How to answer "How do you prioritize your work"?

Career Advice
21 Oct 2022

Interview questions can range across various professional topics. Sometimes, a crucial question can be hard to answer not because it is difficult to answer but because it is hard to verbalize. One of those questions is “How do you prioritize your work”.

As an employee of any company, one of the key requirements to perform well at your job is time management. Time management is essential. 

Employers want to know if you are aware of the difference between urgent things and the important things. This is because the two are not the same.

When answering, always provide examples from real-life that can help assist the depth of your answer. You must always let the interviewer know that you’re not talking about something in general and that you know what you’re talking about.

Step One: Chart out your entire day

Schedules might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they do help. This is one of the best ways you can manage your day’s workload. Your interviewer might want to know more about how they can rely on you to get something done without having to be micromanaged.

You may have a different approach to how to complete tasks, it really doesn’t matter what method it might be. What matters is to be as descriptive as possible, and interviewers love an organized mind. If you can show them that you like organizing tasks and getting the urgent tasks done before the deadline, you’re good to go!

An example of this could be:

“I jot down all my tasks on a daily schedule or a to-do list. Starting from the first half of the day, I write down the tasks I need to finish and rank them according to urgency. This helps with my workflow and keeps me on track with what needs to get done for the day.”

How to set targets

Sometimes, setting targets becomes a problem because prioritizing tasks is an issue. It’s very easy to start on one thing and then get carried away and jump to another. And then an urgent priority task pops up and you may need to drop everything that you were doing to complete this.

Or sometimes, our managers can surprise us and hand us a last-minute super-priority task that we need to do. Yes, it’s annoying, but it comes with the territory at most jobs.

So, you can share with the interviewer the way you will cope with these priority tasks and how you set targets to achieve them. This will let your interviewer know how you handle change in a situation. This helps to show you’re mindful of high-level company priorities. The most detailed spreadsheet or to-do list means nothing if it’s completely unrelated to what your department is trying to accomplish.

You can say:

“My to-do list helps me maintain a steady workflow, but I also realize priorities change unexpectedly. With that in mind, I try not to overload my list with too many tasks, to make room for any necessary adjustments.”

You can follow this up with an example of how you changed your task priority and how you got the job done.

Throw them a proper finish

So, what comes after prioritizing work and completing it? A good work-life balance. You may look around you and notice people bragging about how good they are at balancing their work and their personal lives. You might wonder how you can barely manage to get everything on your list done?

Yeah, that can be you.

The idea in answering how you prioritize work is to set realistic expectations for yourself and your employer. One can’t overwork themselves, so don’t set goals you know you will not be able to complete. You need to be determined about getting the job done, but you can’t completely be whack about it. You must also support yourself if the timeline isn’t feasible.

“Communication is key. When I communicate with my manager, I can give them a heads up about whether I can complete the task or not. Or if I cannot manage something. I check in with my manager about which items can drop to the bottom of the priority list. And then I try to reset expectations about different deadlines.”

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