Describe a Time When Your Workload Was Heavy

A busy office worker on phone with stacks of paperwork

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During a job interview, you will likely be asked questions about how you managed your work responsibilities on your previous jobs. A typical question is, "Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it."

This question can come up in interviews for jobs at all levels, from entry-level to executive. Many jobs have times when the work piles up, and your answer will help the interviewer determine if you are a good match for the position.

Sample Answers to Heavy Workload Interview Questions

  • While at the HKL plant, we were faced with a sudden order increase for the j-ball bearing from a new customer. I immediately sat down with the production supervisor, our materials/supply manager, and the union steward. We were able to lay out a workable plan that minimized hourly costs, guaranteed materials were available, and, with only a slight adjustment, met the production deadline. While it was challenging and involved long hours, the payoff was a signed contract with a new customer.
  • When I was working on a software implementation team at ABC Company, we took over another company and had to transition many clients to a new product in a short amount of time. It took a lot of planning, time, hard work, and effort, but we were able to complete the project in a timely manner.
  • When Judy was on maternity leave, I took over servicing her clients as well as my own. It was a good challenge to ensure they got the same amount of attention from our company as when both of us were on the job. At times when we had increased demands, I brought in George from accounting to assist in calls and tasks to ensure everyone got good service.

What to Include in Your Answer

Your interviewer is looking for employees who can react effectively to an increase in workload, without drama or a haphazard handling of the situation. There’s no need to point fingers at coworkers or bosses, or even yourself.

The cause of the heavy workload should be stated in such a way that you aren't blaming somebody else for a delay or incompetence. If it was due to a co-worker being absent for illness or leave, this is acceptable to mention. Of course, if the heavy workload was due to some positive achievement on you or the team’s part, be sure to include that information.

Explaining how you thought out a plan of action and worked together with others to ensure all contingencies were addressed is a good way to answer this question. Your potential employer will want to know how much of the plan was your idea.

If you or your team received a commendation or award for meeting the workload, you should definitely include that in your answer. It may feel like bragging, but it’s important to note your achievements.

What Not to Include in Your Answer

Don't play the blame game in your answer. If the workload was heavy due to mismanagement, procrastination, or another type of failure, pass by the cause or only discuss it if asked further. Starting off your response by blaming someone else for the situation is a red flag to a hiring manager that you may not be a strong and positive team player.

If you were the cause of the problem that led to the work backing up, it's best not to discuss that element unless asked about it directly. "I overslept so I had to do eight hours of work in four hours, at least once a week," is certainly not an answer you want to provide.

Avoid too much drama in your answer. You don’t want it to appear like you were in any way phased or stressed out by the challenge of an unanticipated workload. Rather than elaborating upon how difficult the situation was, simply provide a straightforward account of how you helped to efficiently and effectively resolve it.

More Job Interview Questions and Answers

The best way to feel confident before heading into an interview is to sit down and practice how you would answer the most common interview questions and answers. Doing so will help to ensure that you aren’t blindsided by a question posed by a member of the hiring committee. If possible, have a friend or family member pose as the interviewer so you can practice answering the questions out loud.

It’s also wise to prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask during your interview about the employer or the specific position to which you are applying. Hiring committees almost always ask the question, “Do you have any questions for us?” at the end of an interview.

The interviewer will expect you to ask a few in order to demonstrate your interest in their company and your enthusiasm for the job they’re offering. If you’re not good at thinking of questions to ask on the fly, take some time to think of your questions now.