Time management skills

Time management: being ahead of the game

Knowing when and where to direct your efforts will help you succeed in your first graduate job. Good time-management skills will enable you to handle your workload without losing control.
To manage time effectively you need to be able to prioritise and make judgements about what is urgent and what is important.

Time management is also sometimes referred to as ‘self-management’ or ‘independent working’. It is particularly important for graduate jobs because you are likely to be given greater levels of responsibility. You are more than likely to have several different tasks at once, and in order to do your job successfully you will need to be able to coordinate them.

You will need to work to several different deadlines, as well as accommodating other work that you may receive. To manage time effectively you need to be able to prioritise and make judgements about what is urgent and what is important.

Time management examples

Time management is tested throughout the recruitment process. For example, no-one is expecting you to get an application in within the first twelve hours that a position is advertised. That would suggest that you haven’t taken the time to reflect on and tailor your application. On the other hand, getting it in an hour before the deadline won’t do you any favours either.

Similarly, if you’re invited to an interview or an assessment day, being there on time is an absolute must. Your application may not be rejected out of hand if you are late, but it will be a definite mark against you unless you have mitigating circumstances.

Perhaps one of the most common ways for employers to test time management skills is with in-tray exercises. These are a test of your reaction times, but also your ability to hold your head under pressure and plan effectively. It is important that you start these exercises by figuring out what all the tasks are and when they are needed by. By putting together a list of priorities you will be able to demonstrate to assessors that even if you don’t finish all the tasks, you have an effective plan in place.

Other tasks that may test your time management skills include giving presentations and team exercises. In team exercises there may be an appointed timekeeper, but if there isn't you might win bonus points for volunteering. Psychometric tests may also analyse this skill, forcing you to allocate time to answering questions or checking answers.

How do I phrase it on a job application?

Do say: ‘I was managing several different projects at the same time. I was working to different deadlines so I had to divide my time and resources appropriately. I was able to get all of the projects in on time and was immediately given more’ – An explanation of the complexity of the situation, along with your response, is what recruiters are looking for here.

Don’t say: ‘The pressure of maintaining a social life on top of work and home life meant that I had to develop good time management skills.’ – No-one wants to hear about how tough you’ve got it, particularly if their schedule is tougher. They want to know about how you’re taking care of business.

How to develop time management skills

The good news is that almost all undergraduate degrees involve a bit of time management. This is particularly true when exams are going on, as you will have to juggle revision for a number of different modules at once. This involves figuring out what needs the most attention and when it needs it. The fact that you got the grades to get into university (and hopefully graduate) should be good enough evidence.

Commitments to part-time work or extracurricular activities also call for good time management, and it's a skill you're likely to develop further through work experience or internships.