Time management, prioritisation and organisation: being ahead of the game
Knowing when and where to direct your efforts will help you succeed in your first graduate job.
Submitting your application an hour before the deadline – or at midnight or at 2.00 am – won’t do you any favours.
Time management may also be referred to on graduate job descriptions as organisational skills, planning skills and prioritisation. It is a core skill for all employees, but it is one that many graduates, new to the workplace, find challenging. However good their time management is at university, the graduates we interview tell us frequently that the working world is different. They are faced with competing, equally pressing priorities and they often can’t progress their own tasks until others have done theirs. They also tell us that they need to juggle several different projects simultaneously and accommodate additional work that crops up unexpectedly.
So, to carry out your graduate role successfully, you will need to organise your workload, prioritise your time and know how much you can realistically do in a day – and then do it!
You may find it reassuring, then, that employers usually run training courses on time management, organisation and prioritisation when you join them. But, during their recruitment processes, they will still assess your instincts for using your time in the best way.
How graduate employers assess time management throughout the recruitment process
Time management is tested throughout the recruitment process. One of the most obvious ways is through assessing how you conduct yourself throughout the process: for example, when you submit your application. No recruiter expects you to get an application in within the first 12 hours after a position has been advertised. That would suggest that you haven’t taken the time to reflect on and tailor your application. On the other hand, sending it in an hour before the deadline – or at midnight or at 2.00 am – won’t do you any favours either.
Similarly, if you’re invited to an interview or an assessment day, getting 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 mark against you unless you have a good reason (such as bad weather or unexpected train cancellations) and send word in advance.
How graduate employers assess your time management skills on your CV
When reviewing your CV or application form, employers will judge your ability to manage your time by looking at whether you have fitted in part-time jobs and/or extracurricular activities alongside your studies.
How graduate employers assess your time management through exercises
Employers also use exercises specifically designed to test your planning, prioritising and time management instincts. These may be run at the application, interview or assessment centre stage and they include:
Recruiters interested in your time maangement are likely to check whether you complete an assessment centre task within the allocated time (for example: a case study, a written exercise or a group exercise) and whether you keep to time when giving a presentation.
Recruiters use these activities because they can see your time management and prioritisation abilities in action and judge them. To give yourself the best chance of impressing, ensure you practise these activities in advance. Try out free practice tests, check out the tests of our commercial partner AssessmentDay and see if your careers service offers mock assessment centres. If you are asked to give a presentation, practise it as many times as you need to in front of an audience in order to get the timing of your delivery right.
How graduate employers assess your time management skills via interview questions
You could be asked interview questions about your time management and ability to prioritise, including:
- How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?
- Tell me about a time when you have had to juggle different tasks.
- What would you do if you were scheduled to attend some training but a piece of urgent work for a client popped up?
- Do you work well under a tight deadline?
- How do you handle pressure?
To answer these questions successfully, you will need to draw upon the time management techniques you’ve already learned.
How to develop your time management skills
Start by knowing what good time management really is. It is about fulfilling all of your commitments to an acceptable standard, while ensuring that you don’t burn out. Usually, it is about juggling several activities or responsibilities simultaneously, but sometimes it can be about saying ‘no’ to things in order to focus on your priorities: for example, scaling back your part-time job to focus on your exams.
Not sure that you have examples of managing your time? 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 several different modules at once. After all, revision involves figuring out what needs the most attention and when it needs it. However, during term time or the holidays, if you can combine studying with part-time work and/or extracurricular activities (particularly if you are fitting in regular commitments) you will greatly develop your organisational and planning skills.
Completing an internship will also give you a crash course in organising, planning and prioritising in the workplace.
But developing your organisational skills at university doesn’t just involve taking on extra commitments outside of your studies. Reflect on and try out different techniques that enable you to plan, prioritise and then get things done. Are you a fan of ‘to do’ lists? Do you keep a diary? Do you use an app or pen and paper? What keeps you on track best and why?
Similarly, consider how you work best: is there a time of day when you are most productive and do you schedule your most-demanding tasks around that time? Are you driven by deadlines? Do you work on one assignment at a time or do you multitask? How does your approach differ if you are working with others, for example on a group assignment?
There are plenty of time management books and online resources out there to give you tips and new approaches to try but remember: managing your time is a very individual thing and it is important to find out what works best for you. As long as you achieve what you need to, without getting overwhelmed or burnt out, there is no one right way to manage your time.