When you're interviewing for a role, it's very common to get asked questions about time management. Being able to schedule and manage your time, and prioritize work appropriately, is an important skill in nearly any role, in every industry.
While you may think employers are concerned with how you spend your time and how quickly it takes you to complete your tasks, there is more to time management than that.
Get insight into the best ways to respond to questions about time management.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Hiring managers are typically eager to find candidates who can effectively manage their own time. For a manager, this means that the candidate won't need a lot of hand-holding and direction if hired. By asking these questions, interviewers are looking to see if candidates are aware of the importance of time management.
They're also interested in hearing candidates share their preferred time management strategies. Finally, employers want to find out if you understand how to prioritize tasks (and determine which tasks are most important) and what you do if you're not sure what to work on first.
Time Management Interview Questions
You may get some of these questions about time management during an interview:
- How do you prioritize at work?
- If you were assigned a big project, how would you make sure you completed it on time?
- What do you do when you have a lot of high priority tasks all due around the same week?
- What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?
- How do you maintain a work-life balance?
- Describe a time when you missed a deadline on a project.
How to Answer Questions About Time Management
Being prepared with a thorough, detailed answer that is carefully reasoned will impress a prospective manager. Mentioning how you handle different aspects of time management will set you apart from other candidates, especially if you provide specific examples.
Employers want to know you can handle your tasks each day without being directly told each step of what needs to be done. They also want to know you can manage to prioritize work appropriately.
You can accomplish this in your answer by saying you create a fresh to-do list for yourself at the beginning of each workday, ordered by a deadline and by the level of importance. Since you know that surprises and interruptions can occur, you create three "must-wins" for yourself of tasks that need to be completed by the end of the business day.
You can also describe other strategies for managing priorities, such as using project management software, blocking time on your calendar, and so on.
Although there was a time when employees who could do many things at once were valued, recent studies have shown that multitasking is, in general, vastly overrated. Too often, people who try to complete multiple tasks at the same time end up doing sloppy work, losing the time they have “saved” when they are subsequently forced to correct their errors. A key element of effective time management is the ability to schedule your time so that you can focus on one thing at a time.
If you can demonstrate, with an example or two, your ability to efficiently “single-task” challenging work assignments, you’ll give your interviewer the favorable impression that you are dedicated to providing quality work.
When a potential employer asks how you handle deadlines, emphasize your understanding of processes and of the importance of working ahead.
For instance, your answer could be that you work backward from the deadline when planning your approach to a project, breaking it into smaller tasks and setting mini-deadlines for each task leading up to the project's overall due date. In that way, you are continually making progress each day, and you ensure the project is completed on time.
Interruptions and distractions are common in the workplace. Your ability to block them out and handle them appropriately is pivotal to your overall performance. Employers are looking for workers who can set firm boundaries, keeping themselves from getting distracted at work by coworkers or fun websites.
Describe strategies you put into place, such as wearing headphones to block out chit-chat, putting blocks on your computer for certain chunks of core "work time," and limiting watercooler gossip.
For a good employer, making sure employees are balanced and not stressed or burned out is important for company morale and productivity. When employers ask about this, they are not looking for someone to say "work is my life" or that they have no hobbies or obligations outside of the workplace; managers know that is not healthy. Instead, focus your answer on how you give your full effort at work and are completely present while you are on the clock, and that your efficiency allows you to disconnect when you are at home.
Time management questions can be tricky, as managers are looking for more information than just how you use your time. Focus your answers on these important factors to demonstrate your effectiveness and productivity.
Tips for What to Say
Here are some strategies to keep in mind as you answer questions about time management:
- Acknowledge the importance of time management. Fundamentally, employers are eager to see that you understand the concept and understand its importance. Make that clear in your answer.
- Share your approach and examples. This is one question where it's a good idea to get specific in your response. Give examples of how you've handled big projects in the past. Talk about times when time management was a struggle and what you learned for the future. Describe the tools you use (such as a calendar, list-making strategy, or project management software) to stay on track. Using the STAR method can help you give an effective response.
- Show off your communication skills. Employers may ask how you handle situations where you have too many tasks, overlapping due dates, and simply more work than a single person can complete. The answer here isn't that you'll just work harder. Instead, this is where you can talk about how you'd let your manager know you were overwhelmed, and come prepared with potential solutions.
What Not to Say
Some responses can be red flags to employers. Avoid the following:
- Accepting missed deadlines. Everyone misses a deadline sometimes, but if you are sharing an example of a time that happened to you, make it clear that you're aware it's a problem—and something atypical.
- Not showing awareness of your impact. When you don't complete a task in a timely way, it can ripple effects throughout the company. Your response to questions about time management should show that you understand that what you do—or do not do—affects others.
- Being imbalanced. A good employer wants to avoid employee burnout. If you are too focused on work, and haven't made time for your own life, that could be concerning to employers.
TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS MATTER. Expect questions on them in just about every interview, in every role and industry.
SHARE DETAILS AND EXAMPLES. In your responses, give insight into the specifics of how you manage your time, including how you structure your day and the tools you use.
COMMUNICATION MATTERS. Remember that employers will also be looking for insight into how you respond when you have too much work.