“How do you prioritize your work?” is an interview question that you need to be prepared for. It directly connects to your abilities as an employee, so interviewers will be paying close attention to your answer.
Let’s take a look at how to answer this question in a way that improves your chance of getting hired.
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The Reason Interviewers Ask This Question
No matter what type of job you’re trying to land, “How do you prioritize your work?” is bound to come up during your interview.
Ultimately, this interview question is about digging into your time management skills and your ability to focus on what’s important. Interviewers want to learn more about your approach to work, what you do to stay on track, and how you manage deadlines.
Many jobs come with conflicting priorities. You may have multiple assignments with strict deadlines vying for your time and energy. How do you prioritize those tasks and ensure you complete all your work efficiently? That’s what interviewers are trying to find out when they ask how you prioritize your work.
Dealing with multiple priorities can be overwhelming, and success hinges on your ability to manage them calmly. It’s easy to get bogged down. But the moment stress takes over, your work suffers, and you might miss critical deadlines that impact the company moving forward.
Use your answer to provide peace of mind to interviewers and hiring managers. It’s a chance to put your time management skills on full display. Your goal when answering should be to highlight your ability to juggle multiple tasks while showing how you strategically prioritize your work to see success.
How to Answer “How Do You Prioritize Your Work?”
How you answer this question will have a significant impact on your chance of making it to the next round of interviews. Prioritizing your work effectively is a critical skill in any job, and having a solid answer that impresses hiring managers could put you at the top of the list.
Use these tips to develop a fantastic response that leaves a lasting impression.
1. Find Examples That Relate to the Job You Want
One of the first things you should consider is how your methods for prioritizing your work relate to the job you want. These skills are necessary for any job, but finding relevant examples that relate to this position makes it easier for interviewers to connect the dots and visualize you in the workplace.
For example, suppose you’re trying to land a job as a team lead. In that case, it’s best to consider your past experiences and discuss examples showing how you handle responsibilities while leading the collective to success. Talking about a random job with zero relevance to the position you’re interviewing for doesn’t provide the best context.
Take a look at the job description and find examples that fit. This tip goes a long way. Not only does it make it easier for interviewers to understand how you would perform in this job, but it also demonstrates that you fit the requirements and fully understand the expectations of this role.
2. Share How You Structure Your Time During the Workday
Interviewers and hiring managers love to see highly-organized candidates. Going into every workday blind isn’t the best approach, and a great way to show that you’re good at prioritizing your work is to talk about how you map out your day. Everyone has their unique methods.
Some people like to create to-do lists and rank priorities accordingly. Others create spreadsheets or take full advantage of robust calendar applications. Whatever the case might be, talk about it!
Don’t be afraid to be thorough with your answer. You don’t want to sound like you’re making things up on the spot or trying to say what the interviewer wants to hear. Use a real example and be as detail-oriented as possible to show how you allot time to specific tasks and what you do to ensure that you complete everything without finding yourself pressed for time.
3. Explain How You Take Deadlines Into Account
When answering “How do you prioritize your work?” it’s only natural to mention your approach to handling deadlines. Depending on the job, you might be working on multiple projects with conflicting deadlines. What do you do to stay on top of them, and how do you create a schedule that allows you to get everything done?
This vital detail separates organized and effective employees from those who struggle with time management.
Talk about how you plan your work while taking those deadlines into account. Maybe you prioritize tasks based on urgency, focusing on the ones that are due sooner. That ensures you make every deadline without delays.
You can also discuss how you use deadlines to allot time to assignments. For example, you can go into detail about how you assess the complexity of a task and come up with an appropriate time frame to fit into your schedule.
4. Show That You Can Reprioritize and Be Flexible
It doesn’t matter how well-organized your workday schedule is or how many complex spreadsheets you make. If you can’t adjust and reprioritize, hiring managers will be less inclined to give you a chance.
Things change all the time in fast-paced workplaces. Priorities change, management gives new mandates, and company goals move. How do you respond to those changes?
When you answer this question, you must show that you can remain flexible. It’s alright to have a strict methodology to stay on track, but you should always talk about how you give yourself wiggle room to adjust and reprioritize when needed.
There are many ways to do this. One option is to talk about how you don’t over-stuff your schedule or always give yourself ample time to complete tasks to ensure that you can respond to changes as they come. Provide examples of how you’ve had to reprioritize your work in the past and what you did to ensure you could focus on new tasks without letting the others fall by the wayside.
5. Practice Your Answer
Our last tip is to rehearse your answer. Responding to this interview question should feel second nature.
Being able to prioritize your work is something that becomes ingrained in who you are as an employee. Having a well-practiced response at the ready shows that you’re confident in your methods and rely on them regularly to succeed at your job.
You don’t have to have a scripted response that you recite verbatim. However, you should develop a firm answer, hit all the relevant key points you want to discuss, and know how to speak confidently.
Mistakes to Avoid When Answering
There are many ways to make a positive impression with this question. But with the following mistakes, your response can have the opposite effect you want.
Here are a few things to avoid when answering, “How do you prioritize your work?”
Don’t Come Off as Self-Important
One of the worst mistakes you can make is sounding like you only care about yourself or your needs. Hiring managers don’t want to hire someone constantly complaining, so avoid talking negatively about the times your higher-ups piled on the work. Those moments are frustrating, but you need to focus on how you overcame those challenges and prioritized your work effectively.
Talking about setting hard lines in your work schedule is also not ideal when answering this question. Everyone has those lines, but you shouldn’t mention how you always take a complete hour break at lunch or leave at 5:00 on the dot. You can have boundaries, but it’s best to not focus on those at this point in the hiring process.
And don’t brag about always being able to solve prioritization problems by yourself. It’s unlikely that you alone can fix a change in deadlines without enlisting the help of management or clients. Sometimes you’ll need permission to make compromises on deadlines or shift your workload. And other times you’ll need to delegate work.
Steer Clear of Spontaneity
Some people make the mistake of highlighting their ability to fly by the seat of their pants at work. Despite how great that sounds, it’s not going to excite hiring managers. Spontaneity can be nice, but typically not when it comes to managing your time in the workplace. Companies want to hire employees who can predictably deliver results and help them move things forward.
Avoid Talking About Moments You Felt Overwhelmed
We’ve all been in situations where we’ve felt overwhelmed and stressed by heavy workloads. However, you shouldn’t talk about them when answering this interview question!
“How do you prioritize your work?” is best answered by sharing situations where you successfully managed a packed workload and got everything done. Talk about your wins and leave those more negative experiences out of the conversation.
This interview question might seem easy to lie in, but fibbing or trying to make things up on the spot isn’t a good look. If you get the job, employers expect you to do what you discussed in your interview. If you suddenly operate differently and are less organized, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Be honest and refer back to real-world work experiences.
Don’t Lean Too Heavily on Work-Life Balance
Finally, avoid going too deep into personal stories about work-life balance. It’s always important to find the right balance, but hiring managers aren’t interested in hearing about the personal side of the equation when they ask you this question.
They strictly want to know how you plan and prioritize your work, so leave out the parts of your schedule that involve your family or time off.
There are many ways to deliver a fantastic response. While yours will differ based on your experience, we have a few examples to inspire you.
Our first example is universally appealing and can easily translate to most jobs. The candidate discusses their methods for prioritizing their work while keeping things on track with deadlines in mind. It’s a good answer because it addresses all the potential worries a hiring manager might have, assuring them that they are a candidate worth considering.
“I always start my day creating and reviewing a couple of to-do lists. I have one list for long-term goals and one for daily work. The long-term list helps me keep track of project deadlines and prioritize my work based on urgency.
From there, I create daily task lists to set objectives and ensure I do enough to complete every assignment. I keep those lists visible at my workstation and constantly review them throughout the day. Communication is also a big part of how I prioritize work.
I check in with my team and managers frequently as I check off items on my daily lists, ensuring that I focus on assignments with the highest urgency. If things change, I’m always ready to adapt. When creating daily schedules, I provide enough time to complete tasks without rushing.
In most cases, I overshoot a bit with allotments. That extra time makes a big difference when I must shift priorities. It helps me get things done earlier and ensures that I can easily adjust when necessary.”
In our second example answer, the candidate is interviewing for a position that requires regular communication with clients. They have a history of delivering finished software to clients, and they use this question as an opportunity to show off how they understand expectations, prioritize work, and deliver on schedule.
“My day always starts with an in-depth review of development tasks assigned to me. I often speak with my team lead to better understand the project at large and what’s needed from me. In development, some projects take longer than others. It’s all about complexity and the needs of the client.
As a result, I always speak with the client directly. That communication helps set expectations on deliverables and helps me prioritize the most urgent tasks. Talking to clients allows me to set deadlines for myself, break up projects into manageable phases, and put everything together before final product delivery.
I also make sure to give myself plenty of time to complete individual tasks. Development needs can change quickly, and that extra time ensures I’m ready to adapt.
After understanding my deadlines, I create a document for my team lead detailing my plan of attack. That document includes what tasks I’m working on for the week, when I expect them to get done, and how I plan to complete the project. I’ve found that the transparency with my team lead helps keep lines of communication open and makes it easier for them to notify me of changes I might need to make to my schedule.”
Our final example comes from a team leader with experience prioritizing work for a group of colleagues. They’re responsible for keeping projects running smoothly. This response details how they manage their team and respond to changes that require a shift in prioritized work.
“Before I speak with my team, I look at the project and create a list of key action items. Those are the most urgent tasks we must complete before the project can move any further. I order each action item by urgency, taking deadlines and company goals in mind.
As a leader, my biggest challenge is ensuring that every task gets completed quickly and efficiently. To do that, I delegate based on strengths. Communication makes a big difference, and I make sure to set expectations accordingly to keep my team on track.
Should changes arise, I reevaluate the action plan and reassign duties accordingly. I always remove less-urgent duties from team members to ensure they can focus their attention on the most pressing tasks first.”
Having a good answer to “How do you prioritize your work?” will significantly improve your chance of getting a job offer. And if you follow our steps when developing your answer, you’ll be eager to get asked this question.
All it takes is some thought and a little bit of practice!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.