurant server getting the customer’s food on the table while it’s still hot, almost every job has deadlines of some kind. Being able to manage those deadlines is key to being effective at your job, so it’s a topic you’re likely to be asked about in the interview. 

We’ll explain what the hiring manager is really asking when they bring up deadlines and how to answer a question on this subject successfully. 

Why do interviewers ask you about managing deadlines?

This is a question about time management, one of the most important soft skills in any field. An interviewer is probing to see whether you can take charge of your own time to get the required work done, or if you might struggle with this. 

Deadlines are just one concrete way time management plays out in the workplace, so interviewers ask about it to get a realistic feel for how you manage your time and delegate tasks. 

You can use the same strategies we’ll discuss here to answer other questions about time management, including: 

  • How do you prioritize tasks?
  • How do you juggle multiple important projects?
  • How do you manage your time?

What interviewers are looking for when they as about managing deadlines

An interviewer will be paying attention to see how you respond to the mention of deadlines. Do they seem to stress you out, or do you have a calm, measured attitude toward them? 

Since deadlines are a routine part of most jobs, an interviewer wants to feel confident that you’ll be comfortable meeting them and potentially handling multiple deadlines simultaneously.  

Next, they want to understand your methodology for dealing with deadlines. There’s no one “right” answer here. The important part is that you have a strategy for keeping up with tasks and due dates, and don’t just fly by the seat of your pants. 

How to answer the interview question ‘How do you manage deadlines?’

Express confidence in dealing with deadlines

Use your words, tone of voice, and body language to communicate that you’re comfortable handling deadlines. You want to reassure your interviewer that managing important due dates won’t be a problem for you and that you regularly do it successfully.

Describe your methodology

Think about how you actually handle deadlines in your work (or, if this is something you need to work on, think about how you should handle them). Break your approach down into steps and describe them to your interviewer, explaining how each step contributes to completing your work on time. 

Some tasks you can mention include:

  • Assigning priority to different projects
  • Making a list of tasks
  • Updating your calendar
  • Using time-tracking tools and project management apps
  • Keeping in regular communication with your boss/coworkers/clients
  • Checking tasks off as you complete them

Give an example

The best way to show an interviewer that you’re adept at managing deadlines is to describe when you dealt with them successfully. Bonus points if it required juggling several different deadlines at once or turning things around on a tight timeline. 

How not to answer

Convey negative feelings or uncertainty

While it’s obvious you shouldn’t say something like “Deadlines? I hate them!” you also want to be sure not to hesitate in your answer. You should easily be able to describe what you do when faced with a deadline versus mumbling through a lukewarm response about how they’re important, and you always meet them.

Sample answers to ‘How do you manage deadlines?’

Example #1

“In my previous job as an executive assistant, one of my main duties was to help my executive prioritize many important dates. She routinely sent me a list of tasks, and it was my job to ensure her schedule lined up for them to finish on time. First, I would highlight tasks with a hard deadline, like submitting a proposal or sending a birthday gift.

Those tasks would take top priority in her calendar. Then I would fill in the tasks that were important, but less rigid, like meeting with prospective donors. Finally, as her schedule allowed, I would keep a running list of ‘evergreen’ tasks like community outreach that could be done at any time. This system worked very well, and I can’t think of a time where we missed a key date.”

Example #2

“Deadlines are a routine part of my current job as a production manager. I spend the bulk of my day making sure we’re doing what needs to be done to get projects out on time, so I’m very comfortable with it. There are two tools I can’t live without for managing deadlines: Asana and my Google Calendar. At the start of any project, I time out the deliverables using these two tools, and after that, it’s easy to stay on track and adjust my team’s priorities as needed.”

Be prepared for follow-up questions like what you’d do if you were going to miss a deadline or your favorite software for managing your time. You can also come up with a few deadline-related questions of your own to emphasize your interest, like ‘Could you tell me more about how your team currently manages projects?’ and ‘Which types of work are the highest priority for this role?’