What do you do at work all day? This is a common question asked at job interviews. Describing your typical work week is your chance to show that your experience matches the job requirements and that you have the personal qualities the company looks for in its employees.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers typically ask this question to see if a candidate is used to working the sort of schedule they require of their personnel. Perhaps the job they offer is strictly “nine to five.” However, if their operations are dependent upon filling changeable shifts or assigning overtime or weekend tasks, they may be seeking candidates with the flexibility to accommodate these needs.
Research a target company ahead of time to determine the typical work week of their employees.
How to Prepare for the Question
Consider the position you are applying for and how your current or past positions relate to it. Make a list of some of the key tasks you do in a typical work week. Review your list and check off the tasks that match the requirements of the position you're seeking. Focus on those tasks when answering this question.
Take a close look at the job description, and make a list of two or three of the qualities the employer seems to be looking for in an applicant. The company may stress organizational skills or someone who gets along well with others. Make sure that your answer to this question emphasizes how you demonstrate those key qualities regularly at your current job.
The more you can connect your past experience with the job opening, the better you will be at answering the question.
Tips for Answering
You don't want to recite your workday hour by hour. Focus on a few main tasks, and describe briefly how you go about them.
If the new job requires someone who is extremely organized, emphasize tasks that demonstrate just how you stay organized.
Make your answers as specific as possible by providing real-life examples. For instance, if you say that you work with the sales team to address pressing customer service issues, cite an issue that came up and how you addressed it.
If you have a job where every day is very similar, provide a more detailed look at one day, and explain that most days follow a similar pattern.
Examples of the Best Answers
These samples can give you an idea of the kind of information you need to convey to a job interviewer.
During a typical work week, one of my biggest tasks is checking in on my staff and assessing progress on various projects. I like to meet first thing on Mondays to discuss our priorities for the week, then meet again in the middle of the week to check progress, and once at the end of the week to discuss goal setting for the next week. I meet with smaller groups of my staff in the middle of the week to troubleshoot any issues. For example, during a recent mid-week meeting, I noticed one team was a few days behind on a long-term project. I met with the team and, together, we came up with a strategy for increasing efficiency. I also attend a weekly meeting where I present my department’s progress to the executive board. On Fridays, I make sure all tasks are completed and I've sent all the necessary communications via email and in person. Finally, I create a list of priorities for next week.
Why It Works: This response is effective because the candidate makes it clear, using details and an example, that he is a highly organized, proactive problem-solver.
As an in-school social worker, my schedule varies widely every day. I spend most of my time in session with my clients. Typically these are one-on-one counseling sessions, but I also run group sessions. I also spend a few hours of each day training, observing, and providing feedback for my social work interns. So about half of my time is spent working directly with clients, and a quarter of my time is spent working with my interns. Much of the rest of the time is spent working directly with the school administration, attending and helping run meetings related to student progress and curriculum development. I also have to complete paperwork on my clients, meet with teachers to check in on particular students’ needs, and set goals for the following week.
Why It Works: Here the candidate uses her description of a typical week to illustrate her solid experience in dealing with the sometimes-challenging tasks of a school social worker. It’s clear that she is able to multitask and switch gears quickly as required.
Most days I get into the office early to make sure everything is ready for our first patients. That includes walking the doctor through his schedule and looking through the office scheduling system to check for any changes. I do a similar task at the end of the day, responding to any messages in our scheduling system and walking the doctor through the plan for the next day. My duties include assisting patients, both in person and on the phone. I schedule their appointments and help address any issues. Many of our patients call with concerns that I can deal with immediately. The pattern is similar most days of the week, though I also lead a weekly staff training seminar on a variety of topics, ranging from effective communication with patients to new health protocols. I volunteered for that responsibility as a way to improve my leadership and presentation skills.
Why It Works: This candidate’s response does far more than simply answer the question. In addition to outlining his tasks, he “adds value” to the presentation by mentioning his willingness to arrive early to work and to volunteer for extra responsibilities.
What Not to Say
It should be obvious that it's not a good idea to talk about non-work related activities that you do on company time, but applicants have been known to chat about how they are often late to work or they like to take long lunch breaks to work out at the gym. It’s not the best strategy if one wants to land a second interview or the job.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What can you contribute to this company? - Best Answers
- Why are you the best person for this job? - Best Answers
- Tell me about something that’s not on your resume. - Best Answers
DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Try to learn about what the “typical work week” is for someone with your job title at the company you’re interviewing with. Your answer should, ideally, demonstrate your experience with a similar schedule.
PITCH YOUR STRENGTHS: Use your answer to “sell” the additional value you would offer the employer: personal characteristics such as flexibility, dedication, or the ability to multitask.
TELL A STORY: Provide specific examples of how you’ve optimized your work schedule in the past in order to maximize your and / or your team’s productivity.