Juggling multiple responsibilities is a necessary part of most jobs, so you can count on being asked about how you prioritize your work in a job interview.
While approaches may vary from one worker to another, if you want to convince your interviewer that you’re able to manage your time effectively, you’ll need to be able to articulate how you set priorities. Follow these steps to come up with the perfect answer to an interview question about managing your workload.
Variations of this interview question
- How do you decide what to work on when you have multiple projects at the same time?
- How do you juggle several different clients?
Why do interviewers ask about prioritization?
In asking about prioritization, an interviewer wants to learn how you manage your time. They’re looking for insights into your level of organization and what methods you have for making sure your work gets done correctly and on time.
They’re also asking to get a feel for your work style–whether you tend to be more rigid or more flexible with your time and how you prefer to structure your day. These factors might play a role in how well you’ll fit in on the team.
What hiring managers want to hear
As an employee, you’re likely to be assigned many different tasks, sometimes by different people. It’s crucial that you’re able to distinguish the urgent ones from those that are more routine and prioritize them accordingly. This question helps interviewers ascertain whether you have this skill.
Interviewers are looking for you to walk them through your process for deciding which tasks to work on and how you respond if priorities shift unexpectedly. Before they hire you, they’ll want to make sure you can manage your workload without someone looking over your shoulder.
Finally, an interviewer wants to understand how you manage stress and deal with distractions–two things that are inevitable when allocating your time among several different projects.
How to answer, “How do you prioritize your work”
Explain your process
Take your interviewer through the steps you follow when deciding how you’ll prioritize your various assignments. This might include weighing projects against one another, asking for input from your manager, making checklists, and putting dates on a calendar. Explain what goes into your decision when figuring out the importance level of different tasks.
Describe organizational tools
If there’s anything you use to help you manage your work, this is a great place to mention it. This might include anything from project management software to a good old-fashioned day planner. This is also a good chance to ask your interviewer about the team’s preferred apps for project management since you might already have experience with some of them.
Mention tasks related to the job
To help your interviewer envision you in the role, describe tasks that are similar to the ones you’d be performing if you got the job. For example, if you were interviewing for an office admin role, you might talk about balancing urgent tasks like coordinating last-minute meetings with routine tasks like ordering office supplies.
How not to answer
Lacking a definitive system
Avoid saying you just “go with your gut” or wing it when prioritizing your work. Your interviewer needs to feel confident that you’re a reliable worker, so it’s best to show that there’s a structure to the way you make decisions about what to work on.
Sample answers to “How do you prioritize your work?”
“When I’m dealing with design projects for multiple clients, I begin by putting all of the major deadlines on my calendar. This helps me see which projects need to move faster and which have a little more leeway. Then, based on the order of deadlines, I create checklists that help me work toward key milestones like getting client approvals and sending files to the printer.”
“Organization is one of my biggest strengths, so this is an area where I thrive. My Google Calendar is organized with a color coding system for the urgency level of different tasks–red for routine tasks that can be done any time, yellow for things I need to get to in the next couple days and green for tasks that must be finished today. Having a visual system ensures nothing falls through the cracks because if it’s green, I can’t overlook it.”
Having a well-defined approach to prioritization is more important than the specifics of the approach itself. As long as you can demonstrate that you have a practical, organized method for managing your work, your interviewer will feel satisfied with your answer, and you’ll be one step closer to landing the job.