When an interviewer asks you to describe how you'd handle a situation where you were required to finish multiple tasks by the end of the day, you can safely bet that handling multiple projects at the same time is going to be part and parcel of your (potential) new job. The interviewer wants to hear your strategy—your ideas—on how to handle bringing different tasks (likely, one with different levels of complexity and priority) across the same end-of-day finish line.
How do you organize tasks? What would you focus on first? It's important you back up your answers to interview questions like these with some evidence. Anyone can say. "Yes, I am great at managing multiple projects," but that statement has to be backed up with examples. If you don't have examples to walk an interviewer through, you stand a good chance of flunking the interview.
If you're an experienced candidate, you should be able to think of numerous multi-tasking examples from recent jobs, or examples from your current one. If you're straight of school and interviewing for an entry-level position, you might want to draw on examples from any internships you've held, or from the classes/assignments/major projects you juggled all at once during a particular semester.
The bottom line is this: you must prepare an example of how you've worked to deadlines and managed multiple tasks efficiently and successfully.
Points to Emphasize
Walk the interviewer through your task prioritization thought process. Do you take care of easy, less time-consuming tasks early in the day, or later on, once you've plowed through tougher, more time-consuming tasks? What's your rationale with either route? Do you ask your superiors questions regarding the level of importance of each task, or which ones should be worked on first? Do you ask about completion dependencies (i.e., are there any team members who need to do work on the task after things wrap on your end)? Do you ask if any of the tasks can be pushed to the next day if they're not critically important, so that you can put more time and effort into the super-critically important ones? These are the things you need to be thinking through as you formulate an answer in advance to the question.
You might hear a variation on this question if the position you're interviewing for involves team management. How would you delegate deadline-driven tasks to your team? Who would get what? How would you decide who'd get what?
Demonstrate your strategic thinking abilities when answering this question, and explain your planning and organizing techniques. Maybe you keep a daily to-do list on your desk, one that you add to with a pen or pencil. Maybe you use an online tool that helps you manage all of your tasks. Whatever your system is for keeping work on track, be prepared to talk about it to the interviewer.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
The interviewer is not expecting you to be a superhero. Don't be thrown by the question, and make sure your answer is appropriate and honest by avoiding the following mistakes:
Don't display negative feelings towards multi-tasking or having a heavy workload. For example, don't say you dread it, and don't subtly roll your eyes at the asking of the question. If you're the type of person who fires on all cylinders when presented with the seemingly insurmountable task of getting a lot of different tasks done by 5 pm, note that!
Steer clear of general, short answers, such as, "I'd find a way to get it all done," or "I'd cross that bridge when I get to it."
Saying that you'd keep working until you completed everything, no matter how late the hour, is not a good answer. It says nothing about your ability to think on your feet, and nothing about your ability to analyze a time-sensitive situation, and then strategize towards a solution.
Here are a few examples of how to answer this question.
"Even if my tasks seemed unachievable, I would buckle down and figure out the best approach to completing the tasks. I would start by organizing the tasks from most important to least, and then I would begin working on the most important task. If there were any tasks I could delegate to other capable individuals, I would not be afraid to ask for assistance."
"I would maintain a positive outlook and utilize my organizational skills to develop a plan of action. I understand the importance of adhering to deadlines, so if I saw that I absolutely could not accomplish a particular task on time, I would ask for an extension."
Be sure to provide a clear, thoughtful plan, and show a commitment to completing your work, which you would apply in the position.
"I typically aim to tackle the more difficult parts of a project early on in a day—if you wait until the end of a day to tackle the tough parts, you stand the chance of running out of time. I also like to break down larger, heftier parts of a project into bite-sized chunks—doing so allows me to keep cool and not get overwhelmed while working up against the deadline. Once I complete all work, I update my boss on the status of the project."
Multiple tasks due on the same day can be tough to manage, so it's important to show that you know how to formulate a plan should the situation arise. So again, you should aim to provide a specific, tangible example from your career to demonstrate how you prioritize under the pressure of multiple tasks with the same end-of-day deadline.
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