In a job interview, a potential employer might ask you how you handle a situation when you are in the middle of working on a singular task, and you are asked to jump on something else at the same time. This probe is geared toward assessing your ability to multitask.
How you answer this question really depends on the job you are applying for, as well as the qualities the potential employer is looking for in an ideal new hire. For example, a television producer or registered nurse must be able to multitask, like a juggler in a circus ring. However, if you are applying to be a copywriter or massage therapist, multitasking is not as much of a concern.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
In most situations, a hiring manager is asking if you can juggle a few things at once. It's a fair question, especially with the sheer number of phone calls, emails, and meetings that can come up on a given day.
However, in some lines of work, multitasking is not the ideal. It can mean that your attention is drawn away from your main task, which has a few risks. It may take longer to accomplish a task, and the task may be prone to errors. A person is usually more efficient when allowed to focus on one task at a time.
At work, something often comes up that will derail your concentration on your primary task. Interviewers know that time management can sometimes suffer at the hands of multitasking.
How to Answer Job Interview Questions About Multitasking
As you’re preparing an answer, consider the job description. Would multitasking help in this role, or would it seem like a sign that you can’t focus on one thing at a time?
Once you’ve figured out what the interviewer is looking for, match your qualifications to the job and emphasize those skills that are most valuable to the employer.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as a graphic designer on a busy design team, come to the interview with anecdotes about how you handle multiple deadlines, tasks, and requests. Then, be sure to mention your hard skills, like software programs that are essential to the job.
Examples of the Best Answers
I like to multitask, in my personal as well as my professional life. I prefer to have many things going on at once. It keeps me interested and moving forward.
Why It Works: Assuming the job for which you’re interviewing involves many different tasks and types of work, this answer shows that you’re a good fit. You come across like someone who’s excited by having a lot of projects, not stressed by dividing their attention.
If you want something done, ask a busy person! I find gratification in accomplishing more than less, so I prefer to take on a little more. It’s better than handling only one issue at a time. I’ve learned to batch tasks so that I’m focusing on similar activities at the same time. That way, I don’t lose time and focus when I switch tasks.
Why It Works: Task-switching is expensive in terms of time and energy, so if you’re going to claim to be a successful multitasker, it’s a good idea to show that you understand the potential pitfalls and can navigate them.
I am at my best when I am multitasking. When I tackle one problem at a time, I tend to dwell on the solution. Meanwhile, when I have multiple things to accomplish, I am able to focus on the most accurate solution right away.
Why It Works: This answer shows that you’re focused on quality, not just quantity. Even in jobs where the ability to multitask is prized, being able to produce good work is important.
I prefer to handle one project at a time. It allows me to focus on the task at hand. However, in business, while that would be ideal, the reality is that I need to be able to adjust to outside forces. When a lot of things come at me at once, I create a checklist, which helps me to prioritize and guides me to work on the most pressing needs first.
Why It Works: If you’re not great at multitasking—and that skill isn’t a requirement for the job—being upfront is your best bet. This response also shows that you can adapt to your environment and develop coping mechanisms that allow you to excel.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
Determine whether multitasking is a job requirement. Carefully read the job advertisement, paying close attention to the requirements section. It should be fairly obvious whether this job requires multitasking or singular focus. Emphasize your skills that fit the job description.
Show that you can develop mechanisms to cope with challenges. Let’s say you’re not a natural multitasker, but the ability to juggle multiple projects is a requirement of the job. In this case, talk about what you’ve done to enable yourself to succeed in that type of environment.
What Not to Say
Don’t stretch the truth. You’re likely to get caught, losing the offer or the job once you’re hired. But even if you manage to fake your way into the position, you’re unlikely to be happy in your new role. Why? Because you’re not a good fit—no matter what you’ve convinced the hiring manager.
Avoid appearing scattered. Multitasking effectively means being able to switch focus with efficiency. Make sure that your answer demonstrates that you can complete tasks and achieve goals, not just work on multiple things at once.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What is your greatest weakness? – Best Answers
- What is your greatest strength? – Best Answers
- How would you describe your work style? – Best Answers
- Do you work well with other people? – Best Answers
- How would you describe the pace at which you work? – Best Answers
REVIEW THE JOB DESCRIPTION: Look for indications that multitasking (or focusing on one thing) might be valued.
PREPARE TO EXPLAIN YOUR PROCESS: Not a natural multitasker? Explain how you’ve learned to task-switch effectively.
BE TRUTHFUL IN YOUR RESPONSE: Don’t claim to have skills you don’t possess. Instead, look for opportunities to emphasize your skills.