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How to answer the job interview question “How do you prioritize your work?”

Time management is essential to success on the job. So it's no surprise when your interviewer asks you, "How do you prioritize your work?" The employer wants to know if you know the difference between urgent and important work. Good answers to time management interview questions show that you understand this difference, and have the soft skills they are looking for.

Content Team
Content Team

Workable's content team brings its HR & employment expertise to Resources.

To show the interviewer that your examples are not hypothetical, it’s best to give real-life examples. Here are some sample answers you could give to an interview question about prioritizing tasks.

Answer option 1: Tell them about your typical day

Explain to the hiring manager how you manage your daily workload. Are you a digital person or a paper-based person? Either way, demonstrate that you can succeed without supervision and be well organized. Hiring managers want to know that you put a lot of thought into your daily routine and take it seriously.

You might say this:

“I work best when I have a daily to-do list. At the beginning of each workday, I write down the tasks that need to be done and rank them from highest to lowest priority. Not only does this help my workflow, but it also ensures that I am making progress on the most important tasks of the day.”

Answer option 2: Talk about how you prioritize under pressure

At work, it’s not uncommon to start with one project and then focus on another when it calls for your attention. Sometimes it’s an emergency; sometimes, it’s a task your boss gives you. It’s not ideal but switching tasks is part of the job in most companies. It’s important to keep the larger priorities of a company in mind when working through changes. There’s no point in creating the most detailed spreadsheet or task list if you don’t align with your department’s goals.

You might say this:

“Recently, I had a situation where I had to adjust to an office crisis quickly. I had kept the morning free to work on budgets, but my colleague asked me to help with a presentation because the client’s requirements had changed on short notice. We worked on it together, and I decided to sit in on the meeting to provide additional support. I worked on the budget from home the next day, so I had no interruptions and could complete the work on time.”

Answer option 3: Talk about how you maintain a work/life balance

Setting expectations requires a delicate balance. You should set realistic goals for yourself and your employer. Telling them you’ll work 14 hours a day is not a good idea. Hiring managers want to see that you can identify what needs to be done and that you can follow through when your schedule needs to be changed.

You might say this:

“I check in with my supervisors and colleagues throughout the day and week. If I’m working on something that will take a while, I let my team know about it. If I feel like my workload is unmanageable, I talk to my boss to see what tasks can be moved down the priority list and what deadlines can be rescheduled.”

Final thoughts

When it comes to prioritizing and dealing with competing priorities, it’s best to use a systematic approach while staying calm and logical. You will satisfy the interviewer if you give an example or describe how you do this. The interviewer is interested in how you handle conflicting priorities. You may have a number of examples to choose from, but the interviewer will be most impressed if you can give an answer that relates to the job you are applying for.

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