answering interview questions about how you manage your time and prioritise

'How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?' Tricky graduate interview question

Find out how to crack interview questions about your time management techniques and the kind of examples you might give in your answer.

Sometimes you can be caught out, not by what you don’t know, but by what you don’t expect. If you’ve got an interview coming up for a graduate job or summer internship, you may well have thought about examples of when you’ve managed your time efficiently or coped with competing deadlines, perhaps when juggling your studies with part-time work, or in a workplace situation. However, you might not have anticipated a follow-up question: faced with a number of different tasks, what techniques do you use to work your way through them?

How not to reply to the interview question, ‘How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?’

Don’t be thrown by the question, and don’t avoid answering by returning to the safety of an example of when you’ve successfully managed your time. You’ve been asked how, not when.

What is the graduate recruiter really asking?

Are you going to be able to cope with different tasks with different deadlines without getting yourself in a muddle and forgetting what you need to do? Can I trust you to just get on with it and use your common sense? How organised are you?

So how do you answer the interview question, ‘How do you manage your time?’

‘I make a list. I work out what order to do things in by thinking about which tasks are urgent and how important each task is. If I’m not sure what’s urgent and what isn’t, or how important different tasks are, I find out. If I’m given a new task I add it to the list and decide when to do it, so I adapt the order in which I do things as necessary.’

It doesn’t matter how you make your list – whether you jot it down in a notebook or in a desk diary or use an app or other online tool – but be ready to explain your preferred technique to your interviewer. You may have some other system for prioritising and organising your work. Whatever it is, be prepared to talk about it.