Interview Question: 'How Do You Prioritise Your Work?'
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 29 September 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
During an interview, it's common that the interviewer might want to know how you prioritise your work. Typically, they ask about this to gain insight into how you manage your time and organise your workload. You can use your answer to highlight how you communicate with colleagues about urgent tasks, balance your work and personal time or how you approach handling changes in your assignments. In this article, we explore why employers ask about prioritising work, how to answer the 'How do you prioritise your work?' interview question and sample answers that you can use to form your response.
Why do employers ask about prioritising work?
Employers ask about your strategy for prioritising work because they want to test your time-management skills and how you handle working on multiple projects at the same time. They also want to understand your approach towards handling more stressful situations at work and if you can manage a heavier workload. It's important that you show them your ability to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. You can also highlight your organisational skills and explain how they help you have all the important tasks under control.
Related: What is Prioritising?
How to answer 'how do you prioritise your work?'
Consider following these steps to learn how to answer 'how do you prioritise your work?':
1. Describe your daily schedule
If your work schedule tends to be repetitive, but you deal with tasks of varying importance throughout the day, consider describing to the interview how you prioritise your work to maintain motivation. This is a great way to highlight your time-management skills and show that you're a self-aware candidate who knows how to use their strengths at work. Consider explaining how you prepare for the day and choose which tasks to take care of first.
Example: 'Once I'm done with everything for the day, I make sure to spend the last few minutes of my shift preparing for the next day. This includes recording which assignments I need to complete, making a to-do list and highlighting the tasks that I want to prioritise. I'm typically more focused and productive in the first half of the day, which is why I try to complete the most difficult assignments first. Knowing that I've successfully completed the most important things helps me relax and focus on taking care of smaller tasks, such as planning and reporting my progress.'
2. Explain how you shift between priorities
It's possible that you may need to take care of some urgent last-minute assignments on top of performing your regular duties. Describing to the interviewer how you'd manage that can help you show them that you know how to prioritise and can reorganise your priorities easily if the situation demands that. In your answer, consider highlighting that the company's and your colleagues' interest is one of the key elements that you take into consideration when shifting between priorities. That way, they know you're mindful of others.
Example: 'My daily tasks help me manage a steady workflow, but I understand that priorities can shift quickly. I try to organise my work to would allow myself quick breaks while working on a project to help a colleague in need or complete a last-minute task. This technique works well for me because it allows me to take care of the daily priorities that I have planned while not allowing other stuff to pile up. I can tick off more things from my to-do list and feel more accomplished at the end of the day, which helps with maintaining motivation.'
3. Connect your answer to the job requirements
When the interviewer asks you about prioritising your work, consider taking the opportunity to connect your answer to the job requirements. This shows that you've carefully read the job description and are aware of the duties and responsibilities of the role. For example, if you're interviewing for a role in digital marketing, consider explaining to the interviewer how you'd prioritise scheduling content for the company's social channels, responding to the online community's comments, planning ad campaigns or reporting on a marketing campaign's progress.
Example: 'I prioritise my work based on what the role requires from me. In my previous role as a social media manager, I would start with checking analytics for brands and clients I worked with. Gathering this data and seeing if our campaigns have generated any overnight traffic would allow me to plan and organise my tasks for the day. I'd then move to the most urgent priorities, such as scheduling content for the day and responding to comments, followed by sending a daily report to my project leader so that they can redistribute work among content creators and designers.'
4. Explain how you maintain a healthy work-life balance
Sometimes one of the best ways to highlight your time-management skills is to explain to the interviewer how you maintain a healthy work-life balance. To do so, consider sharing your method of setting realistic goals for yourself and describe how that translates to knowing how to effectively prioritise your work. This type of answer shows the interviewer that you're aware of the time limitations that every workday has and know when to extend a project's deadline if the situation requires that.
Example: 'I realise that having too many tasks to take care of at once can sometimes be unmanageable. If I'm in a situation when I know I'm unable to complete everything on time, I always make sure to inform my supervisor about it. I try to communicate the reasoning clearly and provide additional information about the tasks I wouldn't have time for because it helps them reassign them to someone who has more time that day.
I find that doing this helps me not only prioritise my work better but also maintain a healthy work-life balance. Naturally, it would be possible for me to stay at work late every day to complete more things per day, but that kind of approach could quickly decrease my motivation. Therefore, I try to be open about my limitations and avoid getting overwhelmed while still doing my best when it comes to all the tasks I perform each day.'
Related: How to Develop SMART Goals
Example answers for 'how do you prioritise your work?'
Depending on the role you're applying for, there are many ways to tell the interviewer how you prioritise your work. Here are some examples that you can use as inspiration when formulating your answer:
Here is an example answer that describes how a junior doctor might prioritise their work:
'Although I've worked in healthcare for under a year now, I feel like, at this point, I've managed to find a way to effectively prioritise my tasks. I'm also used to working under pressure and in a dynamic environment, which is why I know that it's best to complete all my important tasks as soon as possible before any patients arrive. This may include ordering blood tests or checking the clinic's supplies for the day. As soon as I start receiving phone calls and questions about patients, I quickly switch to a multitasking mode.
I try to break down my tasks and use my time-management skills to prioritise what to do first. For me, unwell patients always come first. Then I typically take care of discharging patients and performing check-ups. Lastly on my to-do list are additional blood tests and referrals, which I take care of at the end of my shift or during less busy hours.'
This example shows how a software developer might approach answering the question about prioritising their work:
'The first thing that I do each morning after arriving at the office is reviewing any new development projects I have or if other developers have left me any comments the night before. Some things typically take longer to complete, so I try to estimate the length of the new ones to communicate this to the project managers who are responsible for negotiating and discussing progress with our clients. I then make a quick to-do list and share it with my team, so they know what I'm working on each day and get to work.
As soon as the project manager has talked to the client and can share their input with me, I make sure to start scheduling our upcoming projects in time. I find that having a drafted schedule helps my whole team understand the project and plan their work accordingly. It's also a great way to maintain clear communication with everyone and give them a chance to ask any questions about it and report on their availability.'
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