Time management and prioritization skills are essential skills in any position. If you have a job interview coming up, it’s smart to already think about example situations in which you have managed your time efficiently, for instance, through coping with competing deadlines.
The reason for interviewers to discuss your time management and prioritization skills during an interview is because they want to get to know a couple of important things, such as how you manage your resources and if you’re flexible and can adapt to situations while still delivering quality in your work.
A commonly asked interview question about time management and prioritization is, ‘how do you manage your time?‘. As you can see, this a very general question. However, it’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate that you possess strong time management skills and that you have used these skills to your advantage in the past. It’s therefore important that you do your homework and research right to ensure that you have a great story to tell during your job interview.
In this article, we discuss how to approach time management and prioritization job interview questions. Find out everything you need to know on how you can prepare and what answers the interviewer is looking for. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
What Are Time Management & Prioritization Interview Questions?
During a job interview, the hiring manager wants to find out how you manage your time and how you make prioritization decisions. For them, employees who possess the right skills in these areas are able to:
- Meet set deadlines.
- Manage their workload effectively and efficiently.
- Use their time wisely while avoiding possible distractions.
- Adapt to changing situations and re-evaluate their set priorities.
- Control their stress levels when they are dealing with multiple tasks.
- Prioritize the most important projects first and put secondary tasks aside.
Candidates who possess these skills or those who have the growth potential to acquire them are the ones that hiring managers look for. They want to know if you are able to deal with different tasks with different deadlines. Furthermore, if you can do so without getting stressed out or forgetting what you need to do.
When an interviewer asks you about your time management and prioritization skills, they are trying to gauge how well you manage your resources. Furthermore, they want to get an idea about your flexibility in your approach to ensure that you can still produce quality work.
Examples of common time management interview questions:
- How do you organize your workload when you have multiple projects at the same time?
- Say you return from a two-week vacation and find forty new emails in your inbox. How do you prioritize which emails to open and answer first?
- Give me an example of how you prioritize your projects.
- Tell me about a time you successfully delegated tasks to your team.
- How do you prioritize your work?
Why the Interviewers Ask Time Management & Prioritization Questions
When you’re applying for a position in which time management is important, you can almost certainly expect questions such as ‘how you do you manage your time?‘ and ‘how do you prioritize your tasks?’.
The main goal of the interviewer is to assess whether or not you can make the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ in your work. It’s essential for employees to understand the difference. Therefore, a strong answer would include the need to make a distinction between these two. The ability to efficiently manage time and prioritize tasks is essential to create a productive workplace. This is also the reason why employers value these skills so much.
Questions about how you manage time are usually behavioral interview questions. Behavioral questions are strategic interview questions that require you to provide the interviewer with an example situation in which you used the specific skills he or she is asking you about – in this case, time management. A great example of such a question regarding time management is ‘How do you manage your time and prioritize your work?‘. The interviewer expects you to answer the form of a story about a situation in which you actually had to manage and prioritize your work efficiently.
The way you respond to behavioral questions tells the interviewer a lot about your time management skills and if you are able to prioritize your work efficiently. Therefore, provide the interviewer with a concise and to the point answer that demonstrates your skills. For you, this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you actually possess the required skills for the job.
STAR interview technique
The most efficient way to answer behavioral interview questions is by using the STAR interview technique. This method allows you to concisely provide the interviewer with a logically structured answer by walking them through the situation. The letters STAR are an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got from your actions. We will discuss the STAR technique in more detail further on in this article.
How Interviewers Assess Time Management and Prioritization Skills
Interviewers look for specific elements in your answers to assess your time management and prioritization skills. The main questions that they want to get answered are:
- How organized are you in your work? Do you work according to a plan?
- Are you able to deal with different tasks with different deadlines without getting stressed out or forgetting what you need to do?
- Do you possess the right decision-making skills?
There are several specific elements that interviewers look for in your answer on how you prioritize and manage your time. Candidates who possess strong time management and prioritization skills:
Use to-do lists
Organized people break down larger projects into smaller steps and use to-do lists, and reminders to make sure they stay on track. Also, they are more likely to complete their work within set deadlines. Make sure that your answers include how you structure your work and how you approach tasks to make sure you can deliver what’s needed on time.
Separate urgent from important tasks
During work, a lot of things are ‘important,’ however, only some of the tasks are urgent and time-sensitive. Interviewers specifically look for candidates who understand the difference between important and urgent and are able to make this distinction to meet deadlines. Therefore, make sure that when the interviewer brings this topic up, you have an example ready of a time you had to prioritize your tasks.
Estimate the required time, effort, and resources for each task
The ability to estimate require time, effort and resources for a project is essential. In order to properly manage time and prioritize tasks, it’s important that employees prepare themselves before they start. Your answers should include how you evaluate and prepare for a project to make sure you understand what needs to be done and what the requirements are, prior to starting your work.
Don’t hesitate to re-evaluate their tasks
To meet deadlines, employees should be able to identify any possible inefficiencies in their workload and planning. Once identified, they need to be able to figure out how to streamline and improve processes. Make sure that your answers demonstrate that you are able to re-assess your duties and that you had successfully determined what works and what doesn’t at times when this was needed.
Red Flags for Interviewers Assessing Time Management and Prioritization Skills
Just like there are specific signs that interviewers look for in candidates who are able to successfully manage their time, there are also red flags for interviewers when discussing prioritization. Candidates who do not possess strong time management and prioritization skills:
Micromanagement is the ultimate style of trying to control everything around you. Employees who try to do this and want to control every part of their tasks usually have difficulties delegating tasks. By micromanaging, there’s a large chance that they end up with more tasks to do than they can handle. Therefore, avoid at all costs that you’re viewed as a ‘micromanager‘ during a job interview.
Lack of strong communication skills
Strong communication skills are essential if you want to manage your time efficiently and prioritize your tasks. Employees who are not able to communicate requirements clearly can cause misunderstandings within teams. Furthermore, it could lead to work inefficiency, wrong priorities, and missed deadlines.
Lose sight of the bigger picture
Employees who are not able to keep a clear overview of the different tasks they’re working on could lead to them losing priorities. Furthermore, when projects are considered individual tasks instead of team efforts, this could lead to complications. Make sure that you are able to explain how you keep a helicopter view and how you set time management and priorities correctly.
Poor concentration levels or low-energy individuals, in general, are red flags for interviewers. Furthermore, candidates who come across as someone who might be easily distracted by irrelevant and trivial issues are more likely to struggle and lose sight of their targets and responsibilities. This is also a warning sign for interviewers.
Answering Time Management and Prioritization Questions
There are several steps you can take to effectively respond to interview questions about time management and work prioritization. A common question that you should be able to answer is, ‘how do you prioritize your work?’. It’s a plain but not necessarily easy question to answer; it does require some preparation.
Questions regarding time management are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate that you possess the required prioritization skills. With the right preparation, you should be able to explain how you structure your workdays and how you approach shifting priorities. Below we discuss a couple of important elements that you can include in your answers to explain how you go about time management and prioritization.
How you map out your workdays
When the interviewer asks you how you prioritize your work, it’s important that you give a specific answer about how you manage your daily workload. They want to assess whether or not they can count on you to get your work done without constantly checking up on you. There is no ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ way of managing your workload as long as you make sure you can explain that you work in a structured way.
The key to success is to be as detailed as possible in your answers. The hiring manager wants to get an insight into how you work, how you structure and organize your workday, and if you put real thought into your work routine.
An example of describing your approach to mapping out your workday:
‘Every project that I work on, I break down into smaller steps to make sure I work as efficiently as possible and stay on track. Every day I write out the tasks that I need to complete and rank them on priority. This improves my workflow and keeps me focused on the specific tasks that need to get done that day.’
How you approach shifting priorities
Everybody who has worked on a project knows that it’s not uncommon for a project to start, only to find out after a certain amount of time that gears need to be shifted to focus on something else. Regardless of the reason for this, which could be something urgent or additional tasks, it comes with the territory of most job positions. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you don’t take shifting priorities personal. In the workplace, egos and emotions could get in the way of successfully delivering a project.
To demonstrate that you can handle shifting priorities, your answers should indicate that:
You are able to maintain your focus
When you’re discussing how you deal with shifting priorities, it’s important that you show that you’re not thrown off or distracted by these events. Even though the scope of a project might change, you still need to deliver a successful product on time and within budget. In other words, there’s not much you can do about it, and you need to maintain focus in order to move forward.
You can communicate clearly
Communication is always key but especially with shifting priorities in projects. Often there are multiple people involved, and it’s important to keep everybody on the same page. Clear communication is crucial to ensure a quality product is delivered according to the adjusted requirements and expectations.
You can re-evaluate targets and track the progress closely
When priorities shift, it’s essential that you are able to re-evaluate targets and reset tracking goals, especially when you’re working on multiple projects. Think, for instance, about important details such as key dates, milestones, and any resources required to successfully finish a project. You need to be able to explain to the interviewer that you are able to keep oversight.
How you maintain a balance
Realistic solutions and maintaining a balance between your workload and personal life are essential as well. Some people think it’s impressive to brag about how much hours they can work or how much work they can put out. The interviewer knows that there are only so many hours in a day that you can spend on working. This does not mean that you should convey a 9 to 5 mentality. However, saying that you can work 20 hours a day is not realistic nor healthy.
A common interview question regarding time management is, ‘what do you do if you find out that a set timeline is not doable?‘. Something that you do not want to say is that you would take on that challenge and would just go work harder for longer hours and do whatever it takes to get the work done yourself. Not only does this show that you might not be self-aware, but it could also lead to the interviewer thinking that you’re not a team player.
Good employers are looking to ensure that employees are balanced in their work to avoid them getting stressed or burned out. This is essential for overall morale but also productivity. Focus your answer on explaining that you give your full effort at work and that you are fully present while you’re on the clock.
An example of a realistic answer to how you maintain a balance could be:
‘Clear and open communication lines between my supervisor and colleagues are essential for me during a project. For example, if I’m working on a project or task and I find out it will take me more time than anticipated and planned for, I will give my team a heads-up as soon as I can.
This way, I can work on finding and coordinating a solution when a workload gets unmanageable. This allows me to re-evaluate targets and reset expectations about current deadlines.’
Tips to Prepare Answers to Time Management Interview Questions
Just like other common and frequently asked job interview questions, interview questions about time management and prioritization require some preparation. The better your preparation, the more confident you will during your interview, which will most likely improve your performance. It’s worth investing time to think about what you want to say to the interviewer and improving your ability to say it.
Step 1: Do your homework
It’s important to thoroughly understand what your potential future employer is looking for in a candidate. This means that you need to understand the job position and the company well prior to your interview. How do you do this? The first step is researching the job description and company website.
Furthermore, if you know somebody who works for or has worked for the company, it’s smart to talk to them. Ask them questions about the company culture and what’s expected from employees who work there. In other words, do your research as thoroughly as possible.
Step 2: Come up with success stories
Once you have created a list of the competencies, skills, and abilities required for the position, you can start making an educated guess of which questions you can expect during your interview. Next, based on the questions you think you’re likely to get asked, you can start preparing smart answers.
Create a list of past work experiences that highlight situations in which you, for example, successfully managed your time and priorities. Ensure that your behavior is related to what’s required for the position. Focus on delivering concise and to-the-point answers. The most efficient way to do this for behavioral and performance-based interview questions is by using the STAR interview technique.
Step 3: Prepare successful example situations as well as challenging situations
It’s likely that the interviewer will ask you about situations in which you successfully managed time and priorities. However, it’s also likely that the interviewer wants to discuss times when you were not able to meet a deadline or a time that you failed. For instance, by asking, ‘tell me about a time you were on a team project that failed to meet a deadline.’
Even though this might sound challenging, through the right preparation, you can actually use this question as an opportunity to steer it into a positive direction. By finding strength in your failed situation, you can impress the interviewer. Being able to admit that you failed in the past is a sign of confidence and shows that you are committed to the task at hand.
Being able to discuss successful situations is just as important as being able to discuss challenging situations. Therefore, ensure that you have some examples ready for work situations in which you faced a challenge but came out on top. Explain to the interviewer what you did in that particular situation, why you did it, and what the result was. Furthermore, discuss what you learned from the situation.
Focus on demonstrating problem-solving ability, adaptability, and ability to professionally approach and handle situations that require integrity. The interviewer will likely ask follow-up questions. They do this to assess your self-awareness by asking how you might handle a similar kind of situation differently now.
Step 4: Use the STAR technique to structure your answer
Time management and prioritization questions are often performance-based or behavioral questions. As discussed earlier, these types of questions require you to give the interviewer an example of a real-life situation in which you used the skill or experience, as described in the question.
An example of such a question regarding time management is ‘tell me about a time you had to re-evaluate set targets to meet a deadline.’ As you can see, you are ‘forced’ to answer this question with an example of a time you handled a challenging project in which you had to re-evaluate targets and deadlines.
The STAR interview technique allows you to concisely provide the interviewer with an answer that’s logically structured. It’s a step by step method that logically walks the interviewer through a situation. Below we discuss the STAR method in more detail.
Step 5: Practice
Practice makes perfect. Reciting an answer from your memory will get noticed by the interviewer. Practice enough so that you make your answers seem natural.
STAR Interview Technique
Now that you know what steps you can take to prepare your answers, it’s time to discuss the STAR interview technique in more detail. By using the STAR method, you can give an answer that includes exactly what the interviewer is looking for.
Furthermore, it allows you to convey a concise answer to convince them that you’re the right candidate for the job. Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
Start your answer by explaining the situation that you faced. The start of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What was the situation?
- Who was involved?
- Why did the situation happen at that time?
It’s important to provide context around the situation or challenge. Furthermore, make sure to provide relevant details.
Next, explain your specific role in the task ahead. Include important details, such as specific responsibilities. Focus on giving the interviewer an understanding of your task. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- Why were you involved in that specific situation?
- What’s the background story?
After you describe your task, it’s time to specifically discuss the actions you took to resolve the situation. Give the interviewer a step by step description of the actions you took. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- What steps did you take to resolve the situation you were in?
- Why did you choose to complete your tasks this way?
Finish your answer by discussing the results you got from your actions. Detail the outcomes of your actions and ensure to highlight your strengths. Also, make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Focus on positive results and positive learning experiences. This part of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What exactly happened?
- What did you accomplish?
- How did you feel about the results you got?
- What did you learn from the situation?
- How did this particular situation influence who you are as a professional today
Frequently Asked Time Management & Prioritization Interview Questions
Below you can find commonly asked interview questions about time management and prioritization:
- How do you decide which tasks you do first?
- Say you got several deadlines coming up. How do you know what to do?
- Tell me about a time when you had an unexpected event that required you to adjust your priorities.
- Explain to me how you know what you are doing is a good use of your time.
- Tell me about how you balance work and your personal life.
- How do you manage deadlines?
- Tell me about a situation where you had to complete a challenging task to a tight deadline.
- Can you describe how you manage stress at work?
- Tell me how you limit distractions during your work.
- Tell me about a time when you were late to complete a task, or you missed a deadline.
Example Answers to Common Time Management & Prioritization Questions
Below we discuss a couple of common interview questions that you can expect during interviews for positions that require strong time management and prioritization skills. However, these are just examples. Make sure that you tailor your answers to your specific situations and to the job that you’re interviewing for. When applicable, the answers are already written in the STAR method.
Time Management & Prioritization Question 1: How do you prioritize your tasks on a workday?
‘When I start my workday, I look at my planning and create a to-do list for specific tasks that I need to complete on that day. I rank these tasks by level of importance to make sure I work on the most critical and urgent ones first and work my way through my list so that other tasks get done as well.
Last year I was promoted to team leader, which led to me being increasingly more involved in the interaction with clients, which required me to shift in daily priorities. After my promotion, I adapted to the new situation by starting my day by communicating with clients and responding to emails.
This change also led to me making adjustments in my daily to-do list by writing down the clients that I needed to talk to that day to make sure I’d answer their questions.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The answer directly answers the question. It demonstrates that you possess the required skills to determine which tasks are urgent and which are important.
- It shows that you can set priorities without sacrificing any other responsibilities you need to complete.
- The answer included a STAR method situation.
Time Management & Prioritization Question 2: How do you manage deadlines?
‘In my current position, deadlines are very important to keep for the company as well as for me personally. We’re active in a very competitive market and therefore want to ensure that we maintain a high level of satisfaction among our clients.
To ensure that set deadlines are met, I use specific software to track and manage all tasks and due dates of projects I’m involved in. As new projects start, I break them down into smaller and more manageable tasks and add them in the project management software.
Furthermore, I include the deadlines for each of those tasks, which helps me prioritize tasks that I can include on my daily to-do list to ensure they get completed in time.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The answer is concise and to the point. It shows that you are able to manage deadlines and how you do it.
- It demonstrates clear time management and prioritization skills.
- The answer includes specific details about how you go about managing projects. It shows that you are well-organized to deliver quality results.